The Philosophy of Improvisation

August 26, 2019

Published on May 18, 2014

he Philosophy of Improvisation

Improvisation is one of the highest and most demanding forms of music composition. Many people try to learn how to improvise by studying scales, modes, licks and other “cheats”. In my opinion, these mechanical cheats are not only intellectually and musically dishonest, but will also end up frustrating those of you who are truly talented, because they will not teach you how to improvise. They will merely turn you into monkeys who regurgitate licks, play scales super-fast other such non-musical garbage.

In this video I present a different philosophy to learning to improvise. In my view, mastering improvisation is comprised of three steps:

1.) First, learn how to compose. Be able to say something “offline” before saying it “online”! If you can’t come up with musical ideas without any pressure, how on earth are you going to do it on the fly? By training your composition skills you are building up a true musical vocabulary of ideas.

(2.) Once you can compose on the fly in your head, you must be able to recognize the notes your hear in your mind. If you hear a musical phrase in your imagination, you must be able to say which notes precisely it corresponds to. This involves training your ear.

(3.) Finally, train your hands and master the technique necessary to play those notes you hear in your head in real time.

In my book, this is the ONLY honest way to improvise. I highly encourage all competent and curious musicians out there to steer clear of “licks” and “scales” and to embark on a much more satisfying – albeit probably much harder – journey.

More About Improvisation and Jazz from Wikipedia:

Musical improvisation (also known as musical extemporization) is the creative activity of immediate (“in the moment”) musical composition, which combines performance with communication of emotions and instrumental technique as well as spontaneous response to other musicians. Thus, musical ideas in improvisation are spontaneous, but may be based on chord changes in classical music, and indeed many other kinds of music. One definition is a “performance given extempore without planning or preparation.” Another definition is to “play or sing (music) extemporaneously, especially by inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies in accordance with a set progression of chords.”

Improvisation is one of the basic elements that sets jazz apart from other types of music. The unifying moments in improvisation that take place in live performance are understood to encompass the performer, the listener, and the physical space that the performance takes place in. Even if improvisation is also found outside of jazz, it may be that no other music relies so much on the art of “composing in the moment”, demanding that every musician rise to a certain level of creativity that may put the performer in touch with his or her unconscious as well as conscious states. The educational use of improvised jazz recordings is widely acknowledged. They offer a clear value as documentation of performances despite their perceived limitations. With these available, generations of jazz musicians are able to implicate styles and influences in their performed new improvisations. Many varied scales and their modes can be used in improvisation. They are often not written down in the process, but they help musicians practice the jazz idiom.

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