A&HHE Special Issue August 2016AHHELogo-300x300

To practise improvisation. A qualitative study of practice activity among jazz students, with a particular focus on the development of improvisation competence

Guro Gravem Johansen
Norwegian Academy of Music



This article presents an empirical study on instrumental practice among Scandinavian jazz students, with a particular focus on how improvisation competence is developed. The study has a qualitative research design and employs Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). Findings showed that a central value for the participants was the development of a personal “voice”. The concept of explorational practice is developed to capture creative and improvisatory aspects of the students’ practice activities, as a supplement to the scholarly established concept of deliberate practice. Collective practice, such as jamming or rehearsing with regular bands, is considered to be a central learning practice.


Instrumental praactice, improvisation, jazz education, activity theory, expansive learning, explorational practice


Background and rationale

The expression “to practise improvisation” is almost a contradiction-in-terms, since improvised music is created during a performance. As suggested by Monson: “To say a player doesn´t listen or sounds as though he or she is playing ‘something he or she practiced’ is a grave insult. Such a musician may (…) fail to respond well to the other players in the band” (Monson, 1996, p. 84). Monson also quotes the American bass player Cecil McBee: “You´re not going to play what you practiced. Something else is going to happen.” In other words: to perform improvisation as you practised it is an error. Doing so is associated with not listening or responding to the musical interaction, and with playing inauthentically.

Research into instrumental practice has mainly focused on practicing within Western, classical music. Here, implicitly, the overriding objective of practice has been taken to be the performance of the composed and notated piece. Hence, developing technique, learning new pieces, memorization and interpretation have been considered the most important learning objects, or “content” for the practising musician (Barry & Hallam, 2002). Research into instrumental practicing has to a large degree concentrated on issues relating to learning strategies, learning styles, practicing as cognitive self-regulation, and to organization of practice time (Barry & Hallam, 2002; Jørgensen, 1997a, 1997b, 1998, 2004; Nielsen, 1997).

Research into expertise within in various fields such as classical music, tennis, chess, surgery, etc., shows that experts have undertaken a huge amount of practice over a long timescale. The concept of deliberate practice is often referred to as the most effective approach to practicing in terms of learning strategies and organization. Deliberate practice is defined by a clear and explicit goal setting, and is a highly structured activity. Deliberate practice must also contain possibilities for exact repetition and avoidance of mistakes (Ericsson 1997, 2006; Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993).

Johansson, writing about organ improvisation practicing, states: ”Improvisatory practice differs from most of the described types of instrumental practice mainly in the respect that the musical outcome of the given task is not known beforehand” (Johansson, 2008, p. 36). Hence, theories about practice that are based upon the premise that learning objects and goals must be explicitly defined in advance and that practicing involves exact repetitions, seem limited in what they have to offer the understanding of learning in an improvisatory musical practice, for example jazz.

Despite the fact that many scholars, especially those relating to a cognitive paradigm, have tried to delimit improvisation competence (Johnson-Laird, 2002; Pressing, 1998, 2005), a central premise for the present study was that improvisation competence cannot be defined as a given entity abstracted from socio-historical situations and different value systems. On the contrary, what it means to learn to improvise is something that has historically undergone continuous change and development and differs from one cultural and geographical site to another (Whyton, 2015). Moreover, there are differing views about the learning and teaching of jazz within countries and between institutions (Whyton, 2015). A premise for the study reported in this paper was therefore that the object of practicing in jazz cannot be considered as something predefined and fixed, rather it is something that is in a constant process of change.

In the present study, searching for universal answers seemed unfruitful, as did a search for the most “effective” practice among jazz musicians. Hence, a main objective was to gain insight into the participants´ practice activities in a specific context, and seen from an insider´s point of view, an emic perspective (Merriam, 1998).

Aims and research questions

The study aimed to:

  • illuminate the motives, goals, objects and procedures that characterize instrumental practicing among jazz students;
  • explore how improvisation competence is developed through practicing.

The main research question was phrased as follows:

What characterizes approaches to practice among jazz students who work with developing improvisation competence?

The sub-questions were:

  1. What kinds of motives, values and norms related to performing and practicing are the subjects´ practice activity derived from, and how are they expressed?
  2. What kinds of learning objects and expected outcomes are the subjects´ practicing activity directed at?
  3. What kinds of processes and actions are involved in the subjects´ practice activity?

The problem formulation, aims and research questions as outlined above were all theoretically informed, and deeply rooted in a socio-cultural paradigmatic understanding, as outlined in the following section.

