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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : Music

Undergraduate Course: Improvisation as Social Process (MUSI10090)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryIn this course, the complete class of students form a large improvising ensemble to explore improvisation in its broadest possible sense, and to develop a deeper understanding of the practice and theories of improvisation, in an intense and supportive environment. The course offers a critical and experiential examination of group musical improvisation as a multifaceted, creative form of social interaction encompassing a broad field of practice.
You will develop a deep and broad knowledge of practical and theoretical approaches to group improvisation in a variety of contemporary contexts, including an historical sense of the modern emergence of group improvisation aesthetics.
Course description This course will introduce you to the broad field of practice represented by contemporary group improvised music, allowing you to develop knowledge, experience and critical orientation towards this unique form of collaborative creativity. Topics covered in the weekly seminars will include: What is improvisation? Understanding improvisation as a unique, social, collaborative and universal form of creativity; Psychological models of improvisation; Improvisation as real-time composition; Graphic scores; Constrained improvisation; Text-based approaches to improvisation; Distributed creativity; Improvisation as means of fostering collaboration across disciplines and across cultures; Improvisation and identity; Improvisation in educational, therapeutic and community contexts.

The course is taught through weekly 2-hour seminar sessions. In each session leading up to the final performances, students will play together and develop as both individual and collective improvisers. By means of weekly recording and playback, you will be guided in skills of critical analysis, collaborative critique, and development of their own individual contributions. Between improvising and the playback/critical listening session where students reflect on their collective practice, the central part of the weekly seminar is given over to discussion and teaching based on specific reading and listening preparation tasks, according to the topic.

Through weekly practice in performing/improvising and critical listening, you will accumulate the skills and judgement to participate creatively and productively in group improvisation, and to formulate and test out ideas for developing works for large ensemble. The weekly reading and listening tasks require you to rehearse and improve on your ability to articulate musical, improvisation-based ideas through critical commentary.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least one semester of Music courses at pre-Honours level. We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  25
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Formative Assessment Hours 2, Summative Assessment Hours 4, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 170 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 1. Develop individually a new piece for large improvising ensemble of c. 5-10 minutes in duration. In the final weeks of the course, each piece will be presented to the class in the form of whichever verbal, text-based or graphic materials are a necessary element, and performed by the class ensemble (with the option to record) as part of the weekly practical work of the course. (50%)

2. Write an accompanying critical analysis of the development and performance of the piece, with reflection on participation in course improvisations and other students' pieces (2000 words, submission in exam period following course delivery). (50%)

Assessment of both submissions will address all four learning outcomes:
LO1: Students will be required to engage with many approaches in order to choose a means of developing their own new piece, and in order to critically analyse and comment on their chosen approach.
LO2: Students will undertake weekly rehearsal, review and critique of their own improvisation skills in working with the large improvising ensemble.
LO3: The brief for the summative assessment of the performance of students' piece drives students towards individual, original and creative resolutions to compositional problems relating to the creative agency of composer vs performer.
LO4: This dimension of individual responsibility and initiative is central to successful group musical interaction and its deployment will be a key point of critical reflection in weekly listening sessions as well as the written summative submission.
Feedback a) Formative assessment activities & related feedback:
Students will be required to keep a weekly record of their participation in course seminars, reflecting on impacts on their knowledge, critical thinking, and improvisatory skills, ideas and priorities. This will be submitted for formative assessment in week 6 (at which point students will begin shaping their final piece) with feedback in week 8. Students will also receive regular feedback through reflections & discussions in class on group improvisations.

b) Summative feedback:
Summative assessment of the final performance or recording will take place in the final two weeks of the course. Summative assessment of the essay will be carried out following submission according to the normal feedback return policy.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate detailed knowledge and understanding of a variety of approaches to group improvisation, some of which are at the forefront of current thinking on the meanings and value of collective and improvised performance
  2. Critically review and consolidate skills, practices and thinking in developing group musical improvisations.
  3. Demonstrate some originality and creativity in responding to the compositional brief of developing a new piece for large improvising ensemble
  4. Exercise autonomy, initiative, creativity and responsibility in interacting musically and socially with peers in the large ensemble.
Reading List
Bailey, D. (1992). Improvisation: Its nature and practice in music. London: Da Capo Press.
Fischlin, D., & Heble, A. (2004). The other side of nowhere: Jazz, improvisation, and communities in dialogue. Wesleyan University Press.
Lewis, G. (2008). A power stronger than itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.
B. Piekut & G. Lewis (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Prevost, E. (1997) No sound is innocent. UK: Small Press Distribution
Stevens, J., Doyle, J., & Crooke, O. (2007). Search and reflect: A music workshop handbook. Rockschool.
Wigram, T. (2004). Improvisation: Methods and techniques for music therapy clinicians, educators, and students. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


Anthony Braxton Creative Ensemble:
Creative Orchestra (Guelph) 2007 Spool 2009
Creative Orchestra (Koln) 1978 Hat Hut 1995

Art Ensemble of Chicago:
A Jackson In Your House BYG-Actuel 1969
Message to our Folks BYG-Actuel 1969
Nice Guys ECM 1978

Butch Morris:
Berlin Skyscraper FMP 1998

Feminist Improvising Group:
Another Evening at Logos Sub Rosa 2015
European Women Improvising Group - Live in Zurich (CH) 1983. Available at
(Other recorded performances available on You Tube)

Glasgow improvisers Orchestra:
Artificial Life Future Music Records 2014
Schweben - Aye, but can ye? Maya 2012
Improcherto for HB Iorram 2012
Metamorphic Rock Iorram 2009
Separately and together Emanem 2008 (with London Improvisers Orchestra)
Poetics Creative Sources 2008
Munich and Glasgow FMR 2004

International Contemporary Ensemble:
Artificial Life 2007 (Available online at

London Improvisers Orchestra:
Lio Leo Leon Psi 2010
Improvisations for George Riste Psi 2003/7
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills To exercise autonomy and initiative in the development of projects
To reflect on and act with social responsibility in large group settings
To be able to respond creatively and individually to a project brief
Special Arrangements This course requires prior musical performance skills and ensemble experience. Outside students should contact the course organiser.
KeywordsMusic,large ensemble,communication,creativity,social interaction
Course organiserProf Raymond MacDonald
Tel: (0131 6)50 2424
Course secretaryDr Ellen Jeffrey
Tel: (0131 6)50 2430
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