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"To freely improvise a solo within a structural context may have begun with a young Louis Armstrong in the early 20's."--"Top Ten Free Jazz Underground" (1995) by Thurston Moore

"Motherfucking cocksucker motherfucking shit fucker what am I doing?"--I Heart Huckabees by (2004)

"Anyway, arising from an improvisatory beginning (both tragedy and comedy—tragedy from the leaders of the dithyramb, and comedy from the leaders of the phallic processions which even now continue as a custom in many of our cities)..."--Poetics by Aristotle

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Improvisation, often shortened to improv, is the activity of making or doing something not planned beforehand, using whatever can be found. Improvisation in the performing arts is a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation. The skills of improvisation can apply to many different faculties, across all artistic, scientific, physical, cognitive, academic, and non-academic disciplines.

Improvisation also exists outside the arts. Improvisation in engineering is to solve a problem with the tools and materials immediately at hand. Improvised weapons are often used by guerrillas, insurgents and criminals.



free improv

Musical improvisation is usually defined as the spontaneous performance of music without previous preparation or any written notes. In other words, the art of improvisation can be understood as composing music "on the fly". There have been experiments by Charles Limb, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that show the brain activity during musical improvisation. Limb showed increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is an area associated with an increase in self-expression. Further, there was decreased activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, which is an area associated with self-monitoring. This change in activity is thought to reduce the inhibitions that normally prevent individuals from taking risks and improvising.

Improvisation can take place as a solo performance, or interdependently in an ensemble with other players. When done well, it often elicits gratifying emotional responses from the audience. One notable improvisational pianist is Franz Liszt. The origins of Liszt's improvisation in an earlier tradition of playing variations on a theme were mastered and epitomized by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Notable improvisational musicians from the modern era include Keith Jarrett, an improvisational jazz pianist and multi-instrumentalist who has performed many improvised concerts all over the world.

Improvised freestyle rap is commonly practiced as a part of rappers' creative processes, as a "finished product" for release on recordings (when the improvisation is judged good enough), as a spiritual event, as a means of verbal combat in battle rap, and, simply, for fun. As mentioned above, studies have suggested that improvisation allows a musician to relax the control filters in their mind during this exercise. It often incorporates insults similar to those in the African-American game The Dozens, and complex rhythmic and sometimes melodic forms comparable to those heard in jazz improvisation.

In the realm of silent film music, there are a small number of musicians whose work has been recognized as exceptional by critics, scholars and audiences alike; these include Neil Brand and John Sweeney. Their performances must match the style and pacing of those films which they accompany and the knowledge of a wide range of musical styles is required, as well as the stamina to play for films which occasionally run more than three hours, without a pause.


  1. The act or art of composing and making music, poetry, and the like, extemporaneously
    He played a quick improvisation on the keyboard.
  2. That which is improvised; an impromptu.
  3. Musical technique, characteristic of blues music.
  4. The act of improvising, acting or going about something without planning ahead

Performing arts

Improvisation can be thought of as an "on the spot" or "off the cuff" spontaneous moment of sudden inventiveness that can just come to mind, body and spirit as an inspiration. Viola Spolin created theater games as a method of training improvisational acting.


Dance improvisation as a choreographic tool: Improvisation is used as a choreographic tool in dance composition. Experimenting with the concepts of shape, space, time, and energy while moving without inhibition or cognitive thinking can create unique and innovative movement designs, spatial configuration, dynamics, and unpredictable rhythms. Improvisation without inhibition allows the choreographer to connect to their deepest creative self, which in turn clears the way for pure invention. This cognitive inhibition is similar to the inhibition described by Limb for musical improvisation, which can be found in the music section above.


Improvisational writing is an exercise that imposes limitations on a writer such as a time limit, word limit, a specific topic, or rules on what can be written. This forces the writer to work within stream of consciousness and write without judgment of the work they produce. This technique is used for a variety of reasons, such as to bypass writer's block, improve creativity, strengthen one's writing instinct and enhance one's flexibility in writing.

Some improvisational writing is collaborative, focusing on an almost dadaist form of collaborative fiction.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Improvisation" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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