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Improvisation


Improvisation is broad term referring to the process of devising an atypical method of solving a problem due to lack of time or resources. In a technical context, this can mean adapting a device for some use other than that which it was designed for, or building a device from unusual components in an ad-hoc fashion. Improvisation, within the context of performing arts, is a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation. The skills of improvisation can apply to many different faculties, across all artistic, scientific, physical, cognitive, academic, and non-academic disciplines.

Musical improvisation is usually defined as the composition of music while simultaneously singing or playing an instrument. Improvisational comedy is a theatre art performed throughout the world and has had on-again, off-again status throughout history. Dance improvisation is frequently used as a choreographic tool. Choreography is also frequently used as a tool for improvisation.

Improvisation also exists outside the arts. Improvisation in engineering is to solve a problem with the tools and materials immediately at hand. Improvised weapons are often used by guerrillas, insurgents and criminals.

Improvisation in engineering is to solve a problem with the tools and materials immediately at hand. Examples of such improvisation was the re-engineering of carbon dioxide scrubbers with the materials on hand during the Apollo 13 space mission, or the use of a knife in place of a screwdriver to turn a screw.

Engineering improvisations may be needed because of emergencies, embargo, obsolescence of a product and the loss of manufacturer support, or just a lack of funding appropriate for a better solution. Users of motor vehicles in parts of Africa develop improvised solutions where it is not feasible to obtain manufacturer-approved spare parts.

The popular television program MacGyver used as its gimmick a hero who could solve almost any problem with jury rigged devices from everyday materials, a Swiss Army knife and some duct tape.

Improvisation can be thought of as an "on the spot" or "off the cuff" spontaneous moment of sudden inventiveness that can just come to mind, body and spirit as an inspiration. No preparation or training is needed. However, improvisation in any life or art form, can occur more often if it is practiced as a way of encouraging creative behavior. That practice includes learning to use one's intuition, as well as learning a technical understanding of the necessary skills and concerns within the domain in which one is improvising. This can be when an individual or group is acting, dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, talking, creating artworks, problem solving, or reacting in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or new ways to act.



  • Abbot, John. 2009. Improvisation in Rehearsal. Nick Hern Books. .
  • Abbot, John. 2007. The Improvisation Book. Nick Hern Books. .
  • Harrigan, Pat. 2002. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. MIT Press. .
  • Johnston, Chris. 2006. The Improvisation Game: Discovering the Secrets of Spontaneous Performance. Nick Hern Books. .
  • Madson, Patricia Ryan. 2005. Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up. Bell Tower. .
  • Nachmanovitch, Stephen. 1990. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. Penguin/Tarcher. (cloth); (pbk).
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