Quote: Why is creativity not at the center of music curriculum?


(Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Creativity, which is nothing more or less than imagining something and then executing it, has been virtually removed from all but the most innovative curricula. This raises two questions: If the continuing presence of music is the cause of continuing to learn music; if the cause of music is human creativity, why is creativity not at the center of the music curriculum? Why is the act of thinking up music left just to a select few specialists, while re-presenting it, or over-verbalizing about it, is the province of so many?

–Harold Best, Music Curricula in the Future

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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 I have amassed more games in an unpublished Vol. 2 of the big book; I hope to convince the publisher some day to publish all those as well.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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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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Sages from the Ages on Music

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made ...


[repost from horninsights.com]

Music has been around a long time. Most folks just play it and/or listen to it and enjoy it.  But some folks think about it, talk about it. This has been going on for a long time. Sometimes it’s interesting to look back and see what the sages from the ages thought about music and the role of music in human society way back then (of course, their music sounded much different from our music. You wonder what they would have thought of, say, Beethoven 9, or 4’33″ or Patsy Cline or Sgt Pepper or Orange Blossom Special or the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra….

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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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Improvisation Principles #3

Light Beam Improvisation

(Photo credit: spcbrass)

More principles of contemporary classical improvisation: 

When you hear a good idea (from yourself or from someone else) while improvising, support it or relate to it in some way – just as you would in a good conversation with someone.

Creating music is not about right note/wrong note – it’s about imagination.

Silence is a very important part of making interesting music. Don’t forget not to play.

Practice with a partner as often as possible. A partner can challenge, inspire you, give you energy and motivation, and make you want to ‘show up’ and play more.

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