04/15/16

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!

10/22/14

Classical Jam #1! (improv Video)

My book Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians (354 p,. 2008, GIA Publ.) has been out for a while and has enjoyed a certain modest success among classical musicians who would like to start creating their own music (aka improvising). But it has lacked one thing: video/audio examples of what this classical improv thing is. There is of course no one right answer – what it sounds like will depend on whose playing, and even the same players may have wildly different versions of any particular game. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have some examples of a few possibilities of some of the games.  Continue reading

08/16/13

Getting Real (Book)

RealBook_1736

(Photo credit: ray.gauss)

I like to improvise, but I am not a jazz player on the horn. Nevertheless, it is a very good idea for any improviser to learn from any/every source and jazz is certainly a source that we should steal, uh, learn from at every opportunity. One basic resource for the jazz player over the years has been the so-called Real Book, which was for a long time an illegal compendium of lead sheets – basic melody and chords of jazz standards (and some not-so-standards). They were illegal because they included the (copyrighted) tunes. Fake books (real/fake? Get it?) that just gave the chords to songs without the tunes avoided this sticky bit of legality.

Real Books were hard to find for most people for a long time – you had to know a guy who knew a guy who sold them from the back of his station wagon in parking lots on odd Thursdays. Real Books were the necessary samizdat resources of learning jazz. If you know jazz, you could get together with anybody and play all night and beyond – somebody just had to call out the page in the RB and everybody could play, whether they were familiar with the tune or not.

Although you might be able to fault the usual Real Book for choices (lots of tunes you never heard of before) and mistakes in chords and melody, you can’t quibble over quantity. Lots of stuff here! RBs are thus handy but quite bulky to schlep around, which is possibly a good reason to learn the tunes by heart as quickly as possible.

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01/5/13

Improvisation Books

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

The best way to learn (nonjazz) improvisation is to do it – play and play, preferably with experienced partners who can model and advise and guide. Next to that (or along with that), it’s nice to not have to invent all the wheels yourself and have some books on the subject help you along.

The best ones to get (ahem) of course are mine (all published by GIA) Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, Improv Games for One Player, Improv Duets, Improvised Chamber Music. But there are plenty of other books out there that you should consider looking at if you are interested in this subject. Here are some of them, not in any particular order:

Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play

William L. Cahn, Creative Music Making

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12/14/12

Improvised Chamber Music – new book by Jeffrey Agrell

Just published by GIA: Improvised Chamber Music by me.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

The joys and benefits of chamber music are well-known. Everyone has an important role and part to play, so challenge and motivation are built-in. While it’s easy to “hide” in a large ensemble, in chamber music you hear everyone and everyone hears you. So you naturally acquire sharper rhythmic skills, sense of pitch, and sensitivity to appropriate dynamics. It’s a great social adventure as well, working closely together with others to achieve a common purpose.

Nearly every musician with even modest training has had some opportunity to play standard chamber music, be it string quartets, brass or woodwind quintets, or other mixed instrumentations. But what’s missing from nearly everyone’s training is making up one’s own chamber music, i.e. creating the piece as you go along. In this situation where you play without ink, all the joys and benefits of playing chamber music from sheet music are amplified, because you are all responsible every instant for creating a piece of music that makes sense and is satisfying to both performer and audience. The listening skills that are enhanced by traditional chamber music are developed to a much higher level in improvised chamber. The player must instantaneously and continuously analyze melodic shapes and motifs, modes and keys, rhythms, and timbres, then decide the appropriate role – solo/counterpoint/accompaniment/silence – and create it while listening to the whole, evaluating, and adjusting and adapting.

If this sounds overwhelmingly complex and difficult, think this: you already do this every day. It’s called conversation. You take something you already know well (the language) and use in a way that is interesting and meaningful to you to express what you are feeling in the moment. You listen, you respond, you enjoy the interaction. You do the same things in improvised chamber music, except that you can do it with several more people at the same time and still make sense.

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12/13/12

Improv Duets for Classical Musicians by Jeffrey Agrell

Just published by GIA: Improv Duets for Classical Musicians by me.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

“Playing duets from the ink is fun and full of musical vitamins, but it needs a complementary aural approach to develop all-around musicianship. Improvising – duets or otherwise – is not usually a part of a classical musician’s training, but this book aims to provide a quick and easy way for classical players to make up for this lack. Classical players may gasp at the thought of having to invent their own material, but if they go so far as to dare to try out an improvisation game like those in this book, they quickly discover that improvising does not have to mean playing bebop – it simply means making your own decisions about what to play, and that it is 1) easy and 2) fun, and 3) great for your technique and musicianship, especially working/playing with another person. Think of it this way: playing written duets is to improvising duets as reading the lines of dialogue of a play is to having a lively conversation. It is one kind of challenge to bring to life the art of a playwright in reading (or acting out) the lines of a play. It is a highly engaging and very different sort of challenge to explore a subject in extemporaneous conversation with a partner. You are both creating together in real time, playing off of each other, inspiring each other, coming up with material that neither could have invented on their own. An improvised duet is a musical conversation, and in the same way, you don’t plan ahead of time exactly what you’re going to say, but you take all of your combined knowledge, imagination, and emotions create and shape a brand new ‘performance’ that is surprising, gratifying, and invigorating. Improvising duets means ‘thinking in music.’ It takes gumption to get started doing this by yourself, but add another player and the internal blocks to the process melt away. In brief, improvised duets are a perfect complement to written duets and are a fun and effective way to develop technique and musicality.”

The Table of Contents:

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10/25/12

IEM Improv: “What We Do”

Flag of Spain

Continuing the connection with fellow improvisers in Spain! Daniel Roca (who speaks excellent English) sent me a wonderfully informative email about IEM; I asked his permission to reprint a slightly edited version of it so that I could share all this information with readers – he was glad to oblige – thank you, Daniel!

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We at IEM love to combine our approach with any other usable methodology. Soundpainting looks like something we could integrate in our activities, especially for discovering contemporary languages. You can download a resume of our activities in the summary in http://iem2.es/sistema-pedagogico/?lang=en. I wrote this for a PowerPoint presentation of the IEM for European teachers visiting my Conservatory.
10/21/12

IEM: Teaching Improvisation in Spain

Map of the Canary Islands.

Canary Islands

I just received a very happy surprise: a note from Daniel Roca of the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Canarias. Daniel is on the faculty of the Institute for Music Education (IEM: Instituto de Educacion Musical), which has “been developing a methodological system of teaching music in any level… based on improvisation (and its partners analysis and aural skills). Read Daniel’s summary page of IEM in English here. They publish educational materials through their publisher Enclave Creativa Ediciones. Since I only received the note a few minutes ago, I am still learning about Daniel and IEM, but it sounds like we think alike on a lot of issues. Daniel (I glean from the web) teaches composition, is a founding member of #(928), an improvising ensemble, has several published booked, and has won prizes in composition. I look forward to a long and rewarding exchange of ideas with him. Going to the IEM site, let me quote (i.e. copy/paste):

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