(This came into existence because of frustration with how difficult it is to communicate to people exactly how much of any given piece was improvised. People with little knowledge of the art form will get confused and think you're pulling their leg if they discover that something was pre-planned; or they'll think it's normal to pre-plan a basic structure for any improvised piece. Improvisation by its nature remains an amorphous thing in most people's minds. This system is the product of many years of experience with the full range of improvisation- from total to none, and all shades in between. The categories here are as basic as we could make them. Drawing the lines between them was difficult and these choices will no doubt cause some controversy. )


Note, 3/03: The ILCS (Improvisation Level Classification System) has undergone a change: for practical use, we have decided that the area between levels 3 and 4 was a bit too broad, and needed a further classification level in order to be properly descriptive while still encompassing both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the system. So there are now 6 levels, being:

IL1: We both start playing with no discussion or preconceived ideas

IL2: We discuss something like basing the piece around a title or style, or one of us starts off with an idea that has not been verbally communicated, and start playing

IL3: We play something based around a newly composed riff, idea or chord structure. The riff/idea/chords are barely formed (and may remain so), and the arrangement and any solos are improvised

IL4: We play something hugely improvised that's based on a known structure/riff

IL5: We play something somewhat/slightly improvised that's based on a known structure/riff

IL6: We play something that's completely composed

The distinction between 4 and 5 became necessary when dealing with pieces that have a set structural element but can (and often do) end up being 90% improvised, like "Uncle Sun".


The old classifications used for J2K:

IL1: totally improvised- no pre-communication whatsoever between Greg and Hyam

IL2: a) a few words or song title mentioned prior to starting ("let's play some funk", or "let's do something that fits 'moving towards kyoto'"), etc.; b) one of us began with an idea the other hadnít heard

IL3: Piece based around a newly composed riff, idea or chord structure- riff/idea/chords barely formed (and may remain so), arrangement and any solos improvised

IL4: composed piece w/ improvised section(s) or solos. Usually, head/improv/head structure, but variations are endless. (Most jazz combos throughout the past 75 years or so have operated at IL4. They just didn't call it that!) At one extreme, only the solos are improvised; at another, the arrangement can go completely fluid.

IL5: Fully composed piece.


system by Greg Segal and Hyam R. Sosnow


(This system was conceived to be of use to all, despite this version being worded around us.

For a more generic, all-purpose version of the Improvisation Level Classification System, click here.

For a larger article with more detailed examples, click here.)


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