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Improvisation: Its Nature And Practice In Music

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  654 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Derek Bailey's Improvisation, originally published in 1980, and here updated and extended with new interviews and photographs, is the first book to deal with the nature of improvisation in all its forms--Indian music, flamenco, baroque, organ music, rock, jazz, contemporary, and "free" music. By drawing on conversations with some of today's seminal improvisers--including J ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published August 22nd 1993 by Da Capo Press (first published 1980)
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Todd Jenkins
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: creative spirits
The essential text on improvisation in music, the late Derek Bailey's book takes a truly global look at the role of improvisation in different cultures and situations. From the complexities of Indian music to the British free-improv machine of which he was a vital cog, Bailey covers a wide range of concepts and shows how very different forms of music can be interrelated through spontaneous creation. As a guitarist Bailey developed his own ideas of "non-idiomatic improvisation", in which he consc ...more
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 40-books-in-2008
this book by derek bailey has been on my shelf for quite some time, but i finally got around to reading it. it's a wonderful book for people who want to expand their knowledge of musicians' (and his) views on improvisation in *many* genres. thus, much of the book is a set of questions and interviews posed by bailey to a group of improvisers, composers, and non-improvisers. he covers the guru model of improvisation in indian music, the authenticity of improvisation in flamenco, patterned practice ...more
Apr 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
Although he started out as a jazz-based guitarist, Derek Bailey is best known as one of the major progenitors of "non-idiomatic improvisation" (otherwise known as "free improvisation" or simply "free improv"); and in Improvisation: Its Nature And Practice In Music, he employs a variety of artist interviews and passionate diatribes to describe this most ancient of human musical arts. The result is a groundbreaking account of improvisation through its various guises, from Hindustani classical musi ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, essays
this book is totally indispensable for anyone interested in improvisation. i often copy sections and use it as required reading for my free improvisation classes.

basically, what derek does is look back over the past 300 years of musical activity, and discusses how improvisation was a part of the activity - from (church) organ music to flamenco to jazz to non-idiomatic free improvisation and so much more. his prose is clear, erudite and simply put - not surprisingly if you think of his playing.

Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A valuable and instructive collection of commentary, interviews, and summaries from Derek Bailey, who traces all music back to the practice of improvising. The most helpful sections are in the first half of the book, where Bailey interviews musicians within different idiomatic musical traditions, among them Indian, Flamenco, and Church music. Thinking about how improvisation works within these approaches, and how free improvisation differs from all of them, was immediately inspiring.

It's as gre
Michael Karman
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Everyone talks about this as a book on improvisation, which of course it is.

It's just that it's so much more. It is one of the best books I've read on music, period. I have been playing and reading about and listening to music all my life (60), and I felt I learned more about music generally from this book than I had from any other. It could really have been titled The Nature and Practice of Music.

I think of it that way, too, because the parts about improvisation specifically are a bit out of da
"The relationship between any music which is improvised and its audience is of a very special nature. Improvisation's responsiveness to its environment puts the performance in a position to be directly influenced by the audience." Quite an enlightening book. There isn't one bit of music that has remained unaffected by improvisation. So then, where does original thought in music occur? Is it possible to create something so completely original without being affected by improvisation of music, cult ...more
Oct 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting book that everyone who's interested in music improvisation should read. In this book Bailey (may he rest in piece) tried to theorize the musicmaking method and the scene that was so close to his heart. His thoughts about free improvisation and the definitions of idiomatic and non-idiomatic improvisation musics (a division which he later in his life softened a little) is fascinating.
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was largely indifferent to this book. He seemed downright mad that classical music lost its improvisational mojo, but seemed to fixate on it. None of the interviews told me that much.

Would love a recommendation of anything like this but more recent.
Thomas Feng
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
maybe it's because I'm a musician and am picky about reading about music, but I don't like to be expert-splained (read: mansplained!) at at length... no doubt music/creativity/improvisation are ineffable but it's like a lot of breath in each section toward whatever "je ne sais quoi" which hip-smart-poetic people sometimes throw around in whatever dutiful deference to whatever mystical thing that just runs through them.

I'm tired of this kinda off-the-cuff philosophizing! like people getting #hea
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have been a big fan of Derek Bailey's music since I first heard it in the late 70's (I believe).

