Tips for Your Improv Class

Since teaching this type of classical improvisation is relatively new, instructors of a semester course have the simultaneous advantage and disadvantage of few precedents or established teaching procedures to go by. On one hand they are free to structure the class however they see fit, which is not a bad attribute for a class in spontaneous performance. On the other hand, there are certain fundamentals to the process, and it’s nice not to have to reinvent all the wheels. Following are some improv class procedures that have worked well for the author that readers may use as needed.

Size Matters

Although we are completely for the idea of every student musician having to take this course, the ideal class size for learning improv is pretty small so that everyone gets to play as much as possible (if you’re in the position to require everyone to do this, you might try it the way Gary Smart does it at the U of Northern Florida – they have to take the one semester improv course before they graduate, i.e. any time during their four years). The larger the group, the less each person gets to play, and the more difficult it is to shape the outcome with so many “deciders.” The ideal size for an improvising group is two – then each player gets to solo about half the time and solo half the time. That being said, it is usually a good idea to start the semester with pieces for larger groups so that novices don’t feel self-conscious about playing. Soundpainting works well for this purpose. Keep pieces brief at first. As players gain experience (especially in not playing), groups can be larger and pieces can be longer. Basically, you have four options if you have a large group 1) use Soundpainting 2) do sequential smaller groups or 3) do large group improv games or 4) alternate among options 1, 2 & 3.

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