Three (and Free!) Music Improvisation Sessions

 — Christopher D. Azzara

Back by popular request, Christopher Azzara will provide practical, accessible ideas for learning to improvise again this fall.  using repertoire as a foundation, these sessions will address specific improvisation techniques including learning repertoire, developing musical motives, understanding chord progressions, spontaneity, interaction, improvising melodic phrases, and Seven Skills for learning to improvise.  The sessions will explore a variety of performance genres and include principles for embracing improvisation as an integral part of performance and instruction. 

Improvisation in music is the spontaneous expression of meaningful musical ideas and is important to the music learning process. During these interactive sessions, Christopher Azzara will present key elements of improvisation including personalization, spontaneity, interaction, and being “in the moment” and he will explore the relationships among improvisation, listening, reading, and composition. To some, the very thought of improvisation invokes fear. If we learn to let go of that fear, we find that indeed we are improvisers. Azzara will discuss how improvisation enables musicians to express themselves from an internal source and is central to developing musicianship in all aspects of music education.

The ECMS Improvisation Sessions will introduce practical techniques designed to: (1) develop improvisation skill in various styles; (2) include improvisation as an integral part of performance and instruction; and (3) define relationships between improvising, reading, and composing music. The sessions will explore a variety of performance genres and include principles for teaching improvisation and learning to improvise. Course content includes a logical harmonic and rhythmic sequence for improvisation skill development.

  •  Session 1 November 15 from 12:30-2 p.m.
    Improvisation: How to Get Started
  • Session 2 November 22 at 12:30-2 p.m.
    Familiar Repertoire as Inspiration for Improvisation: 6 Element and 7 Skills for Learning to Improvise
  • Session 3 December 6 at 12:30-2 p.m.
    Making Connections: Listen – Improvise – Read – Compose

These sessions are free and open to the public. Music students of all levels and backgrounds, their parents and music educators are particularly encourage to attend. Please bring your instrument and join in – these will be hands-on, no-pressure, inspiring sessions! Professional development certificates will be available to music educators.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s thoughts on the importance of improvisation in music education (1828):

I recommend free improvisation in general and in every respectable form to all those for whom [music] is not merely a matter of entertainment and practical ability, but rather principally one of inspiration and meaning in their art.  This recommendation, to be sure, has never been so urgent now, because the number of people whose interest belong to the former category and not to the latter has never been so great.  Even if a person plays with inspiration, but always from a written score, he or she will be much less nourished, broadened, and educated than through the frequent offering of all of his or her powers in a free fantasy practiced in the full awareness of certain guidelines and directions, even if this improvisation is only moderately successful. (Hummel, 1828/1829, p. 468; Goertzen, 1996, p. 305)

All sessions will take place in Messinger One* on Saturdays, 11/15, 11/22 and 12/6 from 12:30-2 p.m. Anyone is welcome to attend one or all of the sessions including those who attended similar sessions last year.  No need to register.  just come and have fun!.


* Messinger One is in Messinger Hall on the 1st floor at 10 Gibbs Street, at the corner of East Avenue.


Christopher Azzara – Bio

Pianist, arranger, author, and educator, Christopher Azzara has made important contributions to advancing the understanding of creativity and improvisation in the music learning process. An innovator in the area of music teaching and learning, Dr. Azzara is Professor and Chair of Music Education and Affiliate Faculty of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media at the Eastman School of Music. Teaching and performing internationally, he is the author of numerous articles, arrangements, and books, including Developing Musicianship Through Improvisation, Creativity In Improvisation, and Jump Right In: The Instrumental Series (GIA). His arrangements for instrumental and vocal ensembles include A la nanita nana for choir and chamber orchestra or piano (Oxford), and Concert Selections for Winds and Percussion (GIA). His research and publications are concerned with meaningful relationships among listening, creating, improvising, reading, composing, and analyzing music in vocal and instrumental settings. Dr. Azzara’s work has appeared in journals such as the Journal of Research in Music Education, the Music Educators Journal, Early Childhood Connections, and in The New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning (MENC/Oxford). He performs as a soloist and in various ensembles, including the Chris Azzara Quartet, and has played on and produced many studio and educational recordings. In Rochester, he performs with free-lance musicians, members of the Eastman School of Music Faculty, and members of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. An active teacher and clinician, he has presented and performed extensively throughout the United States, and in Canada, the Caribbean, Germany, France, Lithuania, Poland, Japan, and Australia. He has presented clinics and workshops in a variety of settings, including TEDxRochester, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and leading music schools in this country and abroad.

Christopher Azzara is a native of Virginia and attended public schools in Fairfax County. After receiving the Bachelor of Music degree from George Mason University, he taught instrumental music in the Fairfax County Public Schools and performed as a pianist in the Washington D.C. area. He later received a Master of Music and a Ph.D. in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music. Prior to joining the Eastman faculty, Dr. Azzara was a professor at The Hartt School of Music, Dance, and Theatre of the University of Hartford, CT.