Group Interaction

  • Levels of group interaction in improvised performance
  • Musician and dancer interactions


Group interaction in jazz is crucial to having a successful performance. If a band performs without listening to each other, paying attention, and being sensitive to what other people are playing, then they will not sound good. In jazz, a group strives to have good chemistry with one another, or as R. Keith Sawyer calls it, group flow. “When a group is performing at its peak, I refer to it as being in group flow, in the same way that an individual performing at his or her peak often experiences a subjective feeling of flow.” (Sawyer 158). One such example of a group that has achieved group flow is the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Here is an example of one of their songs called Plaza Real. The Wayne Shorter Quartet consists of four of the best musicians in the world all performing at the best of their ability while maintaing group flow. The Wayne Shorter Quartet often plays very motivic, and they take theses motives and build them to an incredibly dramatic climax.


Each performance of the Indian raga is unique, however the process that the musicians go through is quite simple and routine. Performances will start very slowly, exploring the melodic possibilities within the raga – this part is usually free, with no rhythm involved. From here a “keynote” is established, which is done in part by the sitar player and whoever is holding the drone. In most cases, this keynote is either the equivalent of the root of the scale or another important note (most likely a “fifth” above the “root) (Bailey 1980:13).

It is after this part where rhythm is introduced. At this point, improvisation might lessen due to the introduction of the tabla where in the player will accent and play certain beats in the raga, which will do more than to “add” to the improvisation, but rather restrict. Furthermore, this rhythm pattern will introduce a feeling of emphasis in the tune where both players where meet “together” in the “time cycle.” It is here when the sitar and tabla player meet that they will end of switching roles – the tabla now improvising on the tala, while the sitar player will riff on a pattern, keeping the raga in tact. The players may choose to switch constantly at these meeting points in time for as long as they choose (this probably explains why so many performances of a single raga may last up to an hour or longer).


Flamenco performances require a good amount of interaction among the performers. The singer, dancer, and guitarist must all be listening to each other in order to catch each other's changing styles and rhythms if they choose to change things around. Flamenco guitarist have a more challenging time than the other group members because he must bring out the best in the singer or dancer he is accompanying (Bailey 1980:23). The guitarist can respond to the rhythms (compás) or styles that the dancer chooses and base his own style of falsetas and compás off of the singer's or dancer's. Similarly, a singer may alter the mood of the piece and influence the styles that the guitarist chooses. Catching each other's variations of the inner elements of the verses requires active listening and improvising a suitable response to keep pushing the development of the piece.


Group interaction is virtually nonexistent in the traditional taqasim style, and therefore there is not any readily available literature on the subject. Since it is usually performed by a soloist without accompaniment, there are no other musicians to interact with. Sometimes there are accompanists for the soloist, but it seems that they are usually not improvising very much and if they do react to the soloist, it is more of a one way response.

Free Improvisation

Group interaction is paramount in group free improvisation. As there are no preconceived structures or plans for improvisation, all that the players have to work with are personal and interpersonal musical ideas of the moment.