Musical improvisation

Richard Ashley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Musical improvisation is, to many in the Western world, an activity shrouded in mystery. Most listeners are familiar with some genres of music in which improvisation is a commonplace, such as rock and other popular styles, jazz, or perhaps 'ethnic' musics - that is to say, composed or improvised 'traditional' musics falling outside the typical Western canons. Therefore listeners are aware that many musicians can, and routinely do, produce novel musical utterances in real time. The question for most them is 'How is improvisation carried out?' With this formulation of the question, musical improvisation becomes a suitable topic for psychological investigation, focusing on cognitive, physical, and interpersonal processes, and on the musical structures on which these processes operate. This article seeks to bring together the literature on musical improvisation that will be of interest and benefit to those wishing to know more about it from a cognitive perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191743931
ISBN (Print)9780199298457
StatePublished - Dec 4 2008


  • Cognitive process
  • Music improvisation
  • Music psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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