The development of improvisational expertise in jazz musicians

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    Improvisation is a complex musical skill that takes many years of practice to master. An interesting question is what it takes to start and maintain such long period of practice and which environmental factors influence commitment to practice. This study aims to reveal factors that affect successful and less successful improvisational skill development. The study compared improvisational skill development of a group of six elite musical improvisers to a group of five semi-elite musical improvisers by means of a multiple site, structured case study design. A biographical research method was used to collect data for cross case analyses. Data were analyzed using a combination of a theory-based categorization system and open coding searching for actors and factors that affected vicious and virtuous cycles of learning. Findings on learning during pre-conservatory, conservatory, and post-conservatory phases revealed group differences in intensity and quality of individual practice, group practice (e.g., participation in jam sessions), network activities that create further opportunities for development and work, as well as individual, self-directed efforts and strategies after developing a personal voice. Theoretically the study provides insight into differences in trajectories of identity development, as well as the development of skills that include timing, interactivity, and risk-taking. Educationally, the study helps to understand learning processes that can hardly be planned and entail hazardous transitions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the Ninth Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM)
    EditorsJane Ginsborg, Alexandra Lamont, Stephanie Bramley
    Number of pages2
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    EventNinth Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music - Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, United Kingdom
    Duration: 17 Aug 201522 Aug 2015


    ConferenceNinth Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music
    Abbreviated titleESCOM 2015
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • improvisation
    • expertise
    • musical development


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