Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective
Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

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Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

1.6 Summary

You may find it useful to go over the main points of the first section again.

  1. We in the West generally recognise two different concepts of musical creation, namely composition and improvisation. Composition is widely characterised as a relatively lengthy process involving the use of notation; improvisation involves the spontaneous generation of music without notation. The distinction can be useful when applied to our own art music tradition.

  2. Looking at music from a global perspective, however, this dichotomy appears very simplistic and is rarely of use. Insofar as the concepts are useful at all, they can be regarded as two complementary aspects of the same phenomenon: the creation (or, indeed, composition) of music.

  3. There are, however, various points of difference between different types of musical creation. These include the use of notation, the time scale and degree of conscious planning involved.

  4. Most kinds of musical creation involve the interaction of models (comprising certain fixed elements) with variable elements. Composers and performers alike must learn the models as well as the rules or procedures involved in controlling variable elements.

  5. When we study musical creation, whether we call it composition or improvisation, we can consider both the nature of the models used and the ways in which they are turned into actual performances.


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