performing arts. And to bring some balance into the equation, numerous are the examples of celebrated soloists whose self -confidence is temporarily shaken just before entering on stage. In the unexperienced improvisor the absence of a composition, printed, written or memorized, may indeed create a momentary anxiety.

In order to understand better the principle of improvisation and thereby lower our mental barriers, let us leave the music aside for a moment  and consider other activities in life such as walking, driving a vehicle, meeting people, new ones, known ones, addressing a group, a classroom or an assembly, family or professional. All of these activities are full of improvisation which we face with skill, flair, experience, routine.

Similarly in improvising music we can count on all that we have gathered over time, not just vague notions but an enormous wealth of technical skills and musical expressivity we consciously acquired in playing and listening to music. We do not need to learn again to walk, talk or learn the alphabet. In improvising music the scales and harmonies are the same as in the scores, they are well known to us. Improvisation may be compared to conversing in a foreign language after years of reading and reciting and loving the literature of that language.

Improvisation is a liberating and enriching experience that will widen your musical insight and inevitably influence your relationship to your instrument as well as your approach to the existing repertoire, whether you improvise for your pleasure or for an audience.

                                 ©Hendrik BOUMAN, Oxford 2011

The problem most classical musicians really experience in facing improvisation is not the lack of skill, or ideas, but the daunting absence of the prescribing score, ‘the highway with all its traffic signs and indicated directions’.

If we take a closer look at someone who regularly improvises, he never starts from scratch each time he starts playing. There is no zero, so to speak; we are musicians. The sense of sudden incapacity is a fallacy, as is the notion that the playing musician in us does not extend itself one iota beyond the repertoire and some routine exercises. On the contrary, all our acquired skills, all our musicality, not to speak of all our life experience are at our disposal. That zero is not to be confused with silence.

Silence as a 'point de départ' is experienced by many musicians the world over as a positive reality and may serve as a beautiful and inspiring image. Silence is not only reserved for the improvising musician, it applies equally to the soloist who is on the point of performing a Chopin Prelude or a Toccata by Frescobaldi. Silence obviously does not thrust the musician into an ocean of ignorance, or deprive him of his experiences, his past, his achievements. Silence is called forth to de-mentalize the upcoming performance, to integrate all past efforts into an uninhibited whole.

How many teachers, after having worked out every performance detail of a composition with their student have said: "now forget everything and just play"? The musician, either improvising or formally performing, finds himself time and again at the starting line, full and empty at the same time; this is part and parcel of the



         IMPROVISATION and stage fright