10/29/14

New Book! Vocal Improvisation Games for Singers and Choral Groups

Vocal Games CoverGIA (Chicago) has just published Vocal Improvisation Games for Singers and Choral Groups by me and my co-author Patrice Madura Ward-Steinmann of Indiana University. More than 100 improvisation games for vocalists and vocal groups. Foreword by Patricia Campbell Sheehan. From the Foreword: “Singers, including choral singers and those with a soloist trajectory in progress, as well as those instrumentalists who find themselves drawn to the potential of giving voice to their musical ideas, will benefit from the playful vocal expressions that are invoked here. This collective of “musical gaming” has the potential of releasing singers to a freedom to be musically playful, and of leading them to the joy of discovery of a full rein of musical parameters that can only happen via vocal improvisation.”

You can order a copy from GIA here.

Kind words about the book:

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10/29/14

Classical Improv Jam 3 – Pulsed Drone (video)

Third in a series of duo improvisation videos that illustrate