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8 Surprising Benefits of Music Improvisation

8 Surprising Benefits of Music Improvisation

Tossing out your sheet music, and winging it with a song, is like turning off your GPS and trying to find your own way home – it can seem scary and intimidating at first (seriously, how did people live before GPS technology?), but once you step out of your comfort zone, you may find it even more rewarding than playing off the page!

Learning how to improvise can give you more than just the fun of going off the beaten trail; it also has many benefits that can help you become a better musician. Start with short improvisation sessions at home, and work your way up to longer playing times, you’re sure to notice a boost to your musical prowess. Check out the numerous ways that improvising in music enhances your musical skills.

1. It trains your ears

An important component of being a musician is being able to hear the music. Oftentimes, students are only taught how to read and reproduce music; but the art is much more involved than moving your fingers across the keys in a certain rhythm.

Hearing the notes, and understanding how they work together, makes the tasks of playing and understanding music theory easier on students. Improvising trains your ear to hear and identify whether you’re producing the sounds you intended, or not. As students get better at this, it can also help them compose their own pieces in the future.

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2. It helps you recognize patterns and scales

When warming up, students often play scales from bottom to top; or, top to bottom. When music students get into a cycle of remembering which note follows another, they often fail to recognize how all the other notes on the scale interact in a musical piece.

Think about the way you remember the alphabet, by singing the letters in a particular order – without singing the ABC song, can you identify whether J or H comes first? When it comes to a piece of music, it’s helpful to know how different notes sound together, whether they sit next to each other on the scale or not. Improvising helps refine scale, chord, and arpeggio concepts. It helps hone a student’s overall musical understanding.

3. It teaches students to think ahead

When students read off a piece of sheet music, it’s easy to get caught up in a habit of reading note by note, as they play each note. This often results in slowing down the student’s playing, causing frustration.

Improvising teaches you to plan for what’s coming next, and think about the song as a flowing, unified piece, instead of a collection of single notes. It doesn’t just make it easier to anticipate what’s to come; it teaches students to think ahead, so that when they’re reading sheet music, they can read it faster, and stay on the beat.

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4. It allows for self-expression

Music is meant to be a form of expression; a form of communicating emotions. Students tend to focus more on reproducing the sounds written on the page than creating emotion with their instruments. Improvisation interrupts the cycle of reproducing; helping students express their emotions, hone their talents, and develop their unique musical voices.

In one study, researchers monitored the brain activity of musicians in both “play-from-memory” and improvised scenarios. They found that in when playing from memory, areas of the brain associated with problem-solving lit up. In the improvised scenarios, brain areas associated with self-expression, making up stories, and recounting memories were more active.

Essentially, the areas of the brain that were active during improvisation weren’t active when musicians played songs from memory. This suggests that it’s beneficial to incorporate both types of play into a student’s learning experience. This helps them become more well-rounded musicians.

5. It fosters creativity

Improvising is all about composing on the spot. It’s completely up to the student where to take the music next, giving them an outlet to work creatively with music. Creativity itself, whether through music or other art forms, comes with its own slew of benefits; studies have shown that exercising creativity can actually boost your physical and mental health. Some of the benefits of creativity include:

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  • It gives you a sense of control over the outside world.
  • It provides an outlet to create something positive out of a bad experience.
  • It promotes abstract thinking, to come up with new (and sometimes better) solutions.
  • It helps you resolve conflicts.
  • It gives you a place to express emotions, to learn more about yourself, and to effectively work through your thoughts.
  • It provides a greater sense of well-being.
  • It helps you better understand empathy, which can help you build better relationships.

All of these benefits translate to your everyday life. Creativity isn’t just about becoming a better musician; it’s about becoming a better person.

6. It can boost health

Similar to the concept that creativity improves physical and mental health; researchers have also studied the effect of music improvisation on your health. They found that improvising music can have a distinct effect on well-being, separately from other musical behaviors. Engaging in improvisation exercises helps reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn can improve mental health conditions.

Improvising music also has been shown to improve communication skills in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Music is an outlet to communicate and process emotions, often assisting children who have trouble processing emotions on their own. When improvising in a group, students learn how to listen to other students’ music, and communicate something back to them.

7. It reinforces listening

Improvising isn’t just for solo artists; entire groups can improvise together, and even sound quite good when they have an effective leader. Group improvisation sessions reinforce how important it is to watch your conductor, and to pay attention to what the rest of the group is doing. If your musical ensemble can master the act of improvising together, then when you switch back to sheet music, the group will work much better as a whole.

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Group improvisation also helps students communicate with their musical peers better; which can translate to other areas of communication in life. Improvisation exercises also help promote a sense of community within a music group, which often benefits a student’s well-being outside of class.

8. It’s fun and motivating!

Reading the same sheet music, day after day, can become repetitive. This may leave students feeling disengaged in their music lessons. Improvisation is always a new experience, and it oftentimes feels like a game. Because it’s fun, it acts as a good motivator for students who feel like they’re not being challenged in class, or engaging their creativity.

Improvising is scary at first, as you ditch the familiar guide of the notes on your page – but even simple improvisation makes a difference! Start out small, perhaps by improvising quarter notes on a single octave scale; and continue to practice your improvisation skills, challenging yourself (or your music students) more and more each time. Whether you’re practicing on your own or teaching music to eager students, you’ll find that improvising will mold better music skills, and well-rounded, healthier musicians.

Featured photo credit: www.npr.org via npr.org

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Jennifer Paterson

President of California Music Studios

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Last Updated on April 8, 2020

Why Assuming Positive Intent Is an Amazing Productivity Driver

Why Assuming Positive Intent Is an Amazing Productivity Driver

Assuming positive intent is an important contributor to quality of life.

Most people appreciate the dividends such a mindset produces in the realm of relationships. How can relationships flourish when you don’t assume intentions that may or may not be there? And how their partner can become an easier person to be around as a result of such a shift? Less appreciated in the GTD world, however, is the productivity aspect of this “assume positive intent” perspective.

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Most of us are guilty of letting our minds get distracted, our energy sapped, or our harmony compromised by thinking about what others woulda, coulda, shoulda.  How we got wronged by someone else.  How a friend could have been more respectful.  How a family member could have been less selfish.

However, once we evolve to understanding the folly of this mindset, we feel freer and we become more productive professionally due to the minimization of unhelpful, distracting thoughts.

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The leap happens when we realize two things:

  1. The self serving benefit from giving others the benefit of the doubt.
  2. The logic inherent in the assumption that others either have many things going on in their lives paving the way for misunderstandings.

Needless to say, this mindset does not mean that we ought to not confront people that are creating havoc in our world.  There are times when we need to call someone out for inflicting harm in our personal lives or the lives of others.

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Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsi, says it best in an interview with Fortune magazine:

My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From ecent emailhim I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.’ So ‘assume positive intent’ has been a huge piece of advice for me.

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In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they’re saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, ‘Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they’re reacting because they’re hurt, upset, confused, or they don’t understand what it is I’ve asked them to do.’ If you react from a negative perspective – because you didn’t like the way they reacted – then it just becomes two negatives fighting each other. But when you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, ‘Hey, wait a minute, maybe I’m wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort.

“Assume positive intent” is definitely a top quality of life’s best practice among the people I have met so far. The reasons are obvious. It will make you feel better, your relationships will thrive and it’s an approach more greatly aligned with reality.  But less understood is how such a shift in mindset brings your professional game to a different level.

Not only does such a shift make you more likable to your colleagues, but it also unleashes your talents further through a more focused, less distracted mind.

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