I’ve been giving my Improvisation for Classical Musicians class for over a decade now, and it is gratifying when out of the blue comes some echo from an alum from the class relating to me something about how they have used improv in their lives. I received this note the other day from cellist Emmalee Hunnicutt:
Certain people are very mental. They need to have rules and concepts and directions and scales and theory in order to play. But that’s not what music is about. Music has the same significance as beams of light coming out of the clouds and giving information to plants. Every note should be like a beam of light. You’re giving information to the listener, and you’re reminding them they also have light and significance. That’s improvising to me. The other stuff is just like going ‘da-da-da-da-da.’ It’s nothing” – Carlos Santana
Improvisation is a music skill that should be developed along with performing, listening, and analyzing because it synthesizes all these areas. Its practice, which can start at the earliest stages of music learning, encourages the exploration and discovery of music-making and gives the satisfaction of manipulating music elements without the restriction of the written page.
–Marta Sanchez, pianist, director of Dalcroze training program, Carnegie Mellon University
I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Talking Heads star David Byrne: How Music Works. 358 thoughtfully written and researched pages, plus Acknowledgements, Footnotes, Suggested Readings, and Discography. Byrne has done his homework and writes engagingly about the creation of music, both his own and about many styles and genres, including pop and classical. I like the book so much that I have made it a required text for my fall course for non majors, Creativity in Music (i.e. where music comes from: improvisation and composition). I want to share in successive quotes some of Byrne’s thoughts on the subject. Here’s the first one, from Chapter Nine, Amateurs!
Improvisation should be at the core of the music curriculum. It should come first and should remain at the core of music education throughout the later years of increasing expertise. Musicians educated with improvisation at the center will have a better-developed ability to think musically —to deeply understand music as well as be better prepared to interpret written scores.
–R. Keith Sawyer