Monday, December 22, 2008

Considerations on Dupré's and other organ improvisation method

I write a few notes about the Dupré improvisation books to answer Penumbra's comment on this post.

Dupré method is easy to get, for example from here.

I studied (part) of the Dupré first book. But I would approach a similar study once you get familiar with a more free approach to improvisation. Dupré wants you to improvise in strict 4 voices using common pracitce. Too many constraints for a beginner. At least too many constraints to enjoy improvising.

It is something you can approach after some years of improvisation. There are many students that start improvising with Dupré method, but for any hobbist organist, I would not recommend this. It is just too complex. Constraints (like 4 voices - common practice) add difficulty. It is better to start constraint-less.

In my opinion a wonderful book is Fausto Caporali's one, unfortunately it is in italian only, but it is a modern book, very well written and uses a "adding constraints" approach. So the first assignments are just random notes on "random" stops. I had the privilege of studying one year in Cremona (Italy) with Fausto Caporali and those 6 lessons we made gave me really a lot.

A simple and nice book for english readers is Jan Overduin's one, doing "6 chapters per year" in few years you can achieve a good ground in improvisation while studying at the university/growing your children/doing your job at the same time...

There are many books around, and this is a good thing, because it means that "IMPROVISATION CAN BE LEARNED"!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Transposition: your fingers' autopilot

In improvisation it is of vital importance that the fingers find their way on the keys/fretboard/... 90% subconsciously (I like to call this my fingers' autopilot).

This is a goal, but to get closer to it the best exercise is transposition.

I already mentioned in a previous post but I really want to stress the vital importance of transposition.

This is how I do it:

1) I choose a piece I LIKE. Can be 8 bars or even a full composition (now I am working at transposing by memory the full Franck's Choral no.3 for organ)
2) I progress 4-8 bars at a time. I first learn to play it by memory.
3) Then I transpose the excerpt in all the 12 keys. Some keys will be more difficult. For example if bar 1 is in C major and bar 8 is in E major ("4 Sharps away"), when I transpose in B major bar 8 will be in B major + 4 sharps = D# Major. But this is Eb Major. So in those cases there is the extra task of doing the enharmonic change in mind. It seems impossible at first but after a little it starts to be more and more doable.
4) After you transposed several excerpts, put them together and play them in all keys.

This exercise will make you be a better improviser, even if you don't do any other kind of improvisation study. Of course if you have no harmony knowledge it is a really hard task and so I suggest you study at least some basic harmony+musical analysis, to do it better.

Anyway transposing is also a lot about patterns, so if you are good at indentifying patterns you can do the job even without a solid harmony background. Anyway for any advanced improvisation good harmony+composition skills are necessary.

This incredibly powerful transposition exercise will give you also full control on all the 12 keys, this will improve your music reading skills too. You’ll be also better at analysis because you’ll know all the chords, in all the keys. Only a methodical approach like this one will guarantee this result.

Before doing this I was simply a master in C major, now C major is still my favourite (of course :) ), but I can play also in Eb minor, something I considered impossible years ago.

So... Try it out! And have fun!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Loop-based Improvisation on Cubase

A funny way for improvising/creating ideas for new songs is to use a software like Cubase.

It is possible to create a basic loop (8 or 16 bars) on which to improvise.

The loop can be created from scratch, by recording other pianos/instruments, or by using an existing loop.

By recording in loop mode it's possible to completely record your improvisation and have every repetition stored in a new cubase event.

Then by editing the post-improvisation part starts and you can get the best out of your improvisation by cutting and pasting...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Medieval improvisation

A really nice improvisation can be done in a simple way by using what we can call a "medieval style".

Ok, medieval is inappropriate as name, anyway the following improvisation sounds "medieval" (just as a pentatonic improvisation on the piano sounds "chineese"...):

so to have a nice "medieval" sound just reach out the keyboard and:
1) choose a scale
2) with your left hand play perfect fifths on that scale using mostly nearby tones (avoid diminshed fifths!!!). Use I - II - III - I, or I - VII - VI - I, ...
3) with the left hand make a "medieval" melody by sticking to the scale, using triplets and avoid big leaps. It is really useful to think to something medieval (a square in a town, a knight, a sword, ...) to make a medieval melody!!!
4) after some bars suddenly change scale/mode, starting from scratch with another scale, different from the beginning (use a far scale, at least "3 alterations away", like C to Eb)
5) repeat this changing of scales until you go back to the original scale and you complete the improvisation.

