Free Music Improvisation in Brazil: an ethnography of Brazilian improvisers

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A four-month research period into the practice of free music improvisation in Brazil during February - June 2014 allowed intriguing insights into how musicians think about, play and teach the music practice that is referred to as ‘free improvisation’. An overview of the term ‘free improvisation’ with some historical context on its development will be provided to aid the reader to better situate the ethnographic study carried out with 50 Brazilian improvisers. The ethnography was carried out within a participatory action research (PAR) framework, with the main aim to inquire whether or how the practice of free improvisation is taught in the Brazilian higher education system.
The research was set at several higher education institutions in Brazil, which included the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), The Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO), The University of São Paulo (USP), The Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), The Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), with two shorter, single day visits to The Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal (UFRN) and The Escola Livre de Música in Unicamp (ELM).
Before providing a summarised interpretation of some of the interviewed improvisers, I will examine the improvisational spirit, the improvisatory worldmaking approach (the ‘jeitinho brasileiro’) that is often considered to be integral to the Brazilian way of life.
I conclude the article by linking the skills of listening, so essential in the practice of free music improvisation, to the work of French composer and pedagogue Alain Savouret and his concept of the ‘virtuosity of the ear’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of Education & the Arts
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2019


  • free music improvisation
  • Brazil
  • ethnography
  • Savouret
  • listening
  • music pedagogy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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