My first classical improv book was Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, published by GIA (Chicago) in early 2008. It was big and comprehensive – some 550 improv games all told, plus explanatory and resource material, for a total of 354 pages or so. I have been collecting and inventing new improv games since then, and Volume II is thus on the horizon. GIA recently accepted Vol. II of the Big Book; as I write this I am doing one last proofread before publication. Book II is very similar, but there are some differences: 1) it’s bigger: there are 642 games and 372 pages; many of the games have variations, so there are really thousands of games if you count the variations 2) there are fewer categories, but more in each category and a couple new ones (notably: Movement Games) 3) there is less explanatory material – I don’t repeat all the explanatory material of Big Book I, just make a summary of the main points. You really should start with Book I if you are new to this. If you know Vol. I, you will definitely want to pick up a copy of Vol. II. There is slightly less in the Resources section at the end; there is some overlap with Vol. I, but there is mostly a lot of new stuff. I will try to post the Table of Contents under The Books in the main menu (above). On the day that it is released for publication I will post another note here. Stay tuned!
It’s been a busy summer – 5 weeks away from home. Two weeks at horn camp in New Hampshire and almost three weeks in Nova Scotia. It’s nice to be home, but I enjoyed my time greatly both places. I’ve talked about it here before, but I want to briefly talk about my time teaching at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS.
The wondrous and amazing Ardith Haley, with music ed rock star Dale Lonis were the instigators of this unique course at Acadia. It’s a 2-year masters of music education program that is done mostly through distance learning, with 2 – two week residency sessions (each July) over the two year period of the course. The participants are are all seasoned music teachers, ranging in age (guessing) from late 20’s to late 50’s; they teach all kinds of music – classroom music, band, orchestra, elementary to high school. They are almost all Canadian, mostly from the eastern end of the country, but a few from the middle and west.
My course for this cohort of 15 consisted of 3 hours a day doing nonjazz improvisation. Teaching this group was not like teaching the students back home at the University of Iowa. These folks are professionals – they do music and teach music for a living. They have great attitudes and they learn fast. Thus, it was a supreme treat for me to work with people like this. The only tricky part is the part that they share with anyone doing improv for the first time – they are very apprehensive about it (I was, too) at first.
Pianist Scott Hughes recently crowd funded (Kickstarter) a project to build a card game to help musicians practice improvisation. It’s called Tonic, and you can download it for free. Scott says:
I believe improvisation is the #1 greatest thing a musician can do to improve him or herself as a player and as a person. The tragedy is that it’s not taught in standard music programs, and as a result most musicians are afraid of it. I studied music at UArts and Temple and saw a lot of the usual problems, so I want to provide an alternative.
Every 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.