Introduction

Practice Time

No app, software or method alone will make someone a seasoned improviser. Opening the next pages with such a bold statement might seem unscientific - which it is - but there is a consensus1 among jazz players and teachers that there is no way around lifelong experiences of interacting with fellow musicians. There is on the other hand also an agreement on the value of, in jazz lingo, woodshedding or shedding i.e. time spend secluded and focused on improving but also developing new improvisation skills. Methods and tools are created to help make these sessions more interesting, stimulating and also more “productive”.2

Interaction is the keyword because what most of the play-alongs and software tools3 lack today are even minimal interactive features. Until Artificial Intelligence reaches a convincing level of real-time interaction with improvising human musicians we are stuck with actual existing4 technologies.

The purpose of this research is to critically review one element that becomes more and more prominent in music creation apps but hasn’t found its way yet on a large scale in music learning apps and software, randomness. which I will try to demonstrate, is one small step on the path of real interaction. How to use and add chance, aleatoric, serendipity, surprise features in jazz and pop exercises is the focus of this research and the link with my Master reflection report Kings and Queens of Serendip in Part I on this website. I will illustrate the technical side by the use of adaptive audio technologies from the domain of video games to create exercises with random elements.

Electronic tools and helpers have taken a prominent role in music education. I have been involved in, but also created different software projects, listed on this website in the reflection report section (PercussionTutor, FlamencoTutor, Interakt). These app and software projects all use random features but all of them, except Interakt only scratch the surface of the potential of random features.

My sources include research on the elements of surprise5 in a pedagogical setting as well as into the tools (digital and others) e.g. use of flash cards. Furthermore I used different jazz bass methods and improvisational methods to select the exercises that seemed the most adapted to integrate elements of surprise (cf. research section) with feedback from my bass teachers Matthias Akeo Nowak, John Goldsby and Jo Didderen.

The 10 lessons in the research part all refer to specific exercises related to improvisation in a jazz and pop music context. If necessary the different learning objectives and pedagogical and didactic actions are listed for beginner, intermediate and more advanced students.


  1. Berliner, P. F. (1994). Thinking in Jazz : The Infinite Art of Improvisation. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. ↩︎

  2. How exactly one might define productivity in improvising remains an open question. ↩︎

  3. iReal Pro or Band-in-a-Box to name just the most known and widely used. ↩︎

  4. As reference to the ironic “actually existing capitalism” as e.g. in Fischer, M. (2009). Capitalist Realism - Is there no Alternative? Zero Books. ↩︎

  5. e.g. Fortin, C., Gonzalez, E., & Carle, S. (2017). When the element of surprise fosters learning. Pédagogie Collégiale Vol. 30, N° 3, Spring 2017. ↩︎