The title of this research refers to randomness and surprise. My MA research opens by referencing an article1 on the essence of musical surprises. Musical surprises take on many forms: rhythmic, harmonic, melodic, timbre,…. Musical surprises are generally considered to fall under the category of perceptual surprises, characterized2 as frustrating prior expectation.

In the field of cognitive and behavioral science research is undertaken into the potential of surprise stimulating learning:

“Music ranks among the greatest human pleasures. It consistently engages the reward system, and converging evidence implies it exploits predictions to do so. Both prediction confirmations and errors are essential for understanding one’s environment, and music offers many of each as it manipulates interacting patterns across multiple timescales. Learning models suggest that a balance of these outcomes … optimizes the reduction of uncertainty to rewarding and pleasurable effect."3

The focus will be on these random elements and their potential to create surprises when introduced into typical jazz improvisation exercises and their impact on learning. One might see this music exercises as an elaborate form of flashcards (cf. for an example of research on the potential of flashcards4 in helping increase science vocabulary). I also use of games in training musical skills eg. the rhythm exercises seem promising as studies5 point to the importance of using games for rhythmic6 training. Also worth mentioning here is that randomized tests are widely used in research on musical parameters pitch, rhythm recognition e.g. pitch memory.7.

Every exercise also concludes with a short overview of:

  • the main learning objectives
  • teaching material used (mostly jazz bass an improvisation methods)
  • comments

Technical Aspects

Guidelines used for the exercise creation:

  • easy to use
  • good sounding despite the use of mostly samples
  • multitrack8 enabled (mutes for different instruments)
  • short loading times
  • compatible on mobile and desktop devices
  • multiple browser support
  • concise in their scope

Here is an example of a flamenco multitrack playback (N.B. you should see “Channels Playing” and “CPU” and use the playback and mute buttons):

Please wait... Loading...

Technical Details

For a detailed overview of the technical aspects on the exercise creation please refer to the methodology section of my MA research. All the exercises were created with free tools from the field of music and audio design in computer games (cf. sections on adaptive audio sound and music in video games).

This methodology concludes on the next pages with further sources and methods I used to compile the improvisation exercises, reference a final assignment9 on “How to teach improvisation” and list different music apps.

  1. Judge, J. (2018). The surprising thing about musical surprise. Analysis (Oxford), 78, 225–234. ↩︎

  2. Huron, D. B. (2006). Sweet anticipation music and the psychology of expectation. MIT Press. Judge, J. (2018, p226) ↩︎

  3. Gold, B. P., Pearce, M. T., Mas-Herrero, E., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. J. (2019). Predictability and uncertainty in the pleasure of music: a reward for learning? Journal of Neuroscience, 39, 9397–9409. ↩︎

  4. Aronin, S., & Haynes-Smith, H. (2013). Increasing Science Vocabulary Using Powerpoint Flash Cards. Science scope (Washington, D.C.), 37, 33–36. ↩︎

  5. Bégel, V., Loreto, I. D., Seilles, A., & Bella, S. D. (2017). Music Games: Potential Application and Considerations for Rhythmic Training. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. ↩︎

  6. Duffy, S., & Pearce, M. (2018). What makes rhythms hard to perform? An investigation using Steve Reich’s Clapping Music. PLOS ONE, 13, 1–33. ↩︎

  7. Schellenberg, E. G., & Trehub, S. E. (2003). Good pitch memory is widespread. Psychological Science, 14, 262–266. ↩︎

  8. The multitrack feature in a web browser in itself is interesting but the focus here is on randomness. ↩︎

  9. From a music pedagogy course at the Luxembourg Conservatory in 2008 (Teacher: Martin Bertemes). ↩︎