A different view at the process of mastering improvisation skills for beginners
Hello to all participants from the newcomer here!
It is well known that beginning improviser immediately get basically three traditional tips:
1) to reproduce on the instrument by ear what others are doing;
2) find textbooks containing information about chords, scales and the relationships between them; exercises on rhythmic and melodic patterns, ready-made phrases licks, etc;
3) learn the appropriate repertoire .
These tips for mastering the language of musical improvisation are consistent with the process of mastering the native language in the preschool and school periods. With that between the two processes usually exists a distance of five, six and more years. This is a very significant fact, because a beginner in musical improvisation is no longer a beginner in speech improvisation.
If the widespread opinion is that improvisation is a musical story from an improviser, then the experiments conducted by Professor Charles Limb with the help of MRI have scientifically proved the truth of this statement: the process of improvisation activates areas of brain associated with verbal communication , including the mechanism of syntax; but excludes areas related to semantics control . Thus, the assumption that in the basis of musical and speech improvisation is a common mechanism, is IMO quite real.
This leads to the natural conclusion that the first stage of mastering the skills of musical improvisation should be based on the skills of speech improvisation, already developed to some extent over several years, using a sense of speech rhythm and almost without theory.
It is established that the same areas of the brain are activated during speech as the areas activated for music in general-- not for music improvisation exclusively. The assumption that once speech is developed, skills of musical improvisation can progress "almost without theory" is just a dream on your part.
My grandson after 4 lessons, no theory other than showing 5 keys on which to improvise.
There is no language of music apart from tradition. All music is based on other music. This approach to improvisation sounds very methodical and rational, but in my opinion it lacks what is essential. "Learn the appropriate repertoire" hints at it, but is so neutralized as to be meaningless. It isn't some objective "skill."
People who learn jazz improvisation by being told what scale to play with what chord can progress relatively quickly at first, which is good for adult beginners because otherwise they might just as quickly become discouraged and give up. But eventually people who learn this way will hit a brick wall. "Jazz theory" for many people boils down to understanding the basis of the chord-scale matching process, to know what basic progressions and turnaround are, and to deal with the most trivial chord substitutions and alterations.
Paul Smith, your statement : "No one learns to improvise with any facility without a LOT of listening and imitation of masters improvising in a particular style / tradition of music" is consistent with the common opinion about mastering improvisation skills, but does not quite correspond to my video, link which I posted above. That is, the child’s natural musicality is expressed in the fact that he loves to listen to music and tries to sing along to it and even dance (like my granddaughter at the age of 4), but this is far from what you mentioned ; especially regarding imitation of a certain style. The child learns the world through an instinctive imitation of what he sees and hears in order to use it for external communication with others and internal with himself. Improvisation and spontaneity on an instinctive level is crucial here. Here is my definition of improvisation:
In my many years of teaching private music lessons, including a lot of introduction to jazz improv, I have found that the best way to get people comfortable with the idea of making things up is to give them a decent scale that will work for an entire song, either a blues scale or a pentatonic scale. Get them playing along with accompaniments generated with Band-In-A-Box or an app such as iRealBook, and they will relax. Many people, especially older adolescents and adults, just are not any more comfortable with improvising than they are comfortable with public speaking. But get them doing it in the safety of their own homes without censure or telling them what they "MUST" do or filling their heads with a lot of chord/scale theory and they will actually enjoy it.
Perhaps something teachers should seriously look at are the obstacles to improvisation, creativity and musical instinct, inherent in teaching methods.
Yes, there are two types of elementary music education: music education and music notation education; and it’s not always possible to determine when the first turns into the second. Improvisation games bring a lot of fun for children, and preserve musical hygiene.
We even refer to sheet music as 'music'.
I agree with David Bailey about starting with tunes where you can play over the whole changes with one basic scale. But you can't let that go too long or it can become a very deep rut.
Indeed, major and minor pentatonic scales are most convenient to begin to improvise; for keyboardists - on black keys, for violinists scales from G, D and A. However, from the very beginning it is worth considering pentatonic as a source of a set of pitches that serve the specific intonations of the question and answer. With this approach, the student will understand why the melody should rise and fall, and how he can use the line of intonations in improvisation. This already requires a small script, which can be created through preliminary theatrical improvisation. Thus the melodic curve gets meaning. However, questions remain of rhythmic logic, the logic of small forms; as well as the choice of pitches, which - unlike other elements - certainly requires some theoretical knowledge.If any beginner improviser - violinist can study the pentatonic scales, then the blues scale is a completely different story, although it is based on pentatonic. Pentatonic is the most ancient scale in the world music history , exists in all musical cultures, and isn't specifically associated with style and genre ; while the blues scale is very specific and is actually a set of intonations - submotives that include “blue notes" that require mastering the intonation of a separate pitch at least in third and quarter tones. And this already requires working with records.
