What's "better?"

So, other than laying it all down at once, how does one practice a particular element of improv?  Clearly there are ways to go about it, right?  Exercises, I suppose?

I come from a world where it's fairly easy to break down an idea and repeat it until it's ingrained.  But that's with pre-written music.  What do you do when the subject is so abstract?  Technique is one thing, but I feel like the difficult part of improv is in the snap decision making.

How do you train yourself to think in terms of motivic or rhythmic development?  How do you practice the conscious layering of sound?  I feel like I can do one or two layers, but beyond that, I get stuck.  And once I've played a motive once or twice, how do I change it?  I've tried doing inversions, and retrogrades, and things like that, but I really am lost when I try to take ideas beyond their simpler versions.

Is it better to lead an improv purely how the sound wants to move?  Or is it better to have an outline of what you want to happen?  What makes for a better overall piece of music?  Is it better to go in a direction that feels comfortable and natural, or is it better to take it into some unknown, scary, and difficult place?  Is it better to forget the word "better?"

I've had people tell me that one just needs to let go of everything, and allow whatever is in there to come out.  I can understand that point of view, but at the same time, will you really be able to realize your potential if you don't push yourself beyond what you've got?  And sure, maybe there are people out there that will enjoy what I play for what it is at the moment, but is that selling myself short, and simply being satisfied with something that I consider mediocre?  Ach!  Curses!  The disposition of a classical pianist coming through... that perfectionist attitude is really getting in my way!

I'm putting two on here today.  The first one is an attempt at doing something a little bit more rhythmic, which I haven't really been doing much of lately on here.  I'm not very satisfied with it, but there are a couple of nice moments.  You may hear some Prokofiev in there.  The second one is much more to my liking, but it is so much like so many of the other improvs I've been doing lately.  I suppose there's nothing wrong with that... maybe it's where I have some strength, but I do want to try to have a little variety.  It's more or less self-indulgence into the sonorities of the instrument, which I revel in.  Can't help it.  I love to hear the oscillations of the sound waves.

I had a nine-year old student over the other day for the first time.  He walks in, looks around for a moment and says, "You know, you're apartment is a bit small.  But for the size of the space that you have, you've really done a nice job with the place!"  Nine.

Here we go, Day 31: https://ia700705.us.archive.org/17/items/Improv91411/9_14_119_26Pm.mp3
and Day 31, Part 2: https://ia600708.us.archive.org/16/items/Improv291411/9_14_119_37Pm.mp3