Beyond Skill Acquisition: Improvisation, Interdisciplinarity, and Enactive Music Cognition

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15 Scopus citations


The paradigm of enactive music cognition offers an anti-representational framework for understanding musical activity as both corporeal and culturally-situated. In this paper, I discuss live electronic musical improvisation as an exemplary model for the enactive framework in its ability to demonstrate the importance of participatory, relational, emergent, and embodied musical activities and processes. Following Gallagher, I argue that the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, where performers develop from novices to experts who may eventually achieve a state of ‘mindless flow’, does not adequately account for what can happen during various forms of musical play. A critical study of improvisation reveals that a more generous conception of meaningful musical activity is needed, particularly in terms of who is able to take part as an improviser. I contextualise these ideas from the position of being an improviser of live electronic music performed on self-built, hybrid analogue/digital instruments, my background in creating expressive musical systems for people with profound and complex learning difficulties, and through my recent explorations of both pedagogical and research approaches to interdisciplinary improvisation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-462
Number of pages17
JournalContemporary Music Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 3 2019


  • Embodied Cognition
  • Enactivism
  • Improvisation
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Pedagogy
  • Performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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