People have been playing blues (and "blues scales") on the piano for a long time and quite effectively, and I assure you they are doing so without quarter tones.
Yes, I heard something similar from pianist I performed with in 1973-74. His name was
OK, Nachum, I watched the video, and I'll stick with my original position--this child is doing some interesting things, I guess, but this is a long way from meaningful improvisation. Precisely what is missing is, wait for it... a connection to any tradition of improvisation. It's a kid playing around, sort-of, with the materials of general stuff he's heard. It's a start, but it's also a dead end without learning a language. I am not all sure that you really understand how improvisation works.
Paul, over the years of teaching improvisation, first as a private teacher, and then, for 33 years, in the jazz department at Jerusalem Academy of Music, I gradually switched to specializing in the development of improvisation skills from stage zero, which turned out to be very interesting.
A very simple method to begin to improvise: invent a pentatonic riff, two 4/4 bars long, based on verbal text. It resembles the process of creating a melody according to the rules of counterpoint, where cantus firmus serves as a matrix; in this case, the lyrics is a matrix. It can be any text: prose, from a song or poem, or just a funny sentence, for example: "Lot of cats are flying in the sky "; the main thing is that the proposal fits into two bars, including a pause at the end of it, in a bar or shorter in length .
Everything that is written here was tested on students, and some of the tests were recorded.Here is an example of a student who is technically and rhythmically rather weak, but who understands the idea of structured melody and intonation in improvisation based on the blues scale:
If someone tried the methods described here, I would be glad to hear feedback if this had a positive effect in anything.
It's one thing to start little kids off in a fun and care-free way. It's another to take a serious high-schooler or an adult and bring them into the jazz fold. By then they have developed "Fear of Being Patronized."
This is exactly the problem: to provoke a serious high-schooler or an adult to the reaction of a child playing with sounds- cubes. They are often afraid to look stupid in their own eyes. Therefore, it isn't necessary to exclude the importance of using theatrical improvisation, even on the basis that nothing is known about this in music schools (as Dave Frank told me).
Here is another exercise that is not easy for beginners, but very important for understanding and mastering the element of intonation, which is so necessary in life in general and in music in particular: reproduction on an instrument a speech melody (btw, the tradition of gypsy musicians). I remember that I began with the historic speech of MLK "I have a dream!" Highly recommend: this speech melody sounds authentic blues, even contains blues motifs; and every sound is cut out in the rock. https://soundcloud.com/jazzman1945/i-have-a-dream-blues
Thanks , Jeff! Another example of the fact that the Google translator's censor allows itself to be absent from time to time. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Already mentioned researches of Professor Charles Limb in the field of brain activity during (jazz) improvisation as compared to playing written notes . One of the important conclusions of these studies for us was the confirmation of the fact that musical improvisation also activates areas of the brain associated with verbal communication , ie verbal improvisation . Thus, the statement that improvisation is a personal story of a musician received scientific support with the help of MRI; while we, professional improvisers, have always known this instinctively. The conclusion about the unification of musical and verbal improvisation, as mentioned in previous posts, should inevitably follow from this.
I am reminded of something Louis Armstrong said,
Someone said that music improvisation is the first draft of composition. Talent for composition is uncommon, I know I don't have it. Technical skills to help improvisation: Know music theory on your instrument; not just book-knowledge, but an instinctive level ability to play all the scales and chords from memory in all the keys without thinking about the individual notes. Start with interval recognition ; know what they sound like and how to play them. Test for it by doing transcriptions from recordings of new songs, instead of buying or down-loading the lead sheets, which will have errors in rhythm and chords anyway. Pick a classic jazz tune, memorize it, then play it in different keys without the aid of paper. That will break the mental habit of thinking of notes and finger numbers, replace it with the melodic contour of intervals.
Jeff, Satchmo said : “If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know.” His boss in Creole Jazz Band , King Oliver, taught that when playing a melody, you should be as close as possible to your own voice and speech articulation.