An essential book for musicians, especially those interested in improvisation. This is the revised version, by guitarist Derek Bailey, one of the pioneers of "free improvisation;" and there is an accompanying documentary series (5 parts) available on YouTube.

There is a number of viewpoints from different musicians/composers, etc. about the nature, progress, shortcomings, strengths, and importance of
Joe Richards
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very well considered and wide-reaching book on improvisation; perhaps the most prestigious and with good reason.

As a huge Bailey fan my interest was piqued in the latter chapters in which the iconoclastic guitarist analyses his own music and projects. The earlier chapters on the differences, similarities and impact of improvisation across different cultures and points in history are as engaging as the reader's own interest in the topics in question.
Joshua Jankiewicz
Sep 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Definitely eye-opening. Derek Bailey is not only so insightful because of his personal experience being one of the greatest free-improvisation guitarists of all time, but he's able to get inside the head of all these musicians he interviews and frame their perspectives into a clear, unified whole. The only thing that's limiting it: he doesn't really give enough mic time to improvisations detractors! I would love for him to have cut them down a notch or two. Still, great!
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Good content with a boring presentation. Outside of the dryness of the book, I loved all of it. Improvising is a fundamental part of my life and music, so reading all of these different perspectives on the subject was enlightening. Highly recommended for improvisers.
James Carroll
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book takes a wider look at improvisation than most, not tied to any one genre of music. I like the reminder that so-called classical music was once an improvised genre.
Xavier Guillaume
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I love books that inspire, that leave you wanting to change yourself and the world around you. There are several parts in this book that I just want to pick up a guitar or flute and start playing! That is the beauty of improvisation. Anyone can do it. Give any non-musician an instrument, and when they strum on the strings or beat on the drum they are performing improv.

There really is a magical quality to improvisation. Improvisation is about feeling the rhythm, being in the moment, and creating
Dorsey Bass
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
A great book exploring the musical practice of improvisation, structured in chapters that focus on several traditions from around the world (Indian classical, jazz, rock, flamenco). My main critique is that Bailey's distinction between "idiomatic" and "non-idiomatic" improvisation is essentially useless, except as a disavowal of his own placement in a specific historical "tradition" or musical community (what is often called European free improvisation). Gayatri Spivak's critique of Foucault & D ...more
Dec 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
This reads like a transcript from a documentary. It's a brilliant idea in the wrong medium.
Derek Bailey interviewing master musicians, talking about his own work, and hypothesizing about improvisation is a very good thing, but in book format it seems clumsy and lacking.
I know there is some sort of BBC film loosely affiliated with this project. I'd be curious to see how it holds up.
Despite my irritability with it's presentation, I found Bailey's book inspiring and informative. It's like eaves-d
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. Based around a series of interviews with practitioners across all the major musical idioms and with a good helping of personal anecdotes, Derek Bailey explores improvisation in a humble, wise and warm book. This book is a very satisfying read, and one that I find myself coming back to every few years.
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed it. I really liked the first half dealing with Indian, Flamenco, Organ, Baroque and Jazz Improvisation. The second half delved into free improvisation, which is obviously Derek Bailey's passion, which was interesting but given too much attention in my opinion. Overall a fascinating study on the often misunderstood art of improvisation.
Jan 28, 2008 rated it liked it
I read this before I did any contemporary improv stuff or studied Indian music at all, so I would be excited to read it again, but at the time I thought it was a little dry. For now 3 stars.
Jun 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
what an incredible detail of improvisation in all forms of music. From Baroque to Free Jazz Mr. Bailey knows what he is talking about.
Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Few understand improvisation; no one understands it better than Derek Bailey...
Steev Hise
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
pretty much the best book on improvisation i've ever read. unfortunately i seem to have misplaced my copy. i feel like i loaned it to someone but i can't remember who. was it you?
Grig O'
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
An eye-opening book, insightful and deliberate. It's also one of those books where the author is so invested in his subject it becomes infectious.
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am deeply grateful to this book.
Steve Malley
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant. Essential.
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
One of the absolute best books on music ever written.
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can't recommend this book highly enough. A must read for all musicians from all genres.
Sep 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book that tells as much about Bailey as it does a history of improvisation. It complements Jay Heble's wonderful ~Landing on the Wrong Note~.
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