Repertoire has traditionally been a primary vehicle for teaching instrumental technique and musicality to students. In addition to working on technical and musical goals, however, students may struggle with aspects of the music that do not have broad technical or musical implications but are by-products of learning repertoire. I began to wonder if improvisation could be harnessed as a vehicle for teaching technique while providing creative and musically enhancing experiences for students. Since the techniques students learn are only useful if they can transfer to other contexts, improvisation-based learning must facilitate the transfer of technique in order for it to be a viable alternative to repertoire-based learning. The purpose of this study was to compare the transfer of a technique when acquired through traditional repertoire-based methods with fixed tonal and rhythmic contexts and through improvisation, with variable tonal and rhythmic contexts. In this quantitative quasi-experimental study, I investigated the transfer of a bow technique in nine fourth grade public school string students. The participants in the repertoire-based group used a piece of music (fixed context) to learn how to play two-note slurs. The participants in the improvisation-based group used an improvisatory framework to learn how to play two-note slurs. After several weeks of practicing, the participants were presented with an unfamiliar musical excerpt containing two-note slurs and separate notes. They were given time, as needed, to practice it with help from their classroom teacher and then performed it, along with the piece they had been practicing and a familiar piece (learned previously with separate bows) with slurs. They also completed a questionnaire. The participants’ improvisations ranged in length, included a mixture of slurs and separately articulated notes, and had varying melodic contour and rhythmic content. Participants in both groups seemed to transfer their technique to both familiar and unfamiliar contexts to approximately the same degree. Improvisatory 5 experiences appeared to be just as effective as a more traditional repertoire approach and teachers are encouraged to provide these opportunities to students.

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