Teaching free improvisation: European higher music education teachers’ conceptual tools

Una M. MacGlone*, Guro Gravem Johansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In higher music education (HME) contexts, free improvisation is currently a rapidly evolving field across musical genres. Previous research indicates that teaching and learning improvisation can be challenging, depending on students’ experience and how improvised music-making is facilitated, but few studies address free improvisation in HME. Our study has explored this field by utilising qualitative interviews with teachers of free improvisation in European HME institutions. Results provided insight into teachers’ motivation and the educational aims which informed their approaches to teaching improvisation. Some teachers referred to a canon of free improvised or experimental music and well-known improvisers, interpreted as a need amongst the teachers to position and legitimise a potentially marginalised subject within institutions. Teachers in our study used different types of frameworks to develop students’ ability to interact and listen. Focusing on musical parameters, limitations of choices or language metaphors were often used as tools for acquiring such aims. Results further indicate that free improvisation should be a safe space, enhance democratic values and disrupt hierarchies of knowledge. In sum, our study contributes to mapping and understanding contradictions and complexities of this developing area of pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Music Education
Early online date8 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Canon
  • conceptual tools
  • cultural-historical activity
  • experimental music
  • free improvisation
  • higher music education


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