Letting unplanned things happen?

Edward said: Feb 6, 2019
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Morris Plains, NJ
69 posts

How often do you have an open-ended or improvisational practice session or lesson?

In other words, where the result isn’t pre-programmed and the outcome not a specific expectation (whether technical or musical or other achievement step), but rather exploratory and/or improvisational.

I’m curious about how Suzuki parents and teachers handle spontaneity, invention, and open-ended creation, when it comes to music. I’m continually surprised to find out what students will come up with when I don’t pre-program the outcome.

Is it sort of like planning for spontaneity? Something my wife and I have to do!

Do you have a suggestion or story of how this has looked in your home or studio?

Here’s an article with some specific ways I’ve tried to be more intentional about unplanned outcomes, that might help to get the conversation started:


Jennifer Visick said: Feb 9, 2019
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1052 posts

Edward, that’s a great blog post. :-)

It immediately makes me think of Alice Kay Kanack’s “Creative Ability Development” method, which is a series of books and games designed to teach musical improvisation in order to inspire creative thinking, very similar to what you’re talking about.

The two benefits you state in your blog post are exactly the reasons why I love teaching improv:

> “1) The brain is more alert when it must pay attention because something is happening in an unpredictable way, and
> 2) It decreases fear of making mistakes, which in turn increases fluency and comfort with playing.”

It was taking a class with Alice that first got me to realize that I can (and should) teach improvisation to my students regularly, as part of the private lesson and as part of group classes, as if it were a basic and necessary part of learning music, just like teaching good tone quality or scales or how to hold the bow.

I recommend that anyone interested in learning to think more creatively, and in allowing that space for creative thinking to grow in their students, should try using Alice’s CAD books and go take a class where she’s sharing how to teach with them.

Kurt Meisenbach said: Feb 9, 2019
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

Edward, thank you for your question, and Jennifer, thank you for your response. I have looked at the web site address you provided. It is excellent.

I am finishing a book for parents to help them become better practice partners at home. One of the chapters talks about the importance of anticipating and predicting and the positive impact these two activities have on how we learn. I will now add the role of imagination to round out the trio.

Thanks again to both of you for this very useful information.

Susan Beth Barak said: Feb 10, 2019
Susan Beth Barak
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Newmarket, ON
12 posts

I absolutely agree with Edward, Jennifer, and Kurt. Alice Kay Kanack’s CAD should be a requisite companion to Suzuki material. Dr. Suzuki called Alice Kay Kanack “Mozart’s Mother!” You should also check out her book Improvising String Quartets written with Dr Sera Smolen. I am planning to write an article about the importance of regular improv and creative production for submission to the Journal, after I complete some more research in the courses I’m taking at the University of Toronto.

Lori Bolt said: Feb 11, 2019
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
260 posts

I enjoy using CAD with my piano students. It’s so user friendly, and sets the students up for success! I use the Musical Improvisation for Children for all ages and Fun Improvisation for Piano for all but the earliest beginners. They love it!

Lori Bolt

Edward said: Mar 6, 2019
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Morris Plains, NJ
69 posts

Thank you Jennifer for that thoughtful reply, I’ll be sure to look up CAD and report back!

Another addition to this conversation comes in the latest Suzuki journal by Matt Turner, on TAQSIM and the book “Sound Innovations.” There is a free download sample page of improvisational patterning given here: alfred.com/SICWtaqsim.

Alan Duncan said: Apr 4, 2019
Suzuki Association Member
78 posts

I find improvisation to be tricky, having watched many semi-structured improvisation workshops unfold. Much depends on the personality of the child. Every child can improvise; but not every child can improvise in a group class, on command, in the key requested by the facilitator. My daughter won’t improvise in a group setting to save her life; but has a great time at home. There, we agree on a suitable key and I play something on the piano in a I-IV-V sort of pattern and she plays along and makes up a story to go along with it. But if you did that in a group setting, she’d fold.

Of course, it helps that the facilitator reassures the children that the philosophy of “anything goes” prevails in improvisation but, again, so much depends on personality factors of the child. Introverts and perfectionists will struggle with public improvisation. For these kids, I wonder if better understanding of Western harmony—in a structural/theoretical sense, might be paradoxically freeing.

While improvisation implies a certain freedom, the ears are going to seek out certain patterns. I find that as my daughter understands theory and harmony better, she’s able to improvise in even more pleasing ways. It fits with evidence (at least among pianists) that the better sight-readers have higher scores on theory knowledge. A knowledge of how harmony works helps solve the probabilities around “what comes next.”

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