Music syntax & procedural learning: improvisation as a means, not an end

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


    While improvisation is considered to be an art form, particularly in jazz, but also in eighteenth-century music, it may also be seen as an didactic instrument which can be used to develop implicit knowledge of music syntax. Two types of syntax may be distinguished: finite state grammars and hierarchical grammars. While repetitious practice promotes acquisition of the first type, it does not promote acquisition of the latter. For this reason, classical musicians acquire very little implicit knowledge of hierarchical music syntax, relying mainly on their extensive explicit knowledge of the subject of harmony. Improvisation, particularly in the context of musical interaction, is more likely to promote the acquisition of implicit knowledge of hierarchical syntax as it relies on program-level imitation and string-parsing of the underlying structure. This explains why improvising musicians are more capable of playing by ear, transposing, and harmonizing.
    Period2 Mar 2017
    Event titleIntensive programme: Modernizing European higher music education through improvisation
    Event typeConference
    Locationden Haag, NetherlandsShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational


    • hierarchical syntax
    • improvisation
    • procedural learning
    • serial response time task
    • finite state grammar
    • implicit knowledge