I am looking for improvisation theory ressources. I mainly focus on free jazz and improvised music but I am also interested in dance, drama and pictural improvisation. I want to know if a classification of interactions in an improvisation group already exists.

Every book, talk, thesis, documentary or article are very welcome, do not hesitate to submit your thoughts about this subject.

  • 2
    Can you add some more criteria, and give us an idea of your current abilities? As-is I can see you getting a list of vague answers.
    – user28
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 15:30
  • @MatthewRead You are right, I am working on a graphic vocabulary in order to extand the improvisation field for a graphic performance.
    – 1213
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 15:11

7 Answers 7


There are theories that apply to more than one of 'improvised music ... dance, drama and pictural improvisation':

excerpts from the above links:

"The main ingredients of improvisation ...

  • Presence and projection are the premises of trust and collaboration. Commit.
  • Improvisers are sponges feeding on their surroundings. Listen.
  • The best ... tend to emerge between - rather than within - people. Adjust."

"The process can become effortless with practice but without listening there is nothing to adjust to. ... Listening gives them a common space in which to play. Without commitment, there is no one to listen to ... Improvisation requires players to engage fully with each other."

"In any ... combinations ... , some aspects or elements will sound more prominent while others will seem to recede. We use the spatial terms foreground, middleground and background to help us differentiate the various elements ... can constantly change and shift. They do not necessarily have to be fixed."

"A pecking order is the stabilised ranking of individuals in a given social group. The agreement save the time and energy [that] would otherwise be spent on conflicts over access to ressources and privilege. ... The notion is relevant to improvisers on many levels: ... As a person ... As a player ... As a character ... As a storyteller"


Do you know about "Improvising Jazz" by Jerry Coker ? Also by the same author: "The Complete Method for Improvisation".


Jamey Aebersold is an acknowledged master teacher in this area. Read his free handbook:


It contains a lot of foundational music theory and suggested listening, and explains his philosophy about jazz, improvisation, and music in general.


There is another book by John Mehegan titled "Improvising, Jazz Piano". It covers a lot of musical theory but sets an starting point to start improvising.


On the academic research side of things, the journal Perspectives of New Music1 from time to time publishes articles on improvisation.

A few examples for you to look at and see if they fit what you're looking for or warrant further searching:

1Disclosure: I have professional involvement with the journal.


Dave Frank is a master teacher of jazz improvisation:


His "Flow, Phrase, Breathe" method has really helped me tap into my own musical creativity. He has over 50 jazz master classes on YouTube.


"free" and "theory" don't necessarily go well together.

I would echo other comments regarding resources (with the caveat that resource requests are usually not allowed, but the question has not been closed).

Jerry Coker "Improvising Jazz" is an outstanding book.

The Jamey Abersold series has value but it is easy to take the material out of context. This seems to be where people get the idea of 1 chord = 1 mode and that's the formula for greatness.

With respect to the concept of improv I would cite a quote from Robert Dinero (really a paraphrase). I was watching an anniversary edition DVD of Taxi Driver and they had old and new interviews with cast members. In particular Jodi Foster. She was very young and Di Nero wanted her reactions during filming to be relaxed and authentic. There was, perhaps, some impov very small deviations from the script here and there and he wanted her to be comfortable going with the flow. So, they had lunch together every day, went over lines and he'd throw some mistakes in there (intentionally or not). She attributed the following statement to him "Improv is variation on a theme", you have to know what you are doing so well that you could have created it in your sleep. It's not second nature, it's first nature. This is not where Free improv players are usually coming from but the fact is that the great ones have a lifetime of music (or dance or acting chops) behind them.

From the point of view of getting good at improv in music you need to know music and know a variety of musical styles. Forget "Jazz". All the great Jazz players drew from Indian classical music (namely Coltrane), Latin music (not Latin Jazz), etc. I would suggest walking two paths at once (1) study western classical music theory as this is the foundation of "Jazz", and (2) get immersed in a variety of ethnic musical styles that stress free form improv with a simple theme (like Indian Ragas). You can consider Jazz one of the forms of music to immerse yourself in but what we think of as Jazz didn't exist when those players invented it. I always like going a step further back in time and ask myself what did they draw inspiration from.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.