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Teaching and learning jazz music improvisation: an investigation of approaches using Q methodology

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ed.D.
Date created
Learning to improvise jazz music is an exceptional feat of human cognition, and although this is the ultimate accomplishment of jazz musicians, approaches to teaching improvisation are highly variable. There is little agreement, and limited research on best teaching methods for learning to improvise jazz music. The research reported in this thesis explored jazz musicians’ viewpoints regarding most effective approaches to teaching and learning to improvise using Q methodology, with the intent of synthesizing a constructive pedagogical framework for jazz improvisation. Six orientations to teaching improvisation were investigated: theory-based, aural, sequential, immersion, imitation, and creativity. Twenty-four jazz musicians were recruited, 12 post-secondary students and 12 professionals/teachers. Four participated in an email survey, and 20 performed Q sort interviews. Three-hundred-and-sixty-one statements were amassed to form a concourse that comprehensively represented jazz musicians’ viewpoints on how best to teach and learn to improvise, and a representative sub-sample of 47 statements was selected using emergent themes. Each participant who completed a Q sort ranked the 47 statements according to their importance followed by an interview to provide a detailed explanation of their ranking. The Q sort configurations were entered into data analysis software (PQMethod) which performed factor analysis to group participants with similar viewpoints. The optimum solution revealed three factor viewpoints on how best to teach and learn jazz music improvisation. Statement weightings for each factor and interview transcripts were reviewed to interpret and name the viewpoints according to the perspectives expressed: The Pragmatic Emulator, Listen and Just Play, and The Jazz Communicator. These viewpoints could be used as a conceptual framework for designing three discrete approaches to teaching jazz improvisation. However, a blended developmental approach that combines the viewpoints is proposed, which incorporates all of the orientations identified as important for teaching improvisation: theory-based, aural, sequential, immersion, imitation, creativity, plus communication. The three viewpoints identified appear to represent learning or cognitive styles that are intrinsic traits unrelated to environmental influences. The best way to learn to improvise is very individual, and may be related to learning styles. Therefore, teaching improvisation must be tailored to each learner’s style to be successful.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: O'Neill, Susan
Thesis advisor: McClaren, Milton
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