Improvisation at the Piano: Exploring the Learning Experiences of Music Readers
The theme of improvisation in music is garnering increased attention amongst musicians who otherwise would identify themselves as music-readers. The 21st-century musician who reads music continues to value these skills, but may show greater interest in creative or unscripted music-making. Piano teachers who work primarily within the notation-based realm and wish to explore improvisation lack a conceptual model of how to approach this type of learning for themselves or their students. This action research study explored learning experiences of 2 student learners and 1 teacher-learner as they delved into the improvisation medium. Though at different stages in their development as musicians, all 3 were first and foremost music readers. This project explored learning experiences through 2 components: (a) the student participants created an improvised accompaniment for a short segment of a Charlie Chaplin film and (b) in my dual role as teacher-learner and teacher-researcher, I embarked upon a 10-month course of lessons with 3 different expert improvisation mentors. Improvisational learning experiences were explored through video recordings of student lessons, field observation notes, transcripts from semi-structured student interviews, and a reflective researcher’s journal. Theories of creativity and the everydayness of art framed the discussion around the role and significance of improvisation for the pianist who wishes to engage in this form of music-making. Findings contribute to the literature by providing a context for teachers to begin exploring practical pedagogical processes for teaching improvisation, and a theoretical rationale for considering the importance of enhancing the traditional approach to teaching the piano.