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What makes musical improvisation creative?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Anna Jordanous, Bill Keller

Original languageEnglish
Article number12060203
Pages (from-to)151-175
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies
Issue number2
Early online date15 Mar 2014
E-pub ahead of print15 Mar 2014
Published1 Apr 2014
Event7th International Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology (CIM11) - Scotland, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 30 Aug 20113 Sep 2011

King's Authors


Background in musical improvisation and creativity. What makes musical improvisation creative? And what exactly is it that justifies one improviser being described as more creative than another? For a clearer understanding, it is a practical necessity to use an approach such as those of Berliner (1994) and Gibbs (2010), who make the study of improvisational creativity more tangible by identifying key constituent parts, rather than treat creativity as ineffable
(Bailey 1993).
Background in computational linguistics. The log likelihood ratio statistic can be used to compare two sets of texts (corpora) to examine word distribution patterns (Rayson & Garside 2000, Dunning 1993). Using this statistic, words are identified which are associated with academic papers on creativity. Lin’s similarity measure (Lin 1998) is then used as a basis for clustering words with similar meanings using the algorithm Chinese Whispers (Biemann 2006).
Analysis of the clusters reveals fourteen key components of creativity.
Aims. To model creativity in musical improvisation by identifying components of creativity using computational linguistics techniques and understanding how each contributes to creativity in improvisation.
Main contribution. The paper presents an empirical, language-based approach to understanding creativity in musical improvisation. This approach is based upon treating creativity as having common features that transcend different types of creativity but that vary in importance depending on the type of creativity. Fourteen key components of creativity are identified from an analysis of a corpus of texts on creativity. A study is then conducted to investigate the relative importance of each of these components in musical improvisational. All fourteen components are considered relevant to some degree, but particular significance is attached to three of them: the ability to communicate and interact, the possession of relevant musical knowledge and skills, and emotional engagement and intention. It is notable that the products of improvisation are relatively less important than these process-based aspects.
Implications. The work provides a model of musical improvisational creativity as a set of guidelines or benchmarks for evaluating how creative a musical improviser is. Such a detailed understanding helps improvisers identify what areas to work on in order to develop their creativity (Gibbs 2010).

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