Workshop Notes



Inquiry centered on 2 questions: feedback from participants was requested.

1. Why is improvisation necessary in music education?
2. Is improvisation difficult to include in music education?

Thoughts on question 1. The students own what they do. It comes from the inside (a personal form of
self-expression). Music is a changing and evolving thing. The idea of making choices – be in the seat of
the composer. Problem solving. Check-point of absorbing the process. Closing your eyes and not having
to read music – using a different side of the brain. Ear training. Putting theory into practice. When the
kids take over learning is very exciting for them. Creative composer. Personal. Evolving. Leadership.

Thoughts on question 2. Group size, accountability (how do I prove to someone that they are learning
from improvisation). Classroom management can be hard. It takes time. Society doesn’t always value
the free exchange of ideas. Can be difficult to assess. Hard for the teacher because the teacher may not
feel confident.

Is improvisation a subject itself or is it connected to theory?

In Dalcroze – we do a lot of improvising as teachers. But the teacher improvising is not the same as the
child improvising.


Instructor plays a simple ostinato pattern on the xylophone (open 3rds moving up a 2nd.) Go around the
circle and each sings a short improvised phrase to the ostinato. Then all do a few measures at the end
together, to find an ending.

Next time, the same, but make your solos a little shorter, and your first note must be the same as the
last note of the person before you.

3rd time around, a couple of hand drums are passed. A student plays a new ostinato pattern in a
different meter. Students have permission to sing with others.

Last time through – 3 changes; using words that have anything to do with food.(“I like
spaghetti,” “Honey and chocolate,” etc.) Once you are in the piece you may continue to sing backup.


Ear training. Singing the same note (pitch matching) and using motifs. Can be applied to whatever you
might be studying (major, minor). Spontaneous. Somewhat scary. Students have to learn that there
is no “right or wrong.” It can be hard to wait your turn if the group is large, but shortening the solos

helps. Normally he does this with first through 4th grade (once you establish a repertoire. Adding the
instruments slowly works much better than everyone using them all at once.

Questions to ask in evaluating the exercise:

Did they participate? Did they follow instruction? Are they progressing as a class? (Class evaluation
instead of individual.) You can record the students and then play back their progress over a period of 5
or 6 weeks. Be sure to set the rules for the exercise: don’t laugh at each other, make a good entrance
and ending, sing loud enough to be heard.


Students are asked to work individually to come up with a short movement phrase (or gesture) they can
repeat and feel comfortable doing. Teacher accompanies the movement of one person. Students try to
see whose movement is being accompanied, and switch to that movement. Repeated three times. . Try
to remember all phrases. Third player with all three movements. Keep the order of the phrases, but you
can do your own version of the phrase and think about floor plan. The movers decide when to switch to
another phrase. Variation: you can do the same thing again, but your phrase needs to be twice as long.

ANALYSIS. Did you take ownership?, were you a creative composer? Not completely on your own.
Watched listened and followed the group and the pianist. Excitement (a little nerve racking). Works fine
with a large group as long as you have enough space. Classroom management – if they bump into each
other (do a lot of traveling games before you introduce as exercise such as this – like learning how to
change places). Is this exercise hard? Yes if the students do not have the movement vocabulary. Time –
up to the teacher to decide about taking the time away from singing and playing to explore the exercise.


Three volunteers. One speaks a pretend language (in this case Verglocklin), the second repeats what
the first says in the same language and the other speaks English and translates what the pretend
language person speaks. The subject comes from an idea from the audience. First subject is food.
Second subject is music. What are the favorite instruments to play? Second player translates the
question in the pretend language and the third player answers the question in the pretend instrument.

Analysis. There is an exercise you need before you do this so you do not laugh the whole time. A person
goes up to someone else and makes animal signs and not let them laugh. Then you can proceed with the
exercise with the pretend language.

SECOND PART OF THE EXERCISE. Three volunteers are going to do the story of the three little pigs. Role
of the mother is assigned. Mother says to the pigs “you need to find your own house” Each sings a short
song in answer to the questions. Then they all sing their answers together while walking in the forest.
Then the wolf arrives and sings a song about hunting the pigs. The pigs all sing in reaction to the wolf (“I
heard someone sneezing”) all decide what they will do next – build a house of sticks, a house of bricks.
The wolf arrives and there is a chase scene (dancing to the music). The wolf sings a song and then pigs
sing a duet together (all improvised). This developed into a very complicated singing and acting story

with 2 of the pigs going to heaven and the wolf returning and trying to kill the third pig, but finally all
three pigs end up together and sing a song about protecting the house.

ANALYSIS. What would be the hardest thing about doing this in a music class? Hard to stay with what
the piano is playing (adults and trained music teachers can do this, but for children this is challenging).
What are we really tapping into? Kids finding pitches through acting. The pianist “coaches” from the
side. It would be possible to start with one song idea and communicating through your voice. Start with
something very simple. The children are usually really excited to do this and love the pretending aspect
of the lesson. The piano is very supportive of the process with a simple chord progression to support
the players. This can be done with the drum as well. This was tried with a simple song improvised on the
idea of “go away” with drum accompaniment.

Improvisation can go on too long and the teacher needs to set the parameters of the exercise. In this
particular activity there were only 4 players, but there are ways to involve more players for example in
the scenery (being trees and bushes and the house).

Is this hard for the average teacher? Only if piano improvisation is difficult, but the drum can be used as


All sing “Down in the Valley”. 1. Together 2. All harmonizing an alto part 3. All harmonizing a soprano
part 4. All harmonizing a descant part. Divide into 3 groups: 1 is alto, 2 is melody and 3 is descant. All
sing together, then each group sings alone. Groups are asked to improvise with each other, but find a
common melody – each is sung with the melody. Different pianists are tried to accompany with various
styles of the for the bridge section of the song. New words were added for the bridge section.

ANALYSIS. This is really amazing for children. They should start training in harmonization in the first
grade and should be fluent by 3rd grade. Dalcroze teachers are immersed in harmonic improvisation
because it is an integral part of the training and it should be an integral part of their teaching as well.

Questions raised: what do you do with a student who refuses to improvise? 1. Give a starting note 2.
From there, baby steps, adding one new note at a time 3. With little children give them a puppet and
they make the puppet sing.

THE IMPROVISATION CALENDAR - Wil Offermans has published an “Improvisational Calendar” in which
there is a drawing of some kind for each week of the year. Students are intended to improvise on their
instrument, with only three rules: make a good start, play straight through til the end, then make a good
ending. The drawings go from very simple (a line that goes up and down, like a graph) to very complex.
Sean showed a few pages from the calendar as an example of how a simple visual can be a trigger to


A picture was handed out that showed in black and white a scene of a fence with a tree behind and birds
sitting on the fence and in the tree. All were asked to look at the picture and write down words that they
associate with the picture. They were then asked to put the words into phrases. They were asked to
divide into 2 groups – one being the birds and the second watching the birds. They were asked to turn
their ideas into a poem as a group in then create a simple song. The final step was so make the song into
a round. (Although this could be a very complex undertaking, the time constraints force participants to
make quick decisions and to create together. If you give your students a very simple harmonic structure
or ostinato, it is not hard for them to come up with four phrases that can be sung simultaneously when
the song is performed as a round. However, some analysis of rounds and how they work would be good
preparation for this exercise.)
Kristien Creamer,
Mar 2, 2012, 3:50 AM