Instrumental practice as a cultural-historical activity

Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) (Davydov, 2004; Engeström, 1987, 1999, 2001, 2005; Engeström & Sannino, 2010; Leontiev, 1978) was chosen as the basic theoretical framework. CHAT provided a differentiated conceptual framework to understand the mutual and often complex interactions between individual and collective cultural-historical processes. Collective systems, or communities, often have an explicit or implicit division of labor, which affords different positions, roles and perspectives. Furthermore, participation in an activity or practice is strongly influenced by values, norms and conventions that are developed and carried by the activity over time.

Differences in approaches to practice between classical and jazz musicians can be seen as related to different values and norms for what are considered important learning outcomes in the respective music practices. Such values give individual and isolated actions meaning and coherence (Engeström 2001). In the present study, instrumental practice was conceptualized as a culturally shared activity, where the daily, individual practicing gained its meaning from the culturally developed activity of learning to improvise in the jazz tradition. In a jazz context, learning to improvise is furthermore often connected to collective learning in bands (Berliner, 1994; Monson, 1996). Hence, collective practice can be conceptualized as a form of collective agency (Edwards, 2009). 

Expansive learning and explorational practice

A learning practice is always directed towards something to be learned, the “aboutness” (Brinck, 2014) of the practice. In CHAT this is conceptualized as the object of activity, the problem space (Hardman, 2007) or the content of a learning activity (Lompscher, 1999). A traditional definition of learning is when the subject, the learner, is changing as a consequence of trying to master a culturally existing object. However, the object of learning might neither be stable nor predefined, and might not even exist prior to a learning process. According to Engeström (1987, 2001), when new objects are created, subjects need to learn to act in new ways that are not yet known. This is what is depicted as expansive learning (Engeström 1987, 2001), a term employed to denote learning activity that is potentially open-ended, in contexts where the activities themselves are constantly changing.

Exploration, in Engeström´s theoretical framework (2005), refers to processes where the subject constructs new knowledge by experimenting within the given activity. In the present study I apply the concept explorational practice, derived from Engeström´s theory. It captures approaches to practice that do not conform to a goal-directed or fixed structure, but are directly connected to creative and open-ended learning processes. The launching of the concept itself is tentative in its nature and developed through analysis of the data in the present study.

A qualitative methodology: Interviews and case studies


The study was carried out with a qualitative research design, and had two phases. Part One consisted of semi-structured qualitative interviews (Kvale, 2001) with jazz students. This phase was later followed up in Part Two by a multiple case study (Creswell, 1998) with three of the participants from Part One.

Recruitment of participants

The participants in Part One were 13 students from jazz programmes at four higher music education institutions in Norway and Sweden, recruited using a purposive sample (Merriam, 1998). Participants were selected to create a desired distribution in relation to several criteria: main instruments, gender, year of study, and genre preferences. Sampling aimed to generate maximum variation.  Unfortunately, an equal degree of variation for all criteria was not achievable, thus variation in main instrument and genre preferences was prioritized.[1] (See table 1 for an overview of the participants.)

Criteria for selecting participants for Part Two were that the students practiced frequently with a regular band; that they were perceived to be articulate during the interview in Part One; and that they were willing to invest time and energy in participating in this phase.

Pseudonym Main instrument Year of study Sex Part 1, interviews Part 2, case study
Alex Drums 1st M X X
Anders Bass 2nd M X
Emma Piano 3rd F X
Georg Guitar 2nd M X
Ingrid Trumpet 1st F X X
Johan Tenor saxophone 2nd M X
Karin Vocals 3rd F X
Kristian Trombone 2nd M X
Markus Bass 2nd M X
Martin Drums 3rd M x
Monica Vocals 3rd F X
Robert Guitar 1st M X X
Vibeke Tenor saxophone 1st F x


Generating data

In Part One, semi-structured interviews were conducted individually, based on an interview guide consisting of overall themes such as musical backgrounds, values connected to improvised music, perceived outcomes of practicing, practice routines and choice of content for practicing (practice objects).

In Part Two, individual as well as band practice sessions involving the participants were videotaped,  and used as material for stimulated recall (SR) interviews (Haglund, 2003; Keith, 1988). Two individual practice sessions and one band session with each one of the participants were videotaped. Robert´s band practice was with a trio that he led, and which played mainly mainstream and some ECM-jazz.[2] Ingrid and Alex played in the same quartet which played only free improvised music or music composed by the members. Their band-SR was based on the same practice session, but their interviews were conducted individually.


