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.

Continue reading


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:

Continue reading


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!

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.

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):

Continue reading


Challenge to You (and to me) – Classical Improv Videos

Español: Logo Vectorial de YouTube

I have a great idea whose time is overdue: making YouTube videos of improv games from my book. It’s high time to put my money where my mouthpiece is and start making and posting video examples of the games so that if you’re new to classical improv, you can have some idea what’s possible (of course you can buy my CDs as well for that ;  >   ). I hope to enlist some of my current and past improv students to help out, but what would really be peachy would be to have you, dear reader, join in.

I don’t think it will ever happen that we get a video for every single game, but what would be great would be to have a video from as many categories as possible; also have multiple videos of the some of the more basic and/or more popular games – what I mean is having several versions of the same game to show how different they can be. Or have the same group (or person) do the same game several times, showing the diversity possible. In classical music, the challenge is to do it exactly the same every time. In creative/improvised music, the challenge is to do it differently every time. Just had a brilliant improvisation? Great! Don’t do it again – next time do something completely different.

At this point I have no idea how to upload a video to YouTube, but it can’t be that hard. I will have to learn as I go. At the moment I am in the throes of preparation for fall. I have one sort-of new class, Creativity in Music, about where music comes from i.e. improvisation and composition for nonmajors (50 count em 50) and one freshman seminar: Weird Music. I taught CiM last year for the first time – it was a lot of work to put together (there is no textbook for something like this the way there is for your typical music appreciation course), but terrific fun and very enriching. And of course, planning horn studio activities for the year (some of those may show up in my other blog).

But the future is internet. And video. Time to join this century and learn how to do it. And thereby make access to the vast fun and benefits of improvisation easier for those out there who would like to jump in but don’t exactly know what they’re getting into.

If you’re doing some improv, consider doing the same: videoing it, posting it on YouTube, and sending me the link so I can post it here.

And while we’re at it, how about photos? If you have some fascinating pix of yourselves deep in improv, send one/some or a link.

This is getting back (or to) the one of the original main purposes of this blog – to become a center for sharing what we’ve (improvising classical musicians) done, what we know, what we think. Hopes and dreams.

Put the idea on a back burner. Heck, how about a front burner. And send ’em in!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Improv Resources for Groups

For jazz improv, there are approximately seventy-seven gazillion books, articles, playalongs, and everything else out there. Visit Jamey Aebersold’s web site and start ordering – you’ll never get to the end of the offerings.

For classical improv and creative music in general, some of the jazz stuff is useful, but is usually not the best place to start. The list of useful and appropriate materials is much smaller.

English: The Simon Bolivar young symphonic band

If you are a band, choir, or orchestra director interested in trying some non jazz improvisation, the list is smaller yet. I just applied to the Midwest Band Clinic (Dec. 19-22) to give a presentation on improv for large ensembles; as part of a handout for this proposed (we’ll have to wait and see if it is eventually accepted) talk, I made a list of some resources for the band director and I’d like to share that with you now (it’s possible that it will be updated and/or extended by the time Midwest rolls around, should this proposal be accepted).

Continue reading