This Course at MIT pages provide context for how the course materials published on OCW were used at MIT. They are part of the OCW Educator initiative, which seeks to enhance the value of OCW for educators.
This page focuses on the course 21M.355 Musical Improvisation as it was taught by Dr. Mark Harvey in Spring 2013.
This course exposes students from diverse musical backgrounds to the aesthetics and practice of improvisation. It is not specifically a jazz improvisation course, although jazz figures prominently in the subject, along with other traditions and approaches. The course mixes lecture-discussion, guest lectures and workshops, and hands-on music making. Enrollment is contingent on brief auditions held during the first class.
The Spring 2013 version featured a special concert series with four prominent guest artists.
Some students take more music courses in theory, history, ensembles, etc. Others simply continue to play/improvise on their own. Two students have formed an Improv Club.
Every spring semester
Enrollment in Spring 2013 was 12 students. It typically ranges from 10-15.
40% seniors, 40% juniors, 20% sophomores
Intermediate musical-technical skills are required, as demonstrated in a brief audition at the start of the term. Students should be enthusiastic and have an open mind for the subject.
About 15 students
Twelve students is ideal. That’s large enough to reflect diverse musical backgrounds and opinions, yet small enough to get to know individuals and the small group teams well.
During an average week, students were expected to spend 10 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
16 sessions taught by Mark Harvey
8 sessions with guest artists (2 per guest artist)
Below, Dr. Mark Harvey describes various aspects of how he teaches 21M.355 Musical Improvisation.
I started with extensive planning on the overall order of various topics, concepts, and concerts. Further preparations took different forms for different units – sometimes reading and research, sometimes polishing my own chops on specific improvisation approaches.
The guest artist/lecturers were major collaborative teachers, presenting their approaches in class at a high level, and then demonstrating in performance what had been discussed in class. They also expanded my insights into various approaches that I may have known something about, but not had the opportunity to examine in depth.
Ensuring that students from a wide variety of backgrounds could work together is one of the central challenges in teaching this class. It’s a continuous developmental process, an improvisation of its own.
At the midterm point, we held a class round-robin evaluation, to maximize shared insights and sort out any difficulties. That was followed at finals time with individual write-ups of what they liked, what worked well, and suggestions for improvement next time the course is offered.