Music Environments – book quotes

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I actually got the book some months ago, but didn’t get the chance to do much more than start it:

Musical Environments: A Manual for Listening, Improvising, and Composing by Richard Vella.

There is no book quite like it – it’s very dense with information and ideas on the creative process. The part that I am now reading and taking notes on (I don’t like to read nonfiction without a pencil in hand) is the “Teaching Strategies for Improvisation.” If you are a kindred soul who reads this column regularly (at least whenever I post something), you should probably run, not walk, to order a copy of this book. Let me share/tease a bit and give you some quotes from this chapter (p. 99):

Improvisation is:

•a valuable tool for understanding creative and musical thinking.

•can involve working with existing or known structures from which one explores new possibilities, or outcomes.

•is a real-time interaction and involves spontaneous decision-making either consciously or unconsciously.


…in our day to day lives, normal conversation is improvisation: you never really know exactly what you’re going to say next. The speaker has a concept which is expressed in a familiar, personal vocabulary. With more than just words, the concept can be articulated in the speaker’s patterns of speech, meaningless utterances (‘er’ and ‘hmm’), favourite words and expressions. We trust our personal vocabularies to communicate a larger idea. A good dinner party conversation is like an ensemble improvisation: it meanders, transforms, interrupts, overlays two conversations at once, jump-cuts to new topics.

Experiential learning is deep level learning relying on real time decision making. These learning experiences can be quite profound. Through trial and error the student develops a ‘hands on’ relationship and understanding of the material in question. This kind of learning develops a vocabulary of performance and critical practice which expands with each improvisation. Musical think is learned by doing, and it should happen independently, in parallel, as the student works through the information in the modules. Unlike more traditional teaching methods, which require the performer to acquire a solid theoretical grounding before putting it into practice, these improvisation sessions provide the experiential, structural learning needed for self-inquiry and reflective learning.


Great stuff. Have you ordered your copy yet?

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