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!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Reviewing the first step

Ok, I finally found some more time to write.

So did you try the first improvisation? It's time to review.

Which are the expected results? Basically the most important dividend is to feel the time as you play. After some practice you should feel that what you play just "flows" with the underlaying rhythmic pattern. This pattern doesn't have to fight with your melody, it should support it.
The simple melody exercice serves this mainly: to start improvising in time.

Of course it is also possible to improvise melodies with no tempo at all, like recitativo melodies. Or it is possible to just play long chords, in an ethereal way... But this is better done AFTER one masters improvising at a given tempo.

So repeat the melody exercise until you feel confortable about the tempo. Improvising takes time, so just play some minutes per day in the beginning stages. Don't rush... Progress will follow...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

First step: the first improvisation

A typical question is: "where do I start from"?.
The typical answer is: "Let's decide some because lack of freedom = beginner's happines".

So the first exercice I would reccomend is to sit at your piano (organ, guitar, ...) and play a simple melody.

Before starting you have to choose:
1) a scale (like the C major scale)
2) a range (like from C to G on the same octave... I would suggest to start with a very narrow range, and to expand it only when you feel confident)
3) a rhytmic pattern (in 4/4 for example: three quarter notes and 2 8th notes)
4) a number of bars (it is important to decide HOW MANY BARS will you play) start with 4 bars, eventually moving to 8 or 16.
5) a tempo (e.g. 80bpm): it is important that YOU DECIDE the tempo, it must be a conscious choice.

Since these rules limit a lot the aesthetical result you should make short improvisations (so choose a short number of bars) to avoid monotony.

Then start:
count loud the bar numbers: ONE, TWO, THREE, ... I would suggest NOT TO COUNT the beats, instead feel them as if a drummer is playing in your head. Start with quarter note subdivisions (tic) than when you feel confortable move to 8th note subdivision (tac).
So you have to think
ONE tic tic tic TWO tic tic tic
and then
ONE tac tic tac tic tac tic tac TWO tac tic tac tic tac tic tac THREE...

At first don't care about which keys you press. Just make sure to hit the keys on the beat or subdivision (remember we are using a "3 quarter notes + 2 8th notes" pattern).
After some attempts start to pick the right notes, but this will come eventually...

And when you are confident use a rallentando at the end.

Ok, this is enough for the first attempt... Do not try to long on the same day, it is better to do this exercice every day for 5 minutes, instead of doing it for 1 hour once a week.

You'll see good progresses if you are constant.

Good luck!

Getting started

Ok, this is the first post on this blog. I want to share with the internet community my toughts on improvising. All the stuff I will write here is original material, all this coming from my personal experience and my long "trial and error" practice.
I am studying improvisations, so my mind can change about it, anyway I think that sharing my thoughts can be a nice and useful.

First of all I want to quote some nice sentences I found on a Jan Overduin book.

"any person is capable of splendid improvisations, be them grand or modest" (Jan Overduin).

Another fine sentence is:

"don't fear mistakes: there are none" (Miles Davis).

One I really like and find extremely useful:

"Salvation is never more than one semitone away" (Gerre Hancock)

I want to stress this: just try! You don't have to fear improvisation! 50% of the effort is not to panic, just try!