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Danielle Gomez

Beginning Improvisation

November 3, 2009 at 3:08 AM

 I would like to continue with the train of thought from my last blog.  Previously, I had discussed the importance of experimenting with improvisation.  Improvisation teaches a different set of skills that can help to enhance your abilities as both a classical musician and performer.

While it's important to teach these things to students, it is difficult to introduce subjects that you, as the teacher, may be uncomfortable with.  Despite its daunting appearance, learning to improvise is no different from learning a technically complex violin concerto.  It must be systematically broken up into smaller tasks that can be easily managed.

One of the easiest things to do is to start listening to improvisation.  Get all the books you want, but the "jazz swing" is not something you can notate accurately.  Reading music as a jazz violinist rather than a classical violinist is an acquired skill.  Knowing how a particular genre should sound is a huge step in the right direction.

Learning scales is important  but even more important is learning chords.  A simple chord consists of the first (root), third and fifth notes of a scale.  It is unfortunate that the violin is not a chord instrument.  Most of the notes we play are individual.  Guitarists, for example, do not even think about the names of the notes in a C chord.  They learn hand shape and finger patterns.  Since improvisation requires both solo playing and backup playing (something violinists are not usually used to), learning chord shapes is crucial.  A really easy way to do this is to just look up mandolin chords.  The mandolin has the exact same strings as a violin, it is simply plucked instead of bowed.  Familiarizing yourself with chords will make rapid key changes and accompanying easier.

There are a variety of books and backup CDs out there that can help assist you in the learning process.  Two excellent authors are Jamie Aebersold and Martin Norgaard.  But if you are new to improvisation, you must allow yourself to experiment on your instrument.  The more you try improvising, the less frightening it will seem.

From Patty Rutins
Posted on November 3, 2009 at 8:41 PM

As a jazz prof once told us, "Always remember: you're never more than a half-step away from a right note!"

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on November 3, 2009 at 8:46 PM

 Haha.  Or the old jazz joke:

Play the wrong note once it's a mistake.  Play it twice and it's jazz.

From sarah salmi
Posted on November 3, 2009 at 9:41 PM

When i first started the violin the only thing i could do was improvise.. i taught myself for two years before i started taking lessons. I have noticed that i can move more freely on the fingerboard and use my own fingerings and things that makes music more personal than the average classically trained violinist. I am so happy that i got those 2 years to get to know the instrument and what I wanted to sound like for i am sure things would have been much harder if a teacher would have told me from day one "this is how to play the violin" And i encourage you all to start improvising because believe it or not the statement about being only one half step away from the right note is true! you don't need to know anything about music or even how to play the violin to be able to improvise, but the more you learn the better the improvising! I remember the first day i played the violin.. i put on a cd and i found one note somewhere on the fingerboard  that i could play to the song and i was so happy!

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on November 3, 2009 at 10:19 PM

 I'm glad you're enjoying your progress on the violin, Sarah.  It's great seeing highly motivated adult beginners.

In all fairness though, technique is very important.  But it should be used to enhance one's playing, not hinder it.

From Dennis C
Posted on November 3, 2009 at 11:39 PM

the technique used for jazz violin is different from classical violin, both left hand and right hand... i've noticed classical players sometimes have a hard time adapting to the jazz technique which is actually much easier than classical !

i've produced a series of dvds that cover these techniques, you can check out short clips on youtube by searching: "tim kliphuis dvd"


"tim kliphuis dvd"

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on November 3, 2009 at 11:52 PM

 I was just referring to the actual holding of the violin, posture, etc...  Those things should be the same across the board.  But yes, finger patterns and bowings are different in jazz.

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