Musical Delicacies

— Early Music Concert Series —

Photo: Davide Monti
Davide Monti
Zach Adams Photography

The Art of Impro­visa­tion

Music courses on improvising with Davide Monti:
27–31 August 2019 Kunín château, Czech Republic
21–25 August 2018 Kunín château, Czech Republic
23–27 August 2017 Kunín château, Czech Republic
1–5 August 2016 Kunín château, Czech Republic
24–30 August 2015 Bučovice & Kunín châteaus, Czech Republic
28–31 August 2014 Kunín château, Czech Republic


This course is intended for singers and melody instrumentalists with the aim to facilitate an untraumatic / easy approach to the subject.

The course aims to stimulate three aspects, each equally important: stylistic-historical, formal and structural-communicative, and psychological. These aspects contribute to build up an awareness on a proper good-taste and communicative intentions while performing.

The course will confront theoretical and practical aspects, like on where and when to improvise, the different consequences within communicative relationships, and on the influence of apparently external elements like theatre and dance to musical improvisation.

It is important that instrumentalists bring their own instruments (we will check which pitch is better, according to the participants to the course).

YouTube video: International School of Improvisation, Pavia 2015


The table below outlines the curriculum for this class. The lessons consist of a mixture of lecture, demonstrations, community activities and group exercises. Each block could comprise most of a morning or afternoon block (cca. 3 hours), but the actual schedule will be adjusted according to the interests and qualifications of the participants.

Introduction Communication (theatre, Affects), Good Taste (instinct), mistakes and time necessary to educate instinct  
Education of the ear Exercises for repeating / answering in rhythm  
Energy and ... Improvisation based upon dance rhythms   Giga, gagliarda...
... a search for form Talk about the form  
Melody The intervals to be filled in Exercises upon different intervals Cyclical, the whole scale
Historical examples (treatises, madrigals)
Regular / irregular divisions, the Affects  
Harmony Harmonic cycles / invented melodies Identifying a bass line  
Bassi ostinati Arpeggios on a bass Ciaccona, bergamasca, passacaglia, follia
Analysis Affects  
Form, intervals, rhythm, harmony  
Free Composition   Prelude / cadenza, capriccio
Composed Pieces Pieces prepared by anyone Free choice  

Didactic approach

The Art of Improvising can be approached through Theory and Practice through three aspects: stylistic-historical, formal and structural-communicative, and psychological.

Historical – Stylistic

The same content can be expressed in different ways. For this reason people in different periods and in different regions/cultures have developed various solutions (through structure, through the characteristics of a musical phrase, technique, sound, ...) to describe similar scenarios. The first information regarding improvisation is descriptive remarks but no traces exist of the actual music played before the advent of written examples of diminutions at the beginning of the 16th century in Italy. The tradition of adding extra notes to madrigals leads to the institution of florid adagios of the late 17th century (Corelli) and to other improvisational forms (fugues, caprices, fantasies, variations on bassi ostinati, ...). By the 19th century the possibilities of spontaneous invention by the performer become more and more confined: adagios, preludes, cadences, themes and variations become written-out forms apart from virtuosistic improvisations by extraordinary composer-performers. Jazz, folk and pop music are modern examples which contain much improvisation. We will travel through the history of improvisation in a informative and practical way from the Renaissance to the present employing written music, Historical Informed Practice (HIP) and cultural attitudes, according to the specific characteristics of the instruments (melodic, harmonic, rhythmical); also instruments that use the same kind of language (for example wind and strings) are able to develop their own individual styles.


Form of the composition: Music has continually searched for better forms to express itself and improvisation sur-le-champ has been the way to experiment with different models and verify their communicative capacities. Nowadays many written forms of compositions remain, but they were born and developed as experiments. What we have today is only a small percentage of the production of fortunate musicians, who were financially able to print their compositions. We can analyse models of improvisation as variations on a melody, variations on a bass line, improvisation on a rhythmical line, and other “free” structures (prelude, toccata, fantasia, fugue, cadenza etc.), also considering the individual characteristics of different instruments (keyboard instruments: basso continuo, harmonic variations on a bass line, polyphonic counterpoint; for melody instruments: embellishments, flourishes, virtuosistic and cantabile variations).

Form of the language: Each language has its own rules and musical rhetoric consists of codes that are used to express a message. Improvisation requires the capacity to compose on the spot and for this reason it is necessary to understand the way in which a particular content can be expressed. The rhetoric of theatre and dance can help to find and understand the way to express ourselves in music.


One of the biggest problems in improvisation is the Horror Vacui, the fear of filling an empty space. It is important to confront this aspect to enter the core of the subject. An important step is to learn to have self-efficacy and confidence in order to make “good taste” choices and to use ones ears properly.

Davide Monti

Copyright © 2013 Davide Monti