Today I switched to a different exercise that focuses on rhythm, texture, and articulation over pitch. I call this 2-note improvs, and I learned it from one of my teachers, Robert Dick. In this exercise, you pick two notes and then you improvise only with those two notes. They can be in any octave, and with any fingering possible, as long as the sounding pitch is a whatever note you choose. Once you have your two notes picked, you play a 30 sec improv with them. Because these are short, you pick one idea to explore, whether it’s a texture, color changes, or specific rhythm pattern, or some combination. Once you play one, defining your two pitches and main idea, stop, reflect on what you did and if it could be better, and then do it again, keeping the same pitches and idea. Then do it a third time, still trying to improve upon whatever your concept was.
So here are the steps.
1. Pick two notes and play a 30 sec improv using only those two notes.
2. reflect on what you did and how to improve it, (breifly).
3. 30 sec improv number 2, using same pitches and idea.
4. reflect on improv number 2 in relation to improv number 1, what worked better, what flopped. (Again very brief).
5. 30 sec improv number 3, again with same pitches and idea.
6. Again, compare the 3 short improvs, seeing what improved, what didn’t work, etc.
Here’s the complete exercise, with a short silence between each small improv.
As you can hear, the first one is a little unfocused. It starts out without a clear purpose, and a couple ideas that I could have focused on. In the second improv, I decide to play a little with rhythm, the pattern of the two notes, while mostly using the “cha” articulation with some sustained tone for contrast. It works a little better, seems to be more cohesive, but it’s still pretty rough. In the last improv, there seems to be a balance reached between using sustained tone and “chas”. It’s still simple and a little rough, but it’s an improvement over the two previous iterations, which is the goal here-improvement and refining ideas.
What keeps this exercise fresh, is that the interval between your two notes will have a huge effect on what your improv sounds like. Experiment with different intervals and pairs of notes. The other thing that keeps bringing me back to this, is that excluding a lot of the variables in pitch choices forces me to explore textures and new ways to create contrast, besides just using pitch. I really like to play with air sounds, breathy tones, explosive consonances, and alternative fingerings to get different timbres.