Improving Improvisation in the Classroom: An Innovative Approach to Teaching Improvisation in Classical Music Curricula

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Improvisation is the art of composing in the moment. The improvising musician consciously and subconsciously draws on a lifetime of learnt theoretical knowledge and accumulated auditory memories to instantaneously create and compose. Improvisation and composition were taught in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Neapolitan Conservatoires by way of keyboard-based exercises called partimenti. Before commencing lessons in partimenti, it was mandatory for all Conservatoire students to learn to sing and memorise countless melodies known as solfeggi for at least three years. Solfeggi are melodic compositions for voice, often with keyboard accompaniment. They played a pivotal role in establishing the necessary melodic auditory memories required for future improvisation and composition lessons at the keyboard. Improvisation has been largely absent from classical music pedagogy for over a century but is central to jazz and contemporary music curricula. Third Stream ear training is a modern-day method with several striking similarities to solfeggio. It was developed by American improvising pianist and composer Ran Blake in the 1970s and is currently taught at a small number of jazz and contemporary music schools to all students learning to improvise. Like solfeggio, Third Stream ear training involves learning to sing and memorise melodies, but often from a wide variety of music genres and styles. Increasingly improvisation is being included in classical music curricula, however there is little research on methods to develop students’ auditory memories in the way that Third Stream or solfeggio does. This paper presents an innovative approach to curriculum design, by using comparative analysis of Third Stream ear training and solfeggio principles and elements to develop a targeted method to help classically-trained musicians improvise. The new method is designed for use within secondary- or tertiary-level aural-training curricula. It aims to provide all students, regardless of voice or instrument specialisation, with the relevant auditory memories to execute improvisation tasks in their chosen style or genre. By doing so, it improves student capacity to access their creative voice as they come to improvise and promotes greater confidence and fluency in playing and performing without notation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 17 Jul 2022
Event35th World Conference of the International Society for Music Education - Online, Online, Australia
Duration: 17 Jul 202222 Jul 2022


Conference35th World Conference of the International Society for Music Education

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