The 13 interviews from Part One were transcribed focusing on words and syntax, leaving out further details. The transcriptions were individually coded and subsequently categorized in broader categories across the interviews. When deciding on categories, variation and specifically interesting instances were emphasized, rather than generalizable patterns. Further, the categories were holistically interpreted in an abductive approach (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2008). Abduction means that the researcher continuously and reflectively makes comparisons of different observations, hypothetical interpretations of the data, theory, and previous research.

The data from Part Two was analysed in a less detailed manner, allowing me to focus deeper on selected episodes. However, the process of analysing the two sets of data was reciprocal, where what emerged as central in one part affected what kinds of empirical themes I looked for in the other.


The findings fall into three main themes. The first theme concerns values and norms related to performing, and reflects the first and second research sub-questions. The second theme focuses on the two modes of deliberate and explorational practice. The third theme concerns collective practice in a band. These two latter themes reflect the third research sub-question.

Values and norms

A common theme across the interviews was that the students put the development of a personal “sound” or “voice” as an overarching ideal. I.e., when asked what abilities as a musician he wanted to develop, Alex on drums phrased the answer in this way: “That I´m really able to play (…) from the heart. [Then] I really find something inside myself, something that is mine.” Markus on bass said that although he took on different roles as a bass player in different musical contexts (genres), he still wanted to develop a consistent musical voice regardless of such contexts.

How was this ideal transformed into students´ practice activity?

Experimenting with conventions emerged as a predominant approach in this respect. One set of conventions in the jazz tradition relates to the implicit musical roles that a specific instrument takes (Monson, 1996). For instance, playing the bass carries norms for musical functions expected of a bass player while comping (accompanying) a soloist.[3]

Among the participants in the study, experimenting and transcending instrumental conventions could involve appropriating other instrument conventions and trying to transfer these to their own domain. For example, both guitarists described how they tried to play “like a pianist”, that is playing both the root and full chord, and at the same time creating melodic fills between the phrases of the soloists. On the guitar, these are complex skills. The drummer, Alex, explained how he, in a specific band that only played tunes with free rhythms, explored the role of not being the time-keeper. Instead he turned his attention to elements of sound coloring, floating on top of the other instruments. “It took me the whole summer just to figure out how to do that, how to play, when I wasn´t supposed to keep time”, Alex explained. This emphasized how profoundly a drummer´s technical repertoire is generally shaped by the conventional musical role the instrument is almost invariably required to perform.

Experimentation with conventions gave an expanded scope of action as improvising musicians. Several participants mentioned free improvisation as a specific genre domain that particularly provided this broader scope of action, precisely because conventions regarding the musical roles of specific instruments are often reset.

Another prevalent value connected to development as an improviser was an emphasis on the ability to make musically meaningful decisions in a playing situation, for example to be able to be selective with ideas. Several students mentioned this in relation to the ideal of playing less and playing simple ideas. As Robert said: “Just being able to select, like… those three notes, the “best” notes, like Miles, for example”. The use of Miles Davis as an example underlined the idea that only great musicians can play in this simple way and yet create exquisite results. This perspective was contrasted with the idea of showing off and playing with virtuosity, which often had a negative value in the participants´ views.

To play simple also had to do with the ability to communicate during an improvisation, as simplicity provides more opportunities to listen to the others, and to create space for them. Interaction was thus considered to concern both musical and mental coordination of the different members in a band.

Listening, in a broad sense of the term, paradoxically related to nurturing a personal identity or voice. This specific meaning of listening as a key to playing personal, has to be understood as a metaphor for listening inwards, giving oneself time to tune in to inner, aural imaginations and ideas. Alex put it like this: “I am [trying to be] able to play what I hear, and what comes from here [points to his heart], and not what I think, coming from here [points to his head].

Several students described the dichotomy between “hearing” and “thinking”, or as Alex suggested, playing from the heart as opposed to playing from the intellectual mind. In this case listening versus thinking constituted a dichotomy: listening referred to inner, immediate, intuitive musical ideas, and thinking referred to planning a solo while playing, or playing notes from an appropriate scale correctly with the chords. The latter approach had a negative value.

Having talked about the learning goal of developing a personal voice or sound, in some cases I asked a student about how they practised to achieve such an ambitious goal. Vibeke said: “I never think about my personal voice in the practice room. I don´t think you can practise that”. Statements from several students confirmed that they found it difficult to connect the long-term goal of developing a personal voice to specific short-term goals in their daily practicing. However, when describing their practicing objects and actions, students revealed how they were able to transform such a long-term goal to manageable short-term learning goals.

