01/29/14

Improv Class #3, Spring 2014

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

In the third improv (regular readers of this blog know that I mean classical improv, not jazz improv, not theatrical improv, and that by classical improv I don’t mean improvising as they did in the Classical Era, I mean improvising with your own voice as a classical musician) class, we did a review of the last session – using sticks (on cardboard, on padded chairs, on notebooks, etc.) to acquire basic skills in control – steady pulse, adding accents (duple, triple, clave), dynamics, basic rhythms, free mix-and-match, density (from lots of notes to lots of rests), imitate (what you hear others play), add multiple timbres (hit something different to get a different color). It is a lot of variables when you add them all up when we get to the free play sessions, but they did well. We stressed that the most important part of this is listening. It’s great to add variety to your free sticking, but listen to the group: imitate the ideas of others and stick (pun intended) to the beat; if you hear the group getting ragged, simplify, go back to the steady 8th notes without an accent. Listen to yourself; continually adjust, adapt, and (re)calibrate. It’s easy to feel like you are riding an effortless, continuous stream of notes, but we need to stay alert to what is happening every second and make micro-adjustments. Paying attention is important. Don’t let the brain turn dull as soon as it perceives a pattern (e.g. regular sticking) and fall asleep.

Although we haven’t officially gotten into it yet, I added some Soundpainting (see www.soundpainting.com) gestures that seemed appropriate: the Density Fader, Volume Fader, Finish Your Idea, Exit.

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01/24/14

Improv Course Begins, Spring 2014

Percussion mallets held with Matched Grip

Percussion mallets held with Matched Grip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been giving a semester course in non jazz/classical improv for past dozen years. My first improv book, Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians was published by GIA in 2008 (354 p.); it was based on my experiences in the first five years of the course. Since then, GIA has published 4 more. I have amassed more games in an unpublished Vol. 2 of the big book; I hope to convince the publisher some day to publish all those as well.

In the meantime, the course goes on. This week was the start of school. The course is Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to 11:45. I prefer this set-up – two longer sessions – than 50 min. 3X a week. 50 minutes is just not long enough – you just get going and it’s time to stop.

I do the course a bit different every year. I want to try new things, so a third to a fourth of the course is different every year. The first day of the course (last Tuesday) is just me talking – telling them all about this kind of improvisation and what we will be doing during the semester. After that, most of every hour is spent improvising.

I’m trying something new: sticks. I always start with about two weeks of Rhythm Only, to work up some percussion/rhythm chops and combat the pitch-centricity that tradiationally-trained players bring with them. We start by building up some basic rhythm skills through body percussion – tap, rap, slap your lap. This time I had everyone bring drumsticks. I thought that we should develop some basic sticking skills (along with hand drum skills) to add an extra dimension to our percussion work.

Following is a brief description of what we did in class today:

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06/1/13

Improv Game of the Day: Genre Festival!

The Kitchen Sink

The Kitchen Sink (Photo credit: .michael.newman.)

1-8 players. Composer Kevin McLeod offers a plethora of “royalty-free music” on his web site Incompetech (www.incompetech.com). Of special interest to us here at classical music games central is the listing of his music in genres. To wit:

African

Blues

Classical

Contemporary

Disco

Electronica

Funk

Holiday

Horror

Jazz

Latin

Modern

Polka

Pop

Reggae

Rock

Silent Film

Soundtrack

Stings

Unclassifiable

World

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04/25/13

Improv Game of the Day: The Hands Tell a Story

My photos that have a creative commons license...

2 players. Two players sit in chairs facing each other. The game: construct a piece using hand and arm gestures only. Although this game is without sound, the principles of improvisation are the same: come up with a strong idea, repeat that idea, embellish or ornament it, develop that idea in all the ways that you might develop a melodic idea.

Suggestions: Respond to what your partner is doing – steal (imitate) their ideas, integrate them with your own, be inspired by your partners ideas. Remember to be silent (i.e. motionless) sometimes. Create ostinatos (repeated gestures) as accompaniments to solos. Take a solo – be imaginative!

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04/23/13

It’s a New Day: Composing with Kids

The Future of Classical Music by Greg Sandow has long been one of my favorite blogs. His latest post was an account from Sally Whitwell about her “experience as a performer and composition workshop presenter for teenagers at the Perth International Arts Festival”; if you’re interested in creativity in music and music education, this is a must-read.

Whitwell was shocked, shocked that the festival had a hard time finding classical musicians to do creative workshops.

I won’t rehash the whole post – you should read the original to get the details of how she worked with the kids to use text and workshopped melodies to create a song (see below). The staff turned the ideas into a notated composition that was later performed:

“In my perfect world, all kids would have this opportunity to be creative with music.”

Amen.

Thanks Sally, and thanks Greg!

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04/6/13

Interval Improv Game – Recording by Nate Trier

Nate Trier has a blog on topics in improvisation and composition that you should definitely visit. I was just there and found that he has two recordings of improv games from my book Improv Games for One Musician (GIA, 2009, 50 p.). The first game is a duet (2:39) for sax (David Elkin-Ginnetti)  and some kind of keyboard sound (Nate); titled Atonal Interval Warm-Up, where the performers are limited to certain intervals. Here they chose M7/m7, #4, M/m2nds.

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03/31/13

The Hands Tell a Story: Gestural Improvisation

Hands Of Desperation

(Photo credit: chris@APL)

English: Two hands are opened palms up in an i...

ASL short for "I love you"

Clenched human fist

English: Counting Hand 3

We tried something new in improv class last week (well, it’s really always new, all the time): improvising without music.

“How do you do that?” you ask, and rightfully so. “And why?”

We started off like this. Two players sat in chairs and faced each other. The instructions were to create a piece using only their hands.

Why: because many of the things that we are try to achieve improvising with our instruments can be done using hand gestures. Let’s see how many we can come up with (let me know what I missed):

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01/27/13

New Semester: Improvisation for Classical Musicians

English: Frozen trees on New Year's eve, Kapot...

It’s ice rain outside this morning. Little pea-sized drops of ice falling, coating everything. The sound like ten thousand cricket-sized snare drums, little tap tap taps. The road is a skating rink. I really need to go to the gym. Looks like I will be trying out the Wii this morning…

On the other hand, it’s a great time to start getting caught up on all the stuff I have to tell you. One thing is my improv class. Spring semester I teach Improvisation for Classical musicians. I’ve been doing this for about a dozen years. Every year is a little different as I try new ideas, shuffle things around, adjust the activities, and so on.

I have six brave souls signed up this spring: clarinet, piano, bassoon, trumpet, and 2 string basses (first ever in this class). Several double on other instruments. In this class versatility is part of the course. Everyone plays 1) their instrument 2) piano 3) percussion (small perc., body, found) 4) mouth/vocal sound/text, sometimes several in the same piece.

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