What is Improvisation?
Written by Jeffrey May


A number of years ago, I felt compelled to write a book on Improvisation, in which I would discuss various aspects of my experience as someone who spent a great deal of time playing improvised music, and drawing certain "obvious" (at least to me) parallels between my life experience and my musical experience. I never got around to writing the book, but I did spend one day (and I remember that day very well!) writing down a number of related thoughts on the subject. I assembled about twenty or so ideas, and after studying them for a while I was able to edit the list down to twelve, that wonderfully magical number that finds its way into so many aspects of our lives, not the least of which being twelve notes in our western musical system. Here then is that page, which I have photocopied so many times, and given out to all of my students over the years.
What Is Improvisation?

  1. Improvisation is a sophisticated word that is synonymous with the simpler, more child-like word, “PLAY”.

  2. Improvisation is the playful use of FREE WILL. This implies the ability to make choices quickly and efficiently, accepting the consequences of these choices, regardless of the outcome.

  3. Improvisation is a spontaneous, powerful and honest statement from within.

  4. Improvisation is facing the unknown with courage, patience and trust – taking risks as we manoeuver within the unpredictable nature of the TIME-SPACE illusion we call “reality”. Ultimately, if allowed, improvisation will teach us that time and space are indeed illusory, and that REALITY does transcend both – or, in other words, REALITY, in truth, breaks ALL the rules of this world.

  5. Improvisation is being fully awake and fully alive in the ETERNAL HERE and NOW. The past and future quite literally do not exist, thus it is only possible to BE alive NOW. Release from the memories of the past and the plans and expectations of the future is not only a possibility, but an absolute necessity, if we are to experience life to its highest potential.

  6. Improvisation is the acceptance of responsibility for our own thoughts, emotions and actions.

  7. Improvisation means, literally, to IMPROVE!

  8. Improvisation is the discovery, exploration and expansion of our limits, as we reach toward the infinite.

  9. Improvisation is the ability to LAUGH at our own folly, as do the clowns.

  10. Improvisation is the ART of LETTING GO.

  11. Improvisation is the recognition and acceptance of “mistakes” as essential stepping-stones along the path of spiritual awakening and growth. This ultimately means that “mistakes” are impossible, and DO NOT EXIST!

  12. Improvisation is admitting that you don’t know where you’re going, but you’ve decided to allow yourself to enjoy the trip.

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