The central goal of the doctoral dissertation is to research, elucidate and evaluate the role and significance of improvisation as a fundamental musical-creative activity in piano instruction in Slovenian public music schools. Along with composition, improvisation is the most complete activity of musical creativity. Until music pupils are familiar with the techniques and procedures of composition, each of their compositions is the result of their prior improvisation, which is why we focus on the latter.
The theoretical part of the dissertation therefore discusses the concepts of creativity, musical creativity and improvisation. In defining the concept of creativity, we refer primarily to various psychological outlooks and their theories (Arieti, 1976; Deliège and Wiggins, 2006; Frager and Fadiman, 1998; Guilford, 1950; Maslow, 1999; May, 1975; Pečjak, 1987; Pečjak, Štrukelj, 2013; Sternberg, 2006; Ward, 2007). Creativity is then discussed from various perspectives: from the perspective of the environment, the creative process, the personality and the product, as well as from the perspective of social recognition and shifts (Amabile, 1996; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, 1999; Makarovič, 2003; Runco, 2004; Sawyer, 2000; Simonton, 2000; Sternberg, Lubart, 1995, 1999; Torrance, 1962; Trstenjak, 1981). An understanding of the theory of creativity from the perspective of neuroscience is also important (Brattico and Tervaniemi, 2010, in Hargreaves idr., 2012; Dietrich, 2004; Haier and Jung, 2008; Jaušovec and Jaušovec, 2011; Trevarthen, 2012), as neuroscience confirms the findings that creativity involves mechanisms whose potential is possessed by more or less everyone, and that it is therefore important to include these mechanisms in the education process, encouraging and appropriately evaluating them. In the education system, the term musical creativity, apart from describing the activities of composition and improvisation, emphasises the significance of creativity in fostering a desired way of thinking that anticipates personal, learning and thinking skills, as well as creative thinking (Kratus, 1989; Oblak, 1987, 1995, 2000; Odena, 2012; Sicherl-Kafol, 2001).
The development of musical creativity is amongst the educational areas included in the curriculum for piano instruction in Slovenian music schools. However, the realisation of musical creativity depends on the responsibility, knowledge, viewpoints, judgement, creativity and creative disposition of the individual teacher, and consequently on their selection of didactic material or method books. In order to gain an insight into the presence of musical-creative suggestions in certain method books frequently used in Slovenian music schools, we analyse the presence, frequency and diversity of exercises for encouraging musical creativity.
We discuss improvisation as a fundamental form of the pupil’s musical creativity in piano instruction. Through various perspectives on and definitions of improvisation (Bačlija Sušić, 2012; Bailey, 2010; Berkowitz, 2010; Deutsch, 1999; Koutsoupidou and Hargreaves, 2009; Pressing, 1987; Prevost, 1995; Sawyer, 2007; Stevens, 2007) and its stylistic and performance limitations, we attempt to approach a deeper understanding of this complex phenomenon. For the same purpose, we compare improvisation with composition and draw parallels with language learning. We also determine the importance of playing by ear and transposition, as emphasised by internationally recognised musical-didactic concepts by important music pedagogues, such as Gordon, Willems, Suzuki, Dalcroze, etc.
A survey of the historical and ethnomusicological dimensions of improvisation enables an insight into its pervasive presence in diverse historical and cultural music contexts.
An examination of the improvisational capabilities of adults and their development in children highlights the complexity of the abilities demanded by the activity of improvisation, while at the same time indicating children’s natural aptitude for learning and expressing themselves through improvisation. This is derived from children’s explorative-creative impulse or their seeking of the new, uninhibited by conceptualisation of “correct’’ or “incorrect” musical practice or conventional judgements about aesthetic beauty (Hargreaves idr., 2012).
We also discuss improvisation in connection with bodily movement from various perspectives: from the perspective of performing a note on a classical inštrument, which is inseparably connected with movement of the body; from the perspective of embodied music cognition, which presupposes the inseparability of emotional, cognitive and motor processes; and from the perspective of creative expression, which is derived from bodily experience (Bowman, 2004; Bresler, 2004; Clarke, 2012; Davidson, 2012; Levant, 2006; Pelinski, 2005). Despite embodied music cognition being a poorly researched topic, Dalcroze Eurhythmics offers a practical example of learning music on the basis of bodily experience, a model that we have also applied in the process of action research. Both musical improvisation and bodily movement are also included in many forms of therapeutic approaches, and a range of positive benefits have been determined (Bunt, 2012; Kroflič, 1999; Mastnak, 1995; Wigram, 2012), which are to a certain extent transferable to pedagogical practice.
The last section of the theoretical part presents a new model for the regular and systematic inclusion of improvisation in piano instruction as an integral part of the collection of piano method books by I. and J. Pucihar, entitled My Friend the Piano, which enables even teachers without knowledge and practical experience of improvisation to encourage this activity in piano instruction.
The first, quantitative part of the two-part empirical research ascertains the viewpoints and disposition of piano teachers in Slovenian public music schools, who determine to what extent and how improvisation is encouraged and implemented in piano instruction in music schools. The research was conducted in Slovenian public music schools on a sample of 95 piano teachers, who were surveyed once in the period from March to May 2014. Although the majority of teachers in Slovenian public music schools opt for classical piano instruction with an emphasis on learning and interpreting notated musical works, most teachers are nonetheless positively inclined towards improvisation, attributing it an important role and reporting positive experiences with its inclusion in piano instruction. The results also show that the inclusion of suggestions for improvisation is one of the important reasons for the majority of the surveyed teachers electing to use the collection My Friend the Piano.
The second, qualitative part of the empirical research presents a multiple case study of 14 piano pupils whose piano instruction in the 2013/14 school year regularly and systematically included improvisation, mainly based on suggestions from the collection of method books My Friend the Piano. In the three cycles of the qualitative part of the research, we determine and evaluate links between suggestions for improvisation and the pupils’ musical-creative thinking, spontaneity, freedom of expression, attentiveness and motivation; we examine the impact of improvisation on the pupils’ technical and interpretive abilities, their conceptual understanding of music and the pleasure they derive from music; and finally we investigate variations in certain improvisation skills with regard to age, the experience of specific suggestions for improvisation, and the pupils’ level of interest in their own musical expression.
Improvisation supports not only the creative potential of pupils, but also their musical-theoretical and performance-technical knowledge and skills, while at the same time proving to be an important motivational factor in learning the piano. As such, it should be integrated regularly and systematically into the traditional education system for learning the piano.