I guarantee that King Oliver did not teach Louis Armstrong to play melody by imitating "[his] own voice and speech articulation." Look, Nachum, until you produce actual music students who can really play using your method (which we certainly haven't seen/heard yet), no one's going to take this seriously. And, as a professional who uses a couple of languages of improvisation in my work, your method sounds like a complete waste of time, and your confidence in it strikes me as an obstacle to your understanding. The existing methods for teaching improvisation--that is, as I described in earlier comments--seem to do a fine job pedagogically. If it works, don't fix it.
From what I mentioned - what exactly have you and your students already tried?
Joel wrote, "Someone said that music improvisation is the first draft of composition." This explains why Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were so productive. Because they were masters of improvisation, they didn't need to fix very much between the first draft and the final one.
By the way, about teachers and students.
Paul Deck wrote--" This explains why Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were so productive." I think it also explains the drastic reduction in output between the first two and Beethoven, who really seems (via his notebooks, which are very very interesting to look at) to introduce revision and intense editing to the composition toolkit. He used the conceptual framework he got from Haydn, but no one had revised like Beethoven, before he took it on. This coincides with the elimination of the role of the composer in aristocratic European households, producing new music constantly for their patron as an upscale servant. Beethoven completes the transition into independent contractor, the value of his compositions increases, he pioneers professional relationships with publishers, and we go from 100+ Haydn symphonies, through Mozart's 41, to Beethoven's 9.5. Before the Napoleonic Wars, working composers didn't have time to revise--there were no "drafts"--and their methods seem to me to involve a slower form of improvisation, using strategies that they had absorbed from their training, to put it down ASAP on the page. Bach's 500+ cantatas come to mind. The manipulation of small elements (retrograde, inversion, etc) to create larger musical structures goes back into Renaissance composition methods, and so the architectural approach was part of the method for centuries, which makes sense since the music is passed on as a physical object (written text). But they had to have sat down and started writing off the top of their head. Every day. For hours. In grad school, I had a fun little project where I took Mozart's known output over a couple of years, I think it was 1786-87, looked at the biographical data, and figured that he had to spend about 6-8 hours most days, simply writing music down. This isn't exactly improvisation, because it doesn't happen in real time, but they had to have ways of working that allowed them to solve composition problems in the moment as they worked. I don't actually believe that Mozart had fully-formed pieces pop in his head, but he had a working method that allowed him to produce written music about as fast as if he were taking dictation. Different thing, and an interesting bridge between improvisation and composition. We know he could just sit down and improvise; it seems that his composition method was only a bit more recursive than that--it had to be. I suspect that memory played a larger role in this tradition, since holding onto musical ideas in memory would be essential in both their apparent (?) improvisational techniques, and of course in composition, where ideas have to be held in memory to get manipulated and altered any number of ways.
Mordy Ferber reminds me of Keith Jarrett, mainly in terms of the intellectual honesty and freedom of his playing. You can't play with that kind of freedom, though, without having mastery of the fingerboard. You don't have to be Eliot Fisk or Andres Segovia, but you need to be able to find the notes as they appear in your mind's ear.
Paul Smith, thank you so much for providing the link of Kayhan Kalhor. I am familiar with Kurdish music for many years, and always sounded jazz to me, and this great master sounds just like Coltrane in "A Love Supreme".
< The existing methods for teaching improvisation--that is, as I described in earlier comments--seem to do a fine job pedagogically. If it works, don't fix it. >
Aebersold represents the late-20th-c. phenomenon of the "jazz educator" in American higher education. I taught for years with these people. Yeah, mechanical, and this approach definitely has the quality of eating the recipe instead of the meal. Which is to say, NOT a traditional method of teaching jazz improvisation. Jazz is the most European style of African-American music in many ways, and as it worked its way into higher education, European-style pedagogy has usurped the traditional ways that jazz musicians learned to play, the traditionally-trained pioneers have gradually died off and we're mostly left with a lot of diligent-but-uncreative folks, trained like European musicians, who teach jazz like it was accounting. Now we have a few generations of students who think this is what jazz is. Oh well. Your complaints are valid there, but another new method is not necessarily an improvement. Seriously, you need to create some professional improvisers with your method, and you can be the new Jamie Aebersold.
I want to remind you that in the title and in the OP I did not mention jazz improvisation, but the initial stage of studying improvisation skills by beginners, stylistically not exactly defined (this does not mean that the result will not be influenced by music already heard in one genre or another, before in the field of rhythms).The process of modern teaching of improvisation is overwhelmingly, with few exceptions, focused on jazz improvisation, and is extremely academic to take pride of place in academic institutions (ivory towers), along with traditional improvisation courses in the genres of baroque, rococo, classical and romantic, which also requires study of counterpoint ( not for beginners !!!!!).
