Centre for Creative Performance & Classical Improvisation

About the Centre

The Centre was founded in 2005 by Professor David Dolan and leads on related teaching and research, as well as putting on special performance and research events for Guildhall School’s community and beyond.

Teaching and practice is offered in different forms and levels of intensity. These range from introductory sessions through undergraduate and postgraduate elective options, to doctoral studies. This work gives students a unique opportunity to acquire and apply an improvisational state of mind in repertoire performance, alongside developing the ability to improvise in different stylistic languages.

The Centre conducts multidisciplinary research projects in collaboration with the Imperial College Neuroscience and Data Analysis teams and the Tokyo Institute of Technology on ‘The Improvisational State of Mind’ as a manifestation and catalyst of creativity. Current and future work includes collaborative projects with the composer and AI music programmer Oded Ben Tal from Kingston University, and with the Sibelius Academy and Helsinki University’s neuroscience department. 

The Centre hosts a series of research and performance events led by Professor David Dolan, offering students numerous opportunities to experiment, brainstorm ideas and perform. 

About Improvisation

Improvisation is one of the elements that turns creativity from discussing an elusive concept to the actual making of musical magic in real-time. Up until the late 19th century – before going into a deep coma for over a century – improvisation was a central part of the culture of Western art music-making, just as we know it today from the artistic environment of jazz as well as from some non-European cultures. Guildhall School of Music & Drama has been a major contributor to the revival of this art and its re-integration into performance practice, teaching and learning, as well as making significant developments in research on the topic.

Improvisation is considered not only as an art in its own right but also as a unique and powerful tool for developing and applying a personal, creative and risk-taking approach to solo and ensemble performance


One of the Centre’s missions is to make the ability to improvise a skill available to all musicians who wish to learn it, to the degree they wish to take it. Years of experience show that this can be done. 

Teaching is led by the Head of the Centre for Creative Performance & Classical Improvisation, Professor David Dolan. Professor Dolan explains:

The teaching and practice offered by the Centre invite students to fuse creative spontaneity and the search for one’s personal voice with their know-how, while also working on their professional mastery (both instrument-specific and generally musical). When knowledge and intuition fuse in real-time, you could think of it as professionally combining business with pleasure.

Intensive electives are offered at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels (no previous knowledge of improvisation is required). The electives will familiarise you with the stylistic and structural elements of both tonal and tonally-free musical languages from within. This work often happens in a duo with a fellow musician to enhance active listening, leading and following skills, and the ability to hear ahead along a structural line. Eventually, the process leads to a kind of musical mind-reading. The sessions take place in small groups (solo players of different instruments or chamber music groups, or singers). 

An essential element is applying an improvisational state of mind to solo and chamber repertoire performance, by working on the expressive meaning of the work’s harmonic and structural reductions and then elaborating those according to one’s own interpretation. Enhanced freedom of expression and more secure memorisation are often reported to be associated with this way of working.

Study Options


William Bracken, piano student at Guildhall School of Music & Drama

Improvisation has been invaluable to my development as a performing musician. Internalising the inner harmonic life of repertoire together with group improvisation led me to develop deep listening skills and experience intense pleasure in performance - allowing a great degree of spontaneity and freedom. It also helped enormously in managing performance anxiety. Progress under the guidance of David Dolan was remarkable, and I am certain that the skills taught in this class will continue to be a central part of my music making for many years to come.

– William Bracken, pianist, MMus 2nd year (Interpretation through Improvisation elective), Gold Medal 2022 competition finalist


Since 2012, the Centre has been involved in two large-scale interdisciplinary research projects about the impact, on both performers and audiences, of applying classical improvisation. Led by Prof. David Dolan, the projects were conducted in collaboration with Professor Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen (leading the Imperial College Neuroscience and Complex Data Analysis teams) and Professor John Sloboda (Guildhall School).

  • The first project (2013) found enhanced connection and mutual enjoyment between performers and their listeners when performers applied an improvisational approach to repertoire performance.
  • The second project (2018) established the existence of an ‘improvisational state of mind’ in performance – whether one actually improvises musical content on the spur of the moment or whether one performs a repertoire work without altering the written notes but applying an improvisational attitude to the performance. Applying an improvisational concept was found to reduce performance anxiety, inspire a flow state and enhance listeners’ and performers’ engagement and enjoyment.

Recent research further explores the impact of improvisation on synchronicity in body language and heart and brain activity between audience members and performers in response to improvisation. This research is taking place in collaboration with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Imperial College and Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Another research project on the long-term impact of improvisational practice on musicians’ brain activity starts in January 2023 with the Sibelius Academy and Helsinki University’s neuroscience department.

Public Events

Workshops, masterclasses, concerts and lecture-concerts initiated and supported by the Centre regularly take place at Guildhall, often in collaboration with other music institutions worldwide. 

International Collaborations

  • The centre is a part of the Modernizing European Higher Music Education Through Improvisation (METRIC) project.
  • The Vienna University of Performing Arts (MDW) and Guildhall School of Music & Drama are collaborating through joint teams of students from both institutions, guided by MDW’s rector Professor Johannes Meissl and the Head of the Centre at Guildhall School, Professor David Dolan.
  • The International Chair of the Centre, Professor Robert Levin, has regular residencies, which include public lectures, concerts and masterclasses. 


Classical Improvisation Coaches:

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