Improvisation: “The Edge” of Composition - Noam Sivan
(Improv (Fall 2017))

In recent years, dozens of Curtis students have taken improvisation, later commenting on its positive impact on their playing and musicianship in their solo, chamber, or orchestral careers. The ability to improvise is one of the most essential skills for the performing musician. Among its numerous benefits, improvisation –

  • develops confidence in mastering one’s own instrument or voice 
  • stimulates the imagination and encourages creativity
  • builds communicative skills and stage presence in performing for an audience
  • combines being present while thinking ahead and develops better time perception
  • enhances chamber playing as it requires sensitive listening while improvising
  • expands the performer’s expressive range beyond the written notes
  • improves musical memory, especially through call and response exercises
  • heightens technical awareness and informs the physical aspect of playing


No prior experience in improvisation is needed for this introductory course. This class will combine historical and practical aspects of improvisation and composition. Looking back at the history of Western Art Music, we can see that “there is scarcely a single musical technique or form of composition that did not originate in improvisatory practice” (musicologist Ernst Ferand, 1961). In this course, we will explore the cross fertilization between improvised and composed music, from major improvisers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, to twenty-first century trends and innovations. Important topics include the influence of improvisation on the compositional process, and planning versus spontaneity in music performance. The historical exploration will be complemented by a practical component, involving in-class playing and improvising by the students.