Theses Doctoral

A Narrative Approach to Challenging Conceptualizations of Music Improvisation

Bordeau, Shane Thomas

Imbued with the potential to foster transformative spaces, improvisation in music can be a powerful practice but, even more largely, a unique way of being human. However, many teachers from Western classical music traditions struggle with improvisation and including it in their classroom experiences. This dissertation questioned how conceptualizations of music improvisation influence and inform this struggle through a praxis of storying experience and reflexive action.

Five music educators, including the author, met over eight months for collective group improvisation and storytelling followed by conversations that involved cyclical stages of video-stimulated recall and re-storying. Using a narrative inquiry framework shaped by ethnographic and autoethnographic influences, this research conveyed what happened while challenging conceptions of improvised music through re-storying the past, the action of improvising, and reflexive action through storying the experience.

The study revealed barriers to feeling comfortable with improvising, including a systemic siloing of improvisers and non-improvisers within Western music traditions, feelings of shame shaped by harmful expectations of musical ability, and experiences with closed systems of end-in-means pedagogical approaches and assessment practices. This research showed that the process of reflecting on conceptualizations of improvisation to feel more comfortable with the practice takes time and that experiencing breaks, or shimmers of understanding, rather than breakthroughs, still afforded space for transformation. The broader implications for music education include striving for approaches that teach rather than train improvisation and embracing commonalities between narrative ways of knowing and expression of self and connection through improvisation.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Allsup, Randall Everett
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2024