For the next month, I’m going to post one improvisation every day. There are a few reasons why I’m doing this: I have been focusing more on traditional repertoire recently and haven’t been improvising as much; my traditional repertoire is a little stale and not quite at the level I want it to be; and I just miss the creative exercise and self expression inherent in improvisation. And because I’m doing this on the internet, I’m going to start completely from scratch, building my skills back from the ground up, so that anyone who is new to improv, or wants to know how to start can follow along with me.
I’ve discussed on this site before why I think improvisation is a vital, often neglected skill in the classical world, but here are some of the reasons I’ve talked about before: it gets you to think creatively about music, it’s a way to test mastery of a new skill, it puts you in the composer’s seat for a short period of time, and you can try to reverse engineer the composer’s intention in a work. There are also several composed works, (such as graphic scores) that rely on the performer’s improv skills to be effective.
So here is day 1: What note comes next.
This is an exercise that is meant to connect your hands to your musical ear. You want to wait on the note you’re on until you “hear” what note comes next, the way you might when playing a piece you know well. When you start, you may not be able to play exactly what you’re hearing, and that’s ok. As you practice you’ll develop the ear to hands relationship so you can play what you hear more easily. And if you can’t quite hear what note should be next, or just don’t know what to do, pick a random note. This will get you started moving and thinking about whether you like what you’re hearing and after a while, you’ll start to hear what should come next. The result is slow, often meditative music that is uniquely you, with each slow melody drawn from your personal musical language.
I really like this exercise because it’s so simple. It’s one of my favorite things to do if I’m feeling a little uncreative or stuck in a rut because it helps me check in with myself as an artist. This exercise is also a very safe first step in learning to improvise because it just about always sounds good. As I said before, it’s simple, there’s no pressure to play a lot of notes or be clever, because the only parameter is pitch. Rhythm is pre-determined, as is the articulation. Tomorrow I’ll be building on this, adding a new parameter to the exploration.