A small digression on the connection between violin and saxophone in jazz.
Regardless of genre, probably one of the best ways to teach improvisation is just call-and-response. Initially the response matches the call exactly -- you can call this ear training. Then the response gradually becomes unrestricted, not only in what is play, but for how long. The problem is that such forms of teaching are too labor-intensive. Eventually you need to give your student an assignment that they can work on by themselves until their next lesson. Just like classical training, improvisation benefits from *some* kind of pedagogical approach.
Paul, I agree with the first almost completely, although I do not see the problem in the complexity of training in the framework of the dialogue. All of my students write lessons, own records processing programs, and can extract the necessary fragments for training. I constantly use improvised dialogue in the classroom (also theatrical) ; really no problem!
I love those. who, in addition to criticism, are ready to try something else.
Very cool video. I enjoyed it.
In Desmond-Brubeck combination, each complemented the other: P.D. everything related to jazz - swing, groove , improvisation; D.B. everything related to the academic part - composition, pre-written improvisation, arrangement.
The transition from prose speech to structured improvisation can be very short; it is enough to extract from the aforesaid a segment lying on two bars of 4/4 . The gradual transformation of Billy Holiday's prosaic speech into rhythmic speech, riff and then instrumental melodic sentence :
[Paul Smith -" I guarantee that King Oliver did not teach Louis Armstrong to play melody by imitating "[his] own voice and speech articulation."]
I love Ellington's memoir, too, Nachum. And I don't doubt that this kind of collaborative songwriting and arranging took place in his band. But you have to admit the guy was as good of a salesman as he was a bandleader -- unusually gifted at both.
I listened to this podcast, thanks, it’s very interesting to hear JLP’s path to creating an individual style. For 15 years playing the violin, and then on the viola, I preferred to play jazz only on the piano, and in the army on the clarinet. But when I heard his Sunday Walk, I immediately learned on the viola. At that time, everyone around me played in the style of Grappelli or Stuff Smith. The podcast interviewer made laugh a little with his question about the influence of clarinet on the style of JLP playing - he somehow didn't hear the explicit sound and style of alto saxophone, which Ponti also played.))
Gypsy jazz improv is not as sophisticated as bebop and modern jazz. That's a point Ponty implied at least twice (but, being deferential to Grappelli, not explicitly) in the Howes podcast. "Sunday Walk" also had a powerful effect on me. Some of Ponty's stuff like "Cosmic Messenger" is less appealing to me. Grappelli has his moments when playing with other greats like Oscar Peterson but I've never been his biggest fan. I enjoy Lockwood too.
Thinking on the violin through the piano is a problem. Apparently for this reason I stopped trying to play jazz on viola. Only many years later, thanks to the saxophone, I realized that need to start from melodic intonation, and not from chords.
"Thinking on the violin through the piano is a problem." Yes, tell me about it. That's more or less what I tried to do and it was very rough going. I'm not sure I've really broken free from that or if I ever will.
I wonder if any violinist that improvises wants to improvise violinistically, until that becomes claustrophobic. So how do you get beyond that if you find you are kind of doing a series of licks by rote? By that I mean by analogy, most of the great composers were pianists, or tended towards more abstraction from a particular instrument, and then would maybe collaborate with a violinist to create idiomatic writing. I mean, Schubert and Beethoven don't tend to write stuff that lies that great under the hands, like say, Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski, who have a bit more limited expressive range.
Man, you make me think ...
The piano is a percussive instrument but Bud Powell's name is uttered in the same breath as Charlie Parker's. You can play legato scales on the piano if you have a modicum of technique. Neither player is my favorite to listen to, but I acknowledge their influence.
There were not mentioned artists whom you can not listen to because of personal tastes. I hate this amateur consumer approach!You can learn something from each of them , even from the bad ones. "A fool sows indiscriminately, but the wise gets the harvest" .
Sorry if I'm not wise enough. I can listen to anything, but I do have preferences. And I also do not have 40 hours per day to listen to music, nor do I have the mental bandwidth to listen critically even for all of the time I spend listening. So I have to be selective. Kudos to you if you are able to listen to absolutely everything unselectively.
I really listen to anything: music from West Africa, pygmies, Ethiopian music, Arab and Persian music, Dutch polyphonists, Australian Aborigines, Tibetan monks, and much more; all this besides jazz and classical music. Only I listen selectively not between genres, but inside genres.
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