Group Improvisation is the allowance made for degrees of disciplined
expansion and contraction of a given theme. The big shapes are provided by
the composer of the theme, for example, the basic melodic, harmonic and
rhythmic components of a certain song. The rest is up to the participants
to flesh out their own parts in correspondence with each other's
interpretation at that moment in time. Most group activities have room for
some degree of Group Improvisation. The nature of this expansion and
contraction is determined by the composition and the way it has been
presented by the composer or by the way the presiding group of participants
is reinterpreting it.
We all know how to use language. We've been on the road to successful
communication since the day we were born. In whatever medium we have
chosen, it is a never-ending progression toward fluency.
In order to have the best results we start by playing the initial
composition and then proceed to themes inspired by the nature of that
composition. We patiently build new, related themes often starting with big
simple shapes and then gradually move toward smaller, more involved, complex
shapes and back again. This expanding and contracting is found everywhere
in nature. Contraction is a home base. Expansion is the next frontier.
The group's patient building of themes gives room for everyone's voice to
find their place in context with each other. The more gradual the build the
easier it is to tell where each other is going and to accommodate each
other's ideas. At points during these building variations on the theme can
be introduced without upsetting the equilibrium that has been established.
In this manner the group can proceed together calmly into the great unknown.
Different situations demand that each participant play with different
degrees of emphasis on themselves in relation to the whole. Sometimes we
are featured in the mix. Sometimes we are all equal in the mix. Sometimes
we are subservient to the other instruments in the mix. Ideally all ranges
of these aspects of each person's prominence will be explored to create the
most dynamic performance. Mixing ourselves with this range in mind will
increase our vocabulary as a group and let the music breathe and change with
the least restriction.
Imitation is a good starting point. Children imitate their parents but gradually move away from that and find their own voices. In the same way we can evolve from imitative responses to increasingly complimentary responses
The overall use of sufficient repetition gives each player in the group a
good idea as to where each other are going. This can increase the level of
trust within the group. Trust is a prime ingredient in-group activity.
When done consistently, a degree of 'telepathy' can occur.
In order for these repeated, gradually evolved ideas to flow from one to the
other we must accept each idea that we present to the group as valid and not
discard it abruptly. The discarding of any idea abruptly can interrupt the
otherwise smooth course of the whole and will disturb the balance that has
previously been achieved. If each idea that is presented is utilized in
some way by that individual, the other people in the group can respond
knowing full well that it will be included to some degree. One can say that
no idea that is presented is faulty. There is no such thing as a mistake
but only opportunity to explore a path that may not have been considered.
Each idea presented can be used in a positive way. With this approach
established, the potential for increased trust and telepathic communication
If this condition is established it creates an increasingly relaxed social
environment from which an ever-widening range of conventional and less
conventional harmonic/melodic statements can be used.
Cohesiveness occurs when we are all paying attention to the whole. We do
not have to pay excessive attention to ourselves or to certain parts of the
group excluding others but to the 'whole sound'. If we consistently pay
attention to the whole and how we are fitting into it we will maximize
Venturing into the unknown does not always require an imitative response to
the others in the group. Imitation is a good starting point. Children
imitate their parents but gradually move away from that and find their own
voices. In the same way we can evolve from imitative responses to
increasingly complimentary responses. We can move from call and response to
simultaneous conversation in all sorts of varying degrees and from
conventional parallel harmonies to less conventional incidental harmonies.
A productive leadership role can be one that invites situations where there
the need for the same person to be always leading can dissolve into a
natural democracy where each person's strengths are fully utilized to best
serve the group. We can eventually establish a situation where things just
happen in the womb of the group and leadership roles can change according to
the demands of the piece as the improvisation evolves. As this scenario is
increasingly explored, disciplined players will support each other's ideas
with greater and greater sensitivity and beauty.
Whatever dissonances or oddities may occur can become points of interest and should never be deemed as mistakes, but again, as opportunities
Whatever dissonances or oddities may occur can become points of interest and
should never be deemed as mistakes, but again, as opportunities. We can be
prepared for the inevitability of these occurrences and use them to our
creative advantage by repeating them, evolving them, even inviting them.
A calm intense focus brought on by a confident understanding and a practiced
ability to participate in the group improvisation process can give ecstatic
results. Any assessments that are made during the activity can diminish
that focus and can be detrimental to the balance that is being so
painstakingly established. Assessment is a post-creative activity.
Collaborative activities, such as the ones described, can be seen as the
cutting edge of human communication. The vulnerability endured when
bringing one's ideas to the group to commingle with others can increase the
gravity of individual contribution in an exponential way. It is of utmost
importance to our survival that we increase our ability to communicate as a
group and as individuals through such processes.