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Improvisation and composition are words frequently used in the western world to describe the creation of music. But are they really two distinct processes, or are they aspects of the same phenomenon? In this free course, Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective, we will explore the relationship between the two using examples of Asian music to help us clarify the concepts.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- discuss different perspectives on the creation of music, in particular, composition and improvisation
- understand the basic principles underlying North Indian art music
- understand the basic principles underlying Sundanese gamelan music.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 The creation of music
- 2 A performance of North Indian art music
- 3 A performance of Sundanese gamelan music
- 4 Some final thoughts
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective
This course 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 course, 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 course, 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 OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 3 study in.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Music courses or view the range of currently available OU Music courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 15th January 2016
Last updated on: Friday, 15th January 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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