On Improvisation

Yesterday, someone commented that improvisation is all about being able to play some random stuff, in realtime. My experience is really the opposite. Learning to improvise on a musical instrument is really all about learning scales, phrases, motifs, and getting experienced in putting them together in a structured way. In realtime.

The same is true for improvised presentations and speeches. After holding a number of presentations on my research lately, I have been thinking about how similar the preparation process for a presentation is to a music performance. I never write down exactly what I’m supposed to play or say, but I always create a rather detailed outline of what I will be going through. I also prepare some punch lines, similar to how I would have practiced musical breaks. This leaves me with a sketch with certain key points, some more detailed sections, and plenty of space for “interpolation”.

Alex at the piano

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.

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