Here is a very nice description of improvisation from an article called "The Improvising Brain":

Improvisation is not exclusive to music, says Berkowitz. Nor is it a pure flight of invention. “It’s spontaneity within a set of constraints,” Berkowitz explains. “Imagine: You slip on ice, and you do a sort of little dance to regain your balance — maybe in a way you’ve never ‘danced’ before; but though the sequence of movements might be novel, it’s made up of the individual movements that are possible given what the body can do and where it is in space.” Musical improvisers also work within constraints. “Those bebop players play what sounds like 70 notes within a few seconds. There’s no time to think of each individual note. They have some patterns in their toolbox,” says Berkowitz.


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