Note: if played on the organ it is nice to try some "distorsion", this means having expecially on the left hand some mutations (like XII) or a soft reed (cromohorne for example).

Experment and... Have Fun!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Familiarize with the 12 keys

Hey, I didn't write here since long, anyway I am adding some new stuff.

A good thing indipendent from your ABILITY LEVEL is to work to feel at home in all the 12 keys (major/minor + other modes).

I would suggest AVOIDING starting without 7 modes, or the so called "common practice" (="Bach harmonization"). Just use scales, one scale at a time. Mark 5 notes as wrong, 7 as good and go on.

C Major good notes: C D E F G A B
C Major bad notes: C# D# F# G# A#
(call this C Major, A Minor, C Ionian... the concept is "I choose 7 notes")

A Major good notes A B C# D E F# G#
A Major bad notes: A# C D# F G


So the first step for mastering the keys is to start to play ANYTHING on a single key. Just sit there and let your fingers flow. Stick to one key, don't alter the 7 tones yet.

It is nice if you can in basic way give a structure to what you are doing. The easiest thing in this case is to try an A-B-A form. So start with a mood, then switch to another one (a constrasting mood), then back to the first.

This is a very elastic concept. You can adapt it to your level of knowledge of course.

Why not try this:
A: Walz
B: Tango
A: Back to Walz


A: some riffing in Heavy Metal style (great on the organ, but fun on piano too)
B: solo melody with rich chords as accompainment (we stick to 7 notes remember!)
A: back to Heavy Metal


These are just suggestions, the idea here is to have some fun WHILE BEING ABLE TO MOVE THE FINGERS ON THE 7 notes.

You have to thing to:

1) don't hit the wrong 5 notes
2) keep the music flowing.

Start with the white keys ("CMajor"). Play for as many days/weeks you need to master the exercice. Then go one step through the circle of fifths (1 flat or 1 sharp as you prefer).

The goal is not to go through the 12 keys in 1 week, but to master ONE KEY AT A TIME.

Master means moving fingers in the key without thinking too much to the scale notes. (this is easy in C Major, since you just have to skip black notes, anyway use C Major as a start so you can familiarize with the A B A form and the "letting go" part of the task...

PLEASE NOTE: Add 1 sharp/flat only when you master the previous scale!!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Use literature!

Hi. I add a nice trick I use:

when studying a piece of literature, be it an important one or a simple small one just take a small fragment of it (1-4 bars) and make it yours:

- first of all commit it to memory
- then transpose it in many (if not all the 12) keys
- then start improvising using that fragment as a guidance but changing the rhytmh for example (but keeping the chords), or changing the chords (and keeping the rhythm), or changing the voicing (make it chordal if it was polyphonic), ... and so on

Of course you should choose a fragment that YOU LIKE and that has some interest from at least one of the following points: rhythm, harmony, polyphony (voicing).

This is a nice way to expand your improvisation vocabulary and to "learn something from the masters", since the fragment comes from a composition YOU LIKE.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Removing the need for the score

Here I can tell you a trick that helps starting getting rid of a score.

Improvisers do not usually need a score, may be sometimes they have just one small piece of paper where someone wrote a melody on which to improvise.

So a nice and rewarding exercice is to do the following: take a score that for you is simple (so you can focus better on what you do) and just read the left hand from the score while improvising the right hand (or the pedals if you are at the organ).

I think the best way to do this is to do a copy of the score and then remove the right hand (in XXI century this is easily done by scanning - image editing - printing; anyway also XX century way is ok...). In this way you are not distracted by the original version.

Start with some "chords composition", where you have a chord for every number of bars (like a mozart Rondò for example) and then try with more counterpoint...

This is just in advice: you should make it work for yourself.

You can take also an heavy metal guitar riff and work on it: this sounds impressive on the organ. I did this with Metallica's Battery: just try!