Improv Game of the Day: Call to Quarters

Quarter Note

1-4 players. Pick a major key and moderate tempo (e.g. MM=72). The only note value allowed is the quarter note. Free choice of pitch (within an agreed-upon scale), and pitches may be repeated.

Tip #1: add rests so that everyone is not playing on every note. Occasionally take this to an extreme so that there are many more rests than notes – but keep the beat!

Tip #2: Listen to the other players for distinctive melody shapes and lengths. Imitate!

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Improv Quote of the Day: Invitations to Learn


(Photo credit: acornchief)

Children learn to talk by experimenting and listening; they can learn to make music by experimenting and listening–unless we stop them! Place children in surroundings that are full of “invitations to learn,” provide them with encouraging and sympathetic attitudes from adults, as well as knowledge, and amazing things can happen–especially to the sensory perceptions that are central to the arts… Do we have the courage to embark with them on what are frequently unknown seas?

–Emma Sheehy



Improv Game of the Day: Jabberwocky

English: original illustration (1865) by John ...

1-4 players. Player One takes a copy of the poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll and “plays” it, using the rhythms of the lines. Pitches are chosen from this scale: 1 #2 3 #4 5 b6 7; in C: C Db E F# G Ab B). Additional players work out some kind of accompaniment based on what the soloist decides to do. Odd percussion is a plus in the accompaniment.

Variation 1: One player reads the poem aloud; the players then depict it a stanza at a time.

Variation 2: Players trade off the solo role a stanza at a time.


Improv Quote of the Day: The Core of the Curriculum

Deutsch: Handzeichen nach Curwen. Beschreibung...

Improvisation should be at the core of the music curriculum.
 It should come first 
and should remain at the core of music education
 throughout the later years of increasing expertise. 
Musicians educated with improvisation at the center 
will have a better-developed ability to think musically
—to deeply understand music 
as well as be better prepared to interpret written scores.

–R. Keith Sawyer


New Visions of Music Making

The New York Philharmonic Club, a chamber ense...

This post is a trope on the felicitous phrases “Re-Imagining the University Ensemble Experience” and “Re-Imagining the Music Degree Recital” by David Cutler, author of the book The Savvy Musician as well of the web site of the same name. Please hasten to investigate these posts and his book and let him inspire thoughts and dreams in you as well.

Cutler directs the Accidental Collective, “Duquesne University’s premier contemporary music ensemble”, which, besides the regular audition process also wants to know “who you are” – you have to fill out a form “describing background, skills, and interests: secondary instruments, improvisation, composing/arranging, singing, public speaking, movement, additional competencies, reliability, willingness to take chances, etc.”  Instrumentation choice is thus inspired by the whole person/package, not just what they play, so the group may have a very unusual instrumentation. But so be it. The idea is, roughly, if you built it [right], a unique and dynamic group will come out of it.

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Improv Quotes of the Day: Music, the Brain, and Education

Left and Right Brain

Quote excerpts from articles on the web site of the Dana Foundation (“Your gateway to information about the brain and brain research”) – found after doing a search for “music”:

Music has always been integral to education. Our ancestors knew this intuitively. Yet in our own time, music and education have parted ways in many school systems. As music came to be regarded as art – as opposed to a natural and instinctive human activity – it has been treated as a luxury rather than a necessity. My own bias makes me sure that is loss to general education is one important reason for the poor state of learning about which we complain year after year. This book is the story of how one school district and a woodwind quintet brought music back to school in a new and modern way, and, by doing so, may have helped turn mediocre learning performance into high achievement.

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Improv Quote of the Day: Back to the Future

Improvisation, c.1915-1916

The advent of music publishing, which brought so many benefits to the development of music in Western civilisation, had a serious downside in its potential to strangle invention. Nevertheless, for over two hundred years, improvisation managed to flourish alongside notated works, probably because composers left opportunities within their published scores for performers to add their own ideas.

From the Romantic period, however, composers began to fill in all the detail. The music was their creation, their expression and there was little scope for the performer to contribute. A common repertoire and standardised performance practice began to emerge. These became the norm, wherever the notation was used. Music recording brought about even narrower standardisation. One thing is certain with musical skills – if you don’t use them, you lose them! With few creative demands placed upon performers, improvisation began to disappear from classical music.

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