SONE Improv Concert

I am on sabbatical this semester, alleluia, and have been having a most informational, inspirational time, traveling around, meeting amazing people, renewing auld acquaintance, giving workshops, concerts, taking lessons, eating and sleeping badly, and generally having a marvelous time. I will definitely need a vacation after all this, but in the meantime, I am salting away tons of creative compost for coming months and more.

One of the wonderful days was when I was invited by the remarkable Mark Harris to join in his Immediate Music Festival at the University of Colorado-Denver on April 29. It was a great day of performance, demos, and presentations, delightfully capped by a 2-part evening concert. In Part I, I had the deep honor and delight to join the fabulous ensemble SONE (Evan Mazunik, piano and Soundpainting conductor; Mark Harris, alto sax, Jane Rigler, flute(s); Janet Feder, (baritone) guitar) in concert, which consisted of several improvised pieces plus making the music for two silent films. Rather than give you any worded description of this concert, I will paste a link to a video of the entire concert below. Enjoy! [Part II of the concert was in another room, where Dino J.A. Deane gave an amazing demonstration of the gestural improv system Conduction with his ensemble. It was my first exposure to a Conduction concert and I was stunned and delighted. Dino says he is coming out of with book on Conduction soon; I plan to order the first copy.

Link to the video of the concert:



Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, Vol. II is out!

Improv Bk Vol. II My new book was just published by GIA! The first volume of Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians was published in 2008 with something like 566 nonjazz, non-notated (i.e. prose descriptions) games (much better word than “drill” or “exercise”), 354 p., with generous sections of explanatory material and resources for further study. This new volume is the result of about nine years of collecting and inventing new games. It contains 642 new games in 374 pages; there are fewer categories than in Vol. I (which is not labeled Vol. I, by the way), but there are mostly more games per category and there are some new categories as well (e.g. Movement Games). There is less explanatory material – just summaries; didn’t want to repeat all that in Vol. I, with perhaps just slightly less in Resources (more new material). But there are considerably more games, and many of these games come with variations (up to 18 variations on occasion); most teachers will be able to tweak these games and variations to suit their needs as well as be inspired to invent new ones, so these 642 can easily become thousands and thousands. And note that you can repeat games and never have them be the same twice.

If you are new to these improv games, you probably should start with Vol. I and absorb the explanatory material. If you have your copy of Vol. I, you will want to order Vol. II and enjoy the vast array of new ideas and offerings. And: once you have taken some games out for a spin, I always appreciate feedback on how it went. Or your ideas for new games. I will post a few of the new games here as samples, and would be delighted to post some of your new games as well if you would like to share.

In any case, have fun!


Music Instigator – Interview with Jeffrey Agrell

Bill Arnold interviewed me last month and just published the edited results on his web site, The Music Instigator (there are also a couple of embedded videos of me improvising with Lin Foulk and Werner Elmker). The audio interview is entitled: “Jeffrey Agrell – Improvisation for Everyone”

I’ve only listened to the beginning of it, but I think he did a good job in putting it together. And the title really sums it all up! Thanks, Bill!


Nachmanovitch Improv Workshop

Cover of "Free Play: Improvisation in Lif...

Stephen Nachmanovitch is the author of the mother of all improv books – Free Play. Everyone breathing shoujld read this book. I just received notice that he will be doing an improv workshop with Maria Kluge entitled “Improvising and Mindfulness” Feb. 27 – March 1 in Osterloh, Germany.

For more information:





Teaching Improvisation with Matt Van Brink

MattVanBrink2Every so often I receive an echo from improv people out there in the real world who are making it happen, changing lives, translating theory into practice, discovering new stuff, experimenting, teaching, learning. I recently got a wonderful note from one of these folks: Matt Van Brink of the Concordia Conservatory of Music & Art of Bronxville NY who passes along in detail some of his recent improv adventures. With his permission and to extend the learning of us all I reprint his letter here. Thanks, Matt!

Dear Jeff —

I just wanted to let you know how great it was to use your book during my two-week summer composition and songwriting intensive [ http://goo.gl/0CZuPC ] this past August. I had a group of twelve students, ages 10-17, some who had written compositions before, some who hadn’t, but all of whom chose to spend two weeks working on new pieces. By the end of the camp, each student had composed a short piece and presented it in what turned out to be an impressive and heartwarming concert. Two students wrote songs that they played and sang themselves and the rest composed instrumental works.

But since there are many, many hours to fill during this 9-5 Monday to Friday camp, we have a nice opportunity for play, which I strategically put at the beginning of the day. I’d like to share with you the daily schedule, since the improv component fit in at the perfect time of day for it.

Part 1, from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Stretching & alignment, Improvisation & games, a short break, theory, and deep listening (whose playlists I would improvise).

Then after lunch, Part 2, from 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Clausura I (individual work on their pieces in the practice rooms), Kickball and running around, Canons & chorales, Clausura II or guest musicians, and a short warm-down at the end of the day.

For improv hour, I had them bring their instruments, so we had a nice motley assemblage of clarinets, guitars, singers, pianists, and a saxophone. And everyone took a turn on the Orff marimba and had a go inside the piano. The students loved almost every game that I presented to them. We started out on the first day with “what’s in a name” and it was a huge hit. We discovered a few of us had names whose syllables and stresses matched, so we even tried one’s tune with the other’s name. It was really playful and set the tone well for the improv segment for the next two weeks.

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New Book! Vocal Improvisation Games for Singers and Choral Groups

Vocal Games CoverGIA (Chicago) has just published Vocal Improvisation Games for Singers and Choral Groups by me and my co-author Patrice Madura Ward-Steinmann of Indiana University. More than 100 improvisation games for vocalists and vocal groups. Foreword by Patricia Campbell Sheehan. From the Foreword: “Singers, including choral singers and those with a soloist trajectory in progress, as well as those instrumentalists who find themselves drawn to the potential of giving voice to their musical ideas, will benefit from the playful vocal expressions that are invoked here. This collective of “musical gaming” has the potential of releasing singers to a freedom to be musically playful, and of leading them to the joy of discovery of a full rein of musical parameters that can only happen via vocal improvisation.”

You can order a copy from GIA here.

Kind words about the book:

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