Preparation / Playing the Game / Discussion
Musical Freeze Improvisations
This lesson is intended to teach improvisation and invention, and to introduce the idea of creating story from movement, rather than the other way around. It also works well as a warmup.

I developed this exercise from a non-musical version whose source I don't know. I think the music makes the exercise work much better.

Before class, you need to make a tape containing short snippets of contrasting musical selections--at least fifteen or twenty of them. This takes a lot of time, but you only have to do it once, and you will find lots of uses for the tape afterwards. 

Playing the Game

At first, there is only one real rule: Whenever the music is playing, students are moving; whenever it stops, they freeze. (I suppose you could play so that anyone who fails to freeze is "out" but I don't, for the obvious reason that then those students are left out. If I encounter a group who needs the sense of competition as a motivator, I construct a teacher-vs-class system. If everyone freezes, the class gets a point; if not, I do.)

The instructor plays several snippets of music. Each will be different in character, and the students are encouraged to move "the way the music sounds." (This is a very useful exercise in itself, and with my youngest groups this is as far as I go.) Stress the importance of freezing INSTANTLY, in whatever position you find yourself in.

After the group has got the hang of it, the teacher starts adding instructions during the freeze.

After the music stops and everyone freezes, the teacher says, "Go!" and each student launches immediately into a spontaneous improvisation, suggested by the position in which he or she is frozen.

Only let the improvisation go for a few seconds, then yell, "stop!" Start the next piece of music, and once again the students move to the music.

Repeat this many times, side-coaching as necessary to make sure the students are really letting their body position suggest their improvisations.

After this has gone on for a while, the teacher may say, "Let your next improvisation carry you toward another member of the group-for a real reason."

I usually end the lesson with an improvisation that brings everyone together in the middle of the space.

Go back to the top.

If this is first time I am doing this lesson with a particular group, I usually discuss it with them afterwards. We discuss the way that the music enhances the exercise--because it creates more varied movement. Without the music--and the differences in the music--all of the "freezes" would tend to be similar, and thus the improvisations would lack variety. Why does music have so much emotional content? (Of course one can only have this kind of discussion with a fairly sophisticated group, but my middle-schoolers really get into it. My students are always begging me to do this again.

Go back to the top.

Matt Buchanan