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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Improvisation \Im*prov`i*sa"tion\, n. [Cf. F. improvisation.]

  1. The act or art of composing and rendering music, poetry, and the like, extemporaneously; as, improvisation on the organ.

  2. That which is improvised; an impromptu.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

mid-15c., "unforeseen happening;" 1786 as "act of improvising musically," from French improvisation, from improviser "compose or say extemporaneously," from Italian improvvisare, from improvviso "unforeseen, unprepared," from Latin improvisus "not foreseen, unforeseen, unexpected," from assimilated form of in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + provisus "foreseen," also "provided," past participle of providere "foresee, provide" (see provide).


n. 1 The act or art of composing and rendering music, poetry, and the like, extemporaneously; as, improvisation on the organ. 2 That which is improvised; an impromptu. 3 Musical technique, characteristic of blues music. 4 The act of improvise, acting or going about something without planning ahead

  1. n. a creation spoken or written or composed extemporaneously (without prior preparation)

  2. an unplanned expedient [syn: temporary expedient]

  3. a performance given extempore without planning or preparation [syn: extemporization, extemporisation]


Improvisation is the process of devising a solution to a requirement by making-do, despite absence of resources that might be expected to produce a solution. In a technical context, this can mean adapting a device for some use other than that which it was designed for, or building a device from unusual components in an ad-hoc fashion. Improvisation as a context of performing arts is a very spontaneous performance without specific preparation. The skills of improvisation can apply to many different faculties, across all artistic, scientific, physical, cognitive, academic, and non-academic disciplines.

Musical improvisation is usually defined as the composition of music while simultaneously singing or playing an instrument. Improvisational comedy is a theatre art performed throughout the world and has had on-again, off-again status throughout history. Dance improvisation is frequently used as a choreographic tool. Choreography is also frequently used as a tool for improvisation. Improvisation was originally rarely used on dramatic television. A major exception was the situation comedy Mork & Mindy where star Robin Williams, famed for this kind of performing, was allotted specific sections in each episode where he was allowed to perform freely.

Improvisation also exists outside the arts. Improvisation in engineering is to solve a problem with the tools and materials immediately at hand. Improvised weapons are often used by guerrillas, insurgents and criminals.

Usage examples of "improvisation".

Gradually there were added to these psalter choir-books additions in the form of antiphons, responses, collects or short prayers, for the use of those not skilful at improvisation and metrical compositions.

It was strictly mixed language she screamed at them--African Gullah, English, French, local improvisations.

The day had been good: a blind man, the reduced sentence I had hoped for, a cordial handclasp from my client, a few liberalities, and in the afternoon, a brilliant improvisation in the company of several friends on the hardheartedness of our governing class and the hypocrisy of our leaders.

This time Kerry took the acorn, and they continued the improvisation, developing it into a story with a squirrel for a villain, until the custodian switched off the houselights from backstage and they both shouted in indignation.

With the help of the keyboard, her good memory, the Japanese voice synthesis modules and her quickness of wit and improvisation, she had spoken to them with the rich ripe personal tone and cadence and intimacy of the Reverend Doctor Matthew Meadows in his prime.

However, after an incident in Poznan in which a suspicious railway police inspector and an overzealous guard had ended up in a carriage toilet with broken necks, they had jumped train and relied on improvisation and expediency to cover the remaining distance.

The honour in which improvisation was held amongst the Greeks and Romans is due to the fact that Greek and Latin verse is not under the dominion of rhyme.

I was amazed, and made an improvisation on her skill, which I gave her in writing.

But he pointedly declined to bring his breeches into contact with the bench, a splintery improvisation strewn with pasty-flakes, pipe-ashes, and rat-shite.

Indeed, it was a miracle of technological improvisation, with raultron-ic instruments useless for maintaining remote control over the crewless ejector.

Then she and Portegin stood, arms full, exclaiming over Kai's improvisation.

On his workbench were his chisels, hammers, dried wax and clay improvisations, miniatures, folios of sketches for the remaining figures of the tomb, stubs of charcoal: a portrait of a man interrupted in the midst of life and work.

Necessity is the mother of improvisation, and I needed to cement that link with Sheena because it was the only way I could see to go one better than Davy, to be the perfect partner he had failed to be in spite of the hold his music exercised upon her.

It had seemed a ridiculous idea when he'd first come up with it, an inspired improvisation to save his hide when the Japanese mob had sent an assassin to punish him for impersonating one of its members.

In his improvisations he regularly made a practice of using materials closest at hand, as any good artist will.