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Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

Introduction

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This unit explores two important concepts relating to the creation of music, namely composition and improvisation. The concepts of composition and improvisation are closely linked, and the reason for looking at non-Western music is partly to demonstrate this truth – it should help to clarify these two concepts, and the relationship between them.

We couldn't hope to cover a representative sample of the world's musics in a single unit, and I have certainly not tried to do so here. What I have tried to do instead is two things: to introduce two Asian music traditions in enough detail to give you an idea both of what they can sound like and of how they work; and to introduce some general issues to do with the concepts of composition and improvisation, which will be relevant to all music. There is a lot of material to cover in this unit, including about an hour of video, which I will be asking you to work through in some detail. Although you will be working closely on the detailed structure of the musics that I introduce in the case studies, you will not need to remember everything in detail. You will need to understand and remember the underlying principles, however.

This study unit is an adapted extract relevant to The Open University course AA302 From composition to performance: musicians at work, which is no longer taught by the University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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