For example, several students were highly selective in choosing what material to work with, or in choosing which recorded performers they listened to.  A quote from Vibeke illustrates this:

Right now, my timbre has become a very big part of my musical identity. (…) I have a quite big, warm and  “un-feminine” [laughs] tone. I think Dexter Gordon is a model for sounding big and warm. (…) I will never be able to sound exactly like Dexter Gordon anyway, so I´m not worried of becoming a copy of him [laughs]!

She explained that copying from a performer she liked, and doing this with many different performers, enabled her to develop an expression that represented a blend of her musical preferences.

A striking feature of the students´ learning practices was a high degree of independence and autonomy in respect to choosing their own learning material. Autonomy in practicing can be understood as a deliberate strategy for developing a personal voice. By actively picking and choosing what to practise on their own, they were able to identify a personal direction on a long-term basis, and thus, linking the gap between the long-term goal of a personal voice and the short-term, daily decisions about what to practise.

Explorational practice

Most of the participants had a structured practice routine, in a manner that coincided with the concept of deliberate practice, although they did not necessarily follow this on a strictly regular basis. Deliberate practice was mostly connected to technical competencies, such as instrumental mastery, chords and scales, and skills related to rhythmical time feel.[4] Such practice objects might be described as objective and generic.

However, technical practice routines were sometimes perceived as being detached from “real” music making and improvisation. Some participants stated that technical exercises were so different from what they wanted to sound like, that they were hesitant towards doing such exercises. They feared that their expression in improvisation would start to sound as if it were a set of exercises, if practiced too structured.

Several of the participants highlighted “playing” in the practice room as a solution, which can be interpreted as practising in a manner that is closer to performing than to doing technical objective exercises. “Playing” often referred to processes of operationalizing technical items into an improvisational context, and involved formulating more personal and subjective practice objects. It aligns with what I describe as explorational practice.

In Robert´s case, explorational practice was initiated by a particular assignment his guitar teacher had given him. To begin with, Robert often practised exercises for developing finger rapidity as well as a technical-theoretical overview of all possible chord notes in all keys on the guitar neck. Robert explained that he had always liked being this systematic in his practicing, to ensure that he learned something concrete from it.

However, Robert´s guitar teacher thought Robert needed to explore more when practising instead of always following systems and focusing on learning goals, in order to improve his ability to follow spontaneous ideas that emerged in the moment. Consequently Robert started exclusively to improvise, using the same jazz standards as he had previously used for chord-exercises, and allowing melodic and rhythmic associations to guide the phrases, described as follows: “I just start in one end, and see where it goes”. He deliberately avoided formulating specific musical outcomes. This was a new experience for him, but one he felt he learned a lot from once tried.

Vibeke used to practise both rhythmic and harmonic-melodic exercises every day, but once in a while she let herself improvise on learnt material (i.e. the melodic minor scale) without any restrictions or specific goals for what she wanted to achieve. She explains in the following extract:

Researcher:  So you think that improvising in the practice room, is a way to…

Vibeke: That it becomes more real. (…) It can easily happen… that if you practise too much and play too little, that it can easily happen than when you´re supposed to be playing, you´re practising instead. Or that you don´t know how to play. So you have to practise playing.

The quotes above exemplify how “playing” in the practice room involved practicing in an open-ended way, for example working with improvisatory exercises. Such exercises can be characterized by deciding on a specific musical framework, but not deciding what the musical result should sound like. Open-ended exercises increased students´ ability to play spontaneously, enhancing their flow of musical ideas and associations, as we saw in the example from Robert, or their search for mental (emotional) flow. Explorational approaches could thus be used as a strategy for breaking loose from cerebral or analytical thought processes, to loosen up physical motor patterns on the instrument, or to prevent such patterns from becoming too automatized. This was described by several students as “finding new ways on the instrument”. I.e., Alex described this as letting the drum sticks “find” new paths on the drum set, and Robert tried to let his fingers constantly move in new directions on the guitar neck.

Explorational practice also covered other processual aspects of improvising, such as avoiding mental evaluation while playingand tolerating mistakes that occurred. A quote from Ingrid on trumpet illustrates the latter purpose: “I try to get into a mental state where I can play very simple ideas, it is an exercise in not being scared. (…) Scared of losing control, scared that it will become totally quiet, or scared of … simplicity.” Thus, open-ended exercises were used to explore and operationalize certain drilled musical materials or muscular patterns, but equally were used as exercises for practising emotional states that were considered important for improvisation.

