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Workshop: The Symbiosis of Composition & Improvisation

Structured improvisation is a music composition method which invites the performer's improvised interpretation within a composed architecture. How much structure and how much improvisation is up to the composer.

I want to use the workshop setting to demonstrate the powerful symbiosis between premeditation and spontaneity.


I ask volunteers to "improvise" simple musical gestures with me in round robin. Improvisers can use their voices, instruments or whatever is available.

After one round, we embark on a second. This time we break down the message between pairs of participants and discuss what has been communicated. Has a "language" of expectation developed? Are there constants? Are there variables? Is there evidence of tacit agreement on what is constant and what is variable? We try to access what has become "composed" in our improvisation.


Then we come from the opposite direction. I ask a volunter to "compose" a simple phrase element. As a group, we examine the element and discuss how we might develop it. We discuss what sort of alteration of the element might represent a "dissonance" or suspension of listener expectation. We talk about what sort of restoration of the element might represent a "resolution" or satisfaction of expectation.

We map out a structure on a black board or large piece of paper. We assign "performers" and we "perform".

We perform the structure a second time, this time allowing each "performer" to insert a brief unexpected "comment" or "reaction" along with their share of assigned script.

We compare the performances.

Composition & Improvisation

After a twenty-minute break, during which volunteerl workshop participants compose "structured improvisations" for themeselves and 2-3 other member participants, we reconvene.

Groups rehearse the structured improvisations so that each composition has at least 20 minutes of development time. And we close the workshop by performing for each other. Everyone draws his or her own conclusions.