Free Improvisation

The concept of free improvisation has been on my mind a lot this year.

Free improvisation is basically music without rules. No rhythmic rules, no tonal rules. It can be anything you want, freely composed in the moment. Hence the “improvisation.”

The University of Michigan has an ensemble dedicated to this musical practice called the Creative Arts Orchestra. There are no restrictions on instrument type or degree level– the only requirement is a willingness to open your mind to a new way of creating music.

This semester we have a mix of all instrument families: strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion. 21 people in total come together to create an improvisational ensemble to express creative ideas until the music naturally comes to an end. Every improvisation yields special moments of both togetherness and separateness. Because we are responding to eachother, everyone has the space to take a solo or simply accompany. We learn how to use our instruments to express our emotions. We learn to compose in the moment. We learn how to listen. We learn how not to play.


Free improvisation has greatly improved my skills as a musician. It’s given me more confidence in my abilities. Getting the chance to play with people I don’t often play with is a reminder that my world doesn’t have to be so small. I’ve started beginning my practice sessions with short improvisations so I can warm up my fingers, find the core of my sound, and wake my viola up a little bit before I start looking at repertoire. Sometimes I’ll pick different keys to challenge my brain and change up finger patterns. I’ll make up my own fiddle tune. I think there is so much value in being able to make music away from looking at a piece of paper. Improvising allows me to use my creative and artistic side, when so often in classical music I feel like I’m a robot reading notes off of a page. If you play an instrument, see what happens if you try to make up a song in the moment. Once you start doing it enough you’ll find yourself in a sort of meditative state, and if you feel ready to start playing with others, come join us in CAO.

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