These data indicate that the two modes of deliberate and explorational practice appeared to be linked together. The participants displayed a high degree of awareness of harmony and scale theory, compositional concepts, structures, forms and other musical effects. Analytical knowledge and awareness were often gained through deliberate practice on specific musical structures. This kind of awareness seemed to be a pre-condition for later exploration and for engaging in more experimental approaches.

Collective practice

The findings also pointed to how collective music making practices such as practising in bands or jamming were a source of motivation and gave meaning to individual practice. Emma stated: “To play with others, that is simply the reason why I play at all.” Kristian explained why he needed to meet others and jam on a regular basis: “The expression in my playing becomes much stronger when I have others to play with”. Another statement that goes in a similar direction, is made by Vibeke: “When I play in a band, it´s physical and technical thing. Then I realize how loud I have to play. You have to expose yourself to other musicians to feel how… this is the amount of effort I have to put in it in order for it to be something!” Collective practice was often considered as necessary learning arena for developing improvisational competence. The situation itself afforded a possibility for directing musical creative statements at someone, which made the learning outcome more meaningful.

Furthermore, there were several examples of practices where students utilized peers as mediators (Wertsch, 2007) in their practicing, “borrowing” from the specific skills of a peer to support one´s own learning. These specifics were often related to a particular instrument, since different instruments involved different skills, or distributed expertise (Edwards, 2009). For example, a chord instrumentalist could prefer to practise with a drummer in order to practise her or his time feel rather than having to rely on a metronome, as in the example with Robert:

It is one thing to practise with a metronome as a kind of “boss”, but that doesn´t respond if I make a mistake rhythmically. Playing with others, you always have that call and response, you play something and get a reaction to that.

Singers enjoyed practising with an instrumentalist, such as a bass player, where they could hear the chord roots. Monica often practised with various instrumentalists:

It´s a totally new world, to gain insight in how a saxophonist is thinking. And with a piano player, it´s another thing again, they are often more intellectual. (…) I try to pick up everything I can from others, their thinking. (…) Sometimes we just jam, maybe he [a bass player] starts to play, and then I begin to sing something. And then we can trade choruses. And I can sing the roots while he improvises. 

When the students were asked about what they considered the learning outcomes were from playing with others, answers ranged from specific musical outcomes (as demonstrated in the examples above) to more emotional and mental kinds of outcomes. Ingrid described these as follows:

Then [in a band setting], there are totally different things you are practising [compared to individual practicing], it´s more like being there, a presence, and being able to accept everything that happens. And just pick up ideas from what happens.

In order for the interplay in bands to facilitate such emotional and mental learning, trust was identified as a crucial factor. Social “signals” were often described as being played out musically during jamming and practicing, as indicated by Vibeke:

[The members in my band] are all good people, that´s why I picked them. If I play a fifth [in a chord], then I know the piano player won´t lay down a flat five chord just to mock me. If I lose the beat, then I know the bass player will help me back on track.

As shown in this example, musical support could be interpreted with an empathic meaning during improvisational interplay,[5] a phenomenon described as empathic creativity (Seddon, 2005). Mutual trust, respect and friendships were often preconditions and crucial starting points for starting a band. Through collaboration, as in band interplay, one is stimulated to trust each other and coordinate efforts to make the improvised music as interesting and meaningful as possible.

Summary and discussion

This study aimed to investigate approaches to instrumental practice among jazz students. Using cultural-historical activity theory as a theoretical framework, it looked at how values and norms relating to performing practices influenced approaches to practicing. In a jazz context, different instruments are imbued with inherent conventions for musical roles, and they afford different kinds of knowledge and skills within an ensemble.

Findings showed that the goal of developing a personal sound or voice was common among the jazz students. This overarching learning goal appeared to be embodied through experimentation with instrument conventions, and in autonomy and self-regulation explicitly developed through a high degree of selectivity in choosing practice material.

Furthermore, two different practicing modes were established, as the students undertook both  deliberate practice (as described by Ericsson, 1997, 2006; Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993) and explorational practice, a concept developed from Engeström´s theory of expansive learning (Engeström, 1987, 2005). Deliberate practice was utilized for developing objective skills and knowledge. Explorational practice was characterized as being open-ended and containing improvisation, and could lead to a wide range of learning outcomes, including subjective and creative outcomes. Some students talked about this mode as just “playing” – as opposed to practicing with a deliberate character. Explorational practice was experienced as being more authentic in relation to improvisational competence.

