Australasian Jazz and Improvisation Research Network Conference 2018

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesContribution to conference


Paper Presentation:

Listening to Communities of Practice

‘Communities of practice’ refers to groups of people who share a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. Within jazz music, communities of practice can result in a collective learning of approaches for studying improvisation and new forms of expression. This paper aims to explore how these communities have the potential to change both how jazz musicians think about studio practice and concepts such as aural skill development, and the methods adopted for learning new material.
The paper presents findings from a qualitative study within Willis’ PhD that examined the community of practice of 17 high-level Australian improvising instrumentalists. The study examined how these musicians engaged in mental practice in order to develop the ability to mentally improvise, while away from their given instruments. Within the study, mental practice was understood as the deliberate imagining of a given task that is normally physical in nature, and it also referred to activities directed towards constructing the cognitive faculties that make it possible to mentally practice.
The research showed that the development of mental improvisation skills was a highly valued component of many of the musicians’ creative practices. For many, it represented a significant approach that they engaged with during their studio practice that subsequently contributed to improving their artistic output. Indeed, many of those interviewed had put considerable effort into investigating how such mental skills might be streamlined, and had developed approaches for aiding the generation of musical auditory imagery and musical sounds heard in their minds.
Despite being commonly used by jazz practitioners, the development of mental musical improvisation skills via mental practice has rarely been studied in depth or incorporated in teaching pedagogies within tertiary jazz music education. Whilst research undertaken in the academy can feed back into communities of practice, the authors contend that the opposite is also true – communities of practice can inform curriculum structure, pedagogical methods and directions for future jazz research within tertiary institutions.
Period1 Jun 20183 Jun 2018
Event typeConference
LocationMelbourne, Australia, VictoriaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Communities of practice
  • jazz
  • aural
  • audiation
  • mental improvisation
  • studio practice