21M.355 | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate
Musical Improvisation


In addition to the design assignments below, students were required to write short (1 to 2 page) reflection papers about each required concert.

1. Graphic Score Notation

Based on the kinds of approaches discussed in class, form teams of 2 or 3 persons, and create a DESIGN (a framework for improvisation), parameters as indicated below. These designs will be improvised into musical expression during Lecture 4.


  • Total duration of between 2–3 minutes.
  • Performers: a minimum of 3 performers up to a maximum of our entire class roster.**
  • Strive for thoughtful use of the instruments.
  • Strive for clarity of design, to be user-friendly for musical interpretation.
  • Strive for variety and contrast.
  • Enjoy the creative design process.

2. Film

We will follow a similar approach as with assignment 1, retaining the same 2 or 3 person teams. Your team will be assigned to design and perform an improvisation based on one of two short films, each 2–3 minutes long (not available for OCW).

If you are a 2-person team, you may invite a third performer to join you, but he / she may not be from a group doing your same film.

The designs should be based on the kinds of approaches discussed in class. As previously, strive for thoughtful use of instruments, clarity of design, variety & contrast, and do enjoy the creative process.

These designs will be improvised into musical expression during Kate Matson’s 2nd workshop.

3. In a Silent Way

Listen to the Miles Davis recording of Joe Zawinul’s composition In a Silent Way. Note how the piece develops, especially with regard to textures, rhythms, and melodic ideas. The melody for this piece is particularly haunting, and uses one or more modes in its construction.

For this INDIVIDUAL design project, please construct your own melody that also uses one or more modes. The melody should have between 10–15 notes. It should not be in any meter and nor time signature, but rather should be just the chain of pitches that form a free-floating melody.

You should also consider how it will be performed, i.e. someone playing the melody and some others in supportive roles.

See Lecture 7. “In a Silent Way” student demonstrations
4. Indian classical music Drawing from the elements of improvisation in Indian classical music, as discussed during Phil Scarff and Chitravina Ravikiran’s workshop, prepare something using 2 or 3 of those elements to be performed at the second class with Phil. See Guest Artist Workshop 2.2. Indian Classical Music student demonstrations
5. Found sound and computer processing Based on Neil Leonard’s first class, create small sound libraries to use in a 2-3 minute improvisation. Record source sounds with whatever technologies you have at your disposal. Prepare a performance that integrates some of these sounds for Neil’s second class. See Guest Artist Workshop 3.2: Electronics student demonstrations
6. Flexology Based on our initial discussion of conducted group improvisation in Lecture 11, create a set of your own signals for conducting group improvisation. See Lecture 12. Flexology student demonstrations
7. Themes and intervals Based on our class discussion of Sonny Rollins’ “Blue 7” in Lecture 13, use 2 or 3 intervals as a basis for an improvisation.  
8. Themes and motives Develop an improvisation employing a longer motive or theme.  
Final Project Take one or more of the approaches we have studied and develop a sophisticated, perhaps more complex, design for an extended improvisation, circa five minutes. These will be performed and discussed during our final two class sessions. After your performance, write a reflection and analysis of the design and its performance.  

** Class roster of instruments:

  • 3 flutes
  • 1 oboe
  • 1 alto saxophone
  • 1 trumpet
  • 2 pianists
  • 1 acoustic guitar
  • 1 electric guitar
  • 1 banjo
  • 1 violin
  • 1 vocalist
Course Info
As Taught In
Spring 2013
Learning Resource Types
theaters Lecture Videos
theaters Other Video
group_work Projects with Examples
assignment Design Assignments
assignment Written Assignments
co_present Instructor Insights