Doctor of Musical Arts Dissertations


Pathways to the Practice of Free Improvisation

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Contemporary Music

First Advisor

Kevin Schempf (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Ryan Ebright (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Carol Heckman (Other)

Fourth Advisor

Elizabeth Menard (Committee Member)


Improvisation offers unique opportunities in musical creativity and development, though incorporation of the teaching of improvisation into American higher education curricula has been uneven. While there is a growing interest in teaching improvisation, most improvisation instruction can be found in early childhood music education and in high school and college-level jazz instruction, creating an accessibility gap for individuals who wish to improvise or teach improvisation but have no experience improvising, in a jazz context or otherwise. The purpose of this document is to examine current instructional methods of teaching free improvisation in higher education, and to develop a series of musical prompts designed to develop spontaneous musical creative ability in an individual and group setting. In doing so, this document aims to reduce the accessibility gap and to help bring the culture of creative improvising further into collegiate-level musical instruction.