Musical improvisation: multi-scaled spatiotemporal patterns of coordination

Ashley Walton, Michael J. Richardson, Peter Langland-Hassan, Anthony Chemero, Auriel Washburn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


When jazz musicians perform an improvisational piece of music their behaviors are not fully prescribed in advance. Nonetheless their actions become so tightly coordinated and their decisions so seamlessly intertwined that the musicians behave as a single synergistic unit rather than a collection of individuals. A fundamental aspect of such musical improvisation is the bodily movement coordination that occurs among the performing musicians, with the embodied interaction of musicians both supporting and constraining musical creativity. Here we consider the ability of pairs of piano players to improvise, to spontaneously coordinate their actions with co-performers. We demonstrate the ability of the time-evolving patterns of inter-musician movement coordination as revealed by the mathematical tools of nonlinear time series analyses to provide a new understanding of what potentiates the novelty of spontaneous musical action. Cross wavelet spectral analysis is applied to the musical movements of pairs of improvising pianists, a method that isolates the strength and patterning of the behavioral coordination across a range of nested time-scales. Additionally, cross-recurrence quantification analysis is applied to the series of notes produced by each musician to assess when and how often they visit the same musical states throughout the improvisation. Revealing the sophistication of the previously unexplored dynamics of movement coordination between improvising musicians is an important step towards understanding how creative musical expressions emerge from the spontaneous coordination of multiple musical bodies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCOGSCI 2015
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsD. C. Noelle, R. Dale, A. S. Warlaumont, J. Yoshimi, T. Matlock, C. D. Jennings, P. P. Maglio
Place of PublicationAustin, TX
PublisherCognitive Science Society
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9780991196722
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes
EventAnnual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (37th : 2015) - Pasadena, United States
Duration: 22 Jul 201525 Jul 2015


ConferenceAnnual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (37th : 2015)
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • music improvisation
  • self-organization
  • movement coordination
  • complex dynamical systems
  • multi-scale analysis


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