Improvisation in Theory and Practice



Instructor: Matan Rubinstein
Contact: matan@marlboro.edu.  Meetings by appointment (though usually Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday mornings are best.)

Mondays and Thursdays 2:30 - 3:50

Textbook: Derek Bailey. Improvisation: It’s Nature and Practice in Music

Course Description

We will engage in improvised music practices and the conceptual frameworks, techniques and musical vocabulary associated with them. As a general rule, we will divide our time between improvisation in workshop format and a seminar setting with readings on and by improvisers, intensive listening to recordings, and discussion of the topics - equal parts practical music making and academic enquiry. Proficiency with a musical instrument or in singing is required for the course. Music literacy, while recommended, is not necessary.

Goals and Expectations:

It is often debated - perhaps debatable – whether improvisation can be taught. The supposition informing this course is that improvisation can improve through two types of work: practice and intent. The former is practical, the last almost metaphysical.
Practice (in both senses of the word - making and repeated exercise) constitutes the bulk of work associated with this course, and would provide the major component of grading. Each week, specific exercises will be given which will need to be mastered for the next week. Weekly exercises constitute 50% of the grade.
Intent –the will, impetus, energy, abandon, urge to make a sound and actualize it– is often made clearer by a careful cultivation of a pantheon of masters, the work of whom can be venerated, imitated, studied and cribbed as part of one’s own process of gaining mastery. Another part of the course is therefore an individual research into a musical hero or heroes and their work. The process, will be documented and presented in the form of two smallish (2-3 page) papers and one larger end of term project/demonstration.  Each paper will constitute 15% of the grade, and the final project 20%.

More on Practice:

Practice of improvisation can often be more effective in a small group than individually. Most exercises given in the course are done more efficiently in pairs or trios than alone. Consider forming “study groups” to facilitate more productive practice.


Attendance is mandatory and should be timely, as is preparation of exercises and assignments. Mostly I will grade on-going assignments by emission, deducting 5 points for every unprepared exercise, whether because the work was not sufficient for mastery of the exercise or due to attendance issues.


Last modified: Monday, December 19, 2011, 9:18 AM