Creative Expression through Free Improvisation


Increase Creativity, Connection, and Communication


By NAfME member Carole Ott Coelho and Tadeu Coelho

Free improvisation has been shown to increase creativity, connection, and communication in both vocalists and instrumentalists. Often, musicians are intimidated by improvisation due to lack of training, tools, and experience.

music notes and piano keys on multicolored background | newannyart


How can we help our students and ourselves put aside fears about improvisation? What techniques exist to draw out our innate creativity?

Our NAfME National Conference session will give music educators concrete tools by which to introduce free improvisation to students at any level from kindergarten through college. It will focus on creating a learning environment that supports creative risk-taking and the development of student voice. Participants will be led through a sequence specifically created to ease fears about improvisation and increase connectivity, creativity, and individual voice. By allowing our innate creativity and musicality to surface, we are able to experience ourselves as CREATORS of music.

“By allowing our innate creativity and musicality to surface, we are able to experience ourselves as CREATORS of music.”

This sequence can be modified to any level, is extremely fun and engaging, and can be applied to bands, orchestras, choirs, or private studios. Through our work incorporating free improvisation in the rehearsal, studio, and performance process with both vocalists and instrumentalists, we have seen an increase in connection, creativity, and independence among our students. Through survey responses, they have expressed their delight at discovering that they, too, can CREATE music, and have reported higher levels of connection with other musicians.

Male And Female Students showing creative expression wearing black shirts and pants Singing In Choir | monkeybusinessimages


Attendees will actively engage from the first moment of this session by moving through the sequence of improvisation activities from individual sounds to short pieces created in chamber ensembles. Initially, participants will be encouraged to use their voice or body. By the end, if participants have instruments with them (any instrument!) they will be invited to improvise together on instruments. The sequence has been used for several years at the university level as well as in high school workshops and in-service days with proven success. During every stage of the process, participants will be invited to reflect on their experience by giving verbal feedback, discussing in small groups, or writing/journaling thoughts.

“Creative Expression through Free Improvisation” will be presented as part of the “Amplify: Creativity” strand at the 2019 NAfME National Conference on November 8, 2019, at 2:45 PM.


About the authors:

flutist and soprano singer duoNAfME member Carole Ott Coelho is Associate Director of Choral Activities at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her degrees include the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting from the University of Michigan where she studied with Jerry Blackstone. While pursuing graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Dr. Ott received a double Grammy for her role in the preparation of William Bolcom’s “The Songs of Innocence and of Experience.”

At UNCG, Dr. Ott directs the University Chorale, teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting, free improvisation, and graduate seminars in choral music. Dr. Ott is a recipient of The American Prize in choral conducting (College/University division). An active soprano, Ott has appeared with the New Baroque Chamber Players in North Carolina, has participated in master classes with Early Music Vancouver, and premiered the works of Susan Botti at the American Academy in Rome. Recent research interests include free improvisation in the traditional concert setting, vocal chamber music, and the music of 18th century Brazil. In 2018, she was a Fulbright Scholar to Minas Gerais, Brazil. She and her husband, Tadeu Coelho, formed the flute and soprano duo Anima Vox in 2015. They recently released their first CD, “Latino Voices,” in 2019. For more information, visit their website.

Brazilian-born artist/flutist Tadeu Coelho is professor of flute at the University North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2013-14 he received both the UNCSA and the North Carolina Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. Coelho has taught at the University of Iowa and at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Coelho frequently appears as soloist, chamber musician, and master clinician throughout the Americas. He has performed as first solo flutist of the Santa Fe Symphony, the Hofer Symphoniker in Germany, and the Spoletto Festival Orchestra in Italy, among others, including guest appearances with the Boston Symphony in the summer of 1996.

Dr. Coelho is an avid proponent of new music. He has commissioned, performed and recorded works by Steven Block, João Dias Carrasqueira, Margaret Cornils, Lawrence Dillon, Mark Engebretson, Lawrence Fritts, Eduardo Gamboa, David McHugh, Joaquin Gutierrez-Heras, Richard Hermann, Ronald Roseman, Ruth Schonthal, Amaral Vieira, and Michael Weinstein among others. Dr. Coelho can be heard in several solo recordings. His CDs and other published works are available at CD Baby and Flute World. Dr. Tadeu Coelho is a Miyazawa artist.


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. October 9, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (


April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

October 9, 2019


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October 9, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (

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