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The Comparing Domains of Improvisation Discussion Group

The Comparing Domains of Improvisation Discussion Group is a group organized by Marc Hannaford (PhD student, Department of Music) and Andrew Goldman (Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University), sponsored by the Columbia University Department of Music and the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience Program. The group was founded in August 2015.

They invite improvisers, scholars, and all who are interested to participate in a series of discussions regarding the way people improvise and what improvisation means in various domains. The group considers the term “improvisation” in a broad sense, including various “masking terms” such as “the ad-hoc,” “workarounds,” “the spontaneous,” and so on.

They envisage a group that includes representatives from as many disciplines as possible; while music, dance, sports, and theatre have long been associated with improvisation, more recent scholarly work has brought the improvisatory to the fore in domains such as philosophy, design, urban studies, literature (including poetry), organizational theory, and law. They also seek to include athletes, martial artists, chess players, and other skilled practitioners of improvisation. How does the meaning of the term differ between domains and how is it similar? What are some of the different ways improvisation functions in these domains and what can be learned from their comparison?

Discussion sessions will be held 3 or 4 times per semester, two hours per session. They aim to assemble a core group of consistent attendees, but all are welcome to come to any meeting. Sessions will take one of three possible formats: invited performer(s)/speaker(s) followed by roundtable discussion, particular literature that will be discussed, or a guiding discussion question for everyone.

In Spring 2016, Andrew and Marc published an article in the American Music Review (Vol. XLV, No. 2), “The Challenge of Comparing Improvisation across Domains.”


The group has an upcoming event:

October 3rd, 2017

Time: 1:00–3:00pm

Location: Fayerweather Room 513 on Columbia’s Morningside Campus

We are pleased to welcome Prof. Martin Norgaard (Georgia State University) to speak at our first meeting of fall, 2017. Recommended readings are below. Prof. Norgaard will be joining us via Skype to discuss the flow state and improvisation. The format will be one of a discussion based on the readings below. If you have trouble accessing any of them, please contact Andrew Goldman.


Harris, D. J., Vine, S. J., & Wilson, M. R. (2017). Neurocognitive mechanisms of the flow state. Progress in Brain Research (1st ed.). Elsevier B.V.

Dietrich, A. (2004). Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow. Consciousness and Cognition, 13, 746–761.

Beaty, R. E., Benedek, M., Silvia, P. J., & Schacter, D. L. (2016). Creative Cognition and Brain Network Dynamics. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(2), 87–95.

Norgaard, M., Emerson, S. N., Dawn, K., & Fidlon, J. (2016). Creating under pressure: Effects of divided attention on the improvised output of skilled jazz pianists. Music Perception, 33(5), 561–570.

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