All native languages are learned by way of improvisation. A new-born hears sounds that eventually are recognized as words that mean something, and eventually he will begin to mimic these sounds to communicate. They are not given to him by way of phrases to be memorized. He takes what he has and uses them to expresses something that he wants or doesn’t want. Eventually words will be put into sentences of his choice. And there lay the essence of communication; choice. Improvisation then may be defined as choice, nothing more, nothing less.
Foreign languages must also be learned the same way, even as an adult. When one is with others, or in the foreign country, learning the language is far easier. One may learn alone, however, by learning a word, learning to pronounce it, and using whenever possible, then two words, then a phrase. A vocabulary is built this way, but the mere learning of a given phrase is a dead-end street, unless it is used and changed either by tense, number, or omitting or adding a word, i.e. building a language by improvising in some way with choices.
Music must be learned the same way. A novice must learn the keys on the piano, but in doing so must improvise with those keys, and find out what they sound like. The emphasis must not be on what is ‘correct’, but what the possibilities are. Music theory as it is taught today is full of what is acceptable and what is not. As a result students’ attention is not on being creative but being correct according to some pre-conceived and outdated dogma of what is right or wrong. It’s a fear of not doing it right, and that’s not conducive to learning music. We learn by our mistakes, and, we learn what we like and don’t like, but most of all we learn to do… just to do it and let the chips fall where they may.
Ralph Carroll Hedges, B.Ed., B.Mus., M.M.