Improv Quote of the Day: Back to the Future

Improvisation, c.1915-1916

The advent of music publishing, which brought so many benefits to the development of music in Western civilisation, had a serious downside in its potential to strangle invention. Nevertheless, for over two hundred years, improvisation managed to flourish alongside notated works, probably because composers left opportunities within their published scores for performers to add their own ideas.

From the Romantic period, however, composers began to fill in all the detail. The music was their creation, their expression and there was little scope for the performer to contribute. A common repertoire and standardised performance practice began to emerge. These became the norm, wherever the notation was used. Music recording brought about even narrower standardisation. One thing is certain with musical skills – if you don’t use them, you lose them! With few creative demands placed upon performers, improvisation began to disappear from classical music.

Today, many classical musicians believe themselves incapable of improvisation, although they have never tried it! Players are even afraid of any element of a personal sound or style emerging in their performance. Young instrumentalists look, enviously, to the rich variety of world music and jazz, where exploration and experimentation is not only legitimate but expected. It is time to restore improvisation to its central role in classical music!

– From the web site The Full Pitcher (