Laura Lentz has a wonderful blog entitled Innovative Ideas in Performance and Pedagogy that I steal from all the time (thanks, Laura!). She has a sharp eye for beach combing the net to bring back all kinds of articles of interest to musicians in general and improvisers and creative thinkers in particular. My latest theft is a double: she posted a link to an article by Bill Plake: “Deepening Your Improvisational Expression by Slowing Down.” The best thing is for you to click on the link and read the original article in its entirety, but partly for those of you who are impatient and mostly for me so I learn more, I will summarize and paraphrase some of the best bits (Bill is a jazz player, but his thoughts work well regardless of style):
Improvisers (especially jazz players) spend a lot of time working on being able to play very fast. To play fast, you need to learn a lot of patterns that your fingers can rip through. But the danger here is that you might end up playing mostly using only your patterns. By practicing improv very slowly, you can break free of pattern playing; you now have time to think and choose notes for musical, not just technical reasons. You can break free of old habits and set forth into the unknown, which is much less likely if you play only at blazing speeds. Bill says that he spends 20-40% of his time playing slow improv, with highly rewarding results.
What does he play?
•”What I hear”. In other words, he listens to what unfolds in the improvised line and decides from note to note what to do next.
•”What I think”. This might be purely technical material decided on ahead of time.
•”What I feel.” Just what it says.
I like how he says he deals with time (i.e. pulse):
1. Playing out of time. No regular pulse.
2. Alternating playing in and out of time.
3. Playing to a steady pulse (in time) – no stopping.
That’s good advice on practicing just about anything, improvised or not.
Don’t take my words for it – read the original, and send the link to your friends.
Thanks, Bill; and thanks Laura!