Collective practice was often described by the participants as more authentic than individual practice, as playing in a band provided opportunities for practising musical responsiveness and learning to develop musical forms collectively. Learning in bands can be interpreted as a kind of collective agency (Edwards, 2009). In interplay and jam sessions students exchanged and utilized musical ideas they would not have come across alone. This enabled the object, the improvised music, to expand and develop through the collective endeavor.

Conclusions and implications

The purpose of the study was to illuminate practice activity in higher education from the perspective of developing improvisational competence in jazz. Being aware that the findings may be of limited transfer value to other cultural-geographical areas than Scandinavia due to the great variation in jazz education programmes in a global perspective (Whyton, 2015), I nevertheless suggest that this study sheds light on complex and often contradictory processes of learning to improvise, through the lens of students in jazz education.

Unlike musical genres that are not based on improvisation, jazz carries a value system where the act of performing improvisation is (supposed to be) different from practising it, as indicated when Cecil McBee stated: “Something else is going to happen”. This represents, in my view, a fundamental contradiction in the activity of practising improvisation. The empirical data described in this article show how jazz students are aware of this contradiction, and how they relate to it. When jazz students practise, they seem to be searching for ways to expand and develop the music at the same time as they are trying to learn it.

Hence, several factors point to how theories of expertise in relation to the concept of deliberate practice fail to explain fully the expertise improvising musicians develop. Practising improvisation contains several features that perhaps directly contradict efficient and deliberate practice. A revision of theories about expertise, if these are to include creative development such as improvisation, would seem to be in order.

The data suggest that there is a strong relationship between subjective and personal development processes involving exploration and creation of music, and student independence and autonomy. There is a fine balance between structured acquisition of technical and craft related skills and materials on the one hand, and experimentation and exploration on the other, in order to personalize and operationalize the rehearsed skills in improvisation. If one intends to explore a certain material and to make it one´s own in order to improvise with it from “the heart”, then no one can tell you exactly what to do or how to do it. In practicing that allows for exploration and aiming for the unknown, risks are involved for both the guiding teacher and the exploring student. Within the conservatoire pedagogical model of apprenticeship, supporting students´ agency in making decisions that sometimes might deviate from prescribed practice behaviours might be a challenging task for teachers and institutions, since this implies that the authority of the latter parts might be set aside.

Within the music education literature today, there seems to be an increasing tendency to address questions of whether offered programs and curricula are relevant for students of today (Allsup & Olson, 2012; Clements, 2012; Gatien, 2012; Green, 2008; Karlsen & Väkevä, 2012; Whyton, 2015). Although there are a substantial number of studies on the teaching of practicing within Western, classical music (Jørgensen, 2004), we yet know very little about the teaching of practicing in jazz education, and further research is required. There is a risk of creating a gap between an institutionalized idea of practice activity, for example the theory of expertise related to deliberate practice (Ericsson, 2006), and a perhaps tacit and from some perspectives more authentic practice activity that students experience is helping them to become improvising musicians. There is therefore a need to take care that jazz education does not in fact become less relevant and run the risk of alienating students as institutions seek to nurture their competence as musicians. Nevertheless, on the basis of the present study there are strong indications that jazz students are capable of taking responsibility for their own development as musicians. Furthermore, they seem to do so with a creative approach both to the music they want to perform as well as to their deliberate strategies for being able to perform it. Higher Music Education will do well to recognize and champion these qualities.


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[1]Jazz is a genre dominated by males, in the way that males mostly play instruments, whereas females often sing. If an equal distribution of males and females was to be prioritized, there would have been too many singers with regards to the criteria of instrumental distribution.

[2] ECM Records is a German record company (Edition of Contemporary Music), established in 1969 by producer Manfred Eicher. It is known for promoting European jazz that incorporates elements of free improvisation and various ethnic and folk music influences.

[3]In a jazz context comping an improvised solo refers to when the rhythm section plays behind, i.e. keeping the groove going and defining the chord progression while at the same time improvise accents, fills, etc. (Monson, 1996).

[4] The notion of time feel is central to the musician´s competence in a jazz context. It refers to an embodied «feel» for symmetrical periods of bars; for a strong, physical definition of the beat; for subdivision; and for the ability to push or drag the beat intentionally. A strong time feel is often intuitive and tacit, and physically connected to performance on a specific instrument.

[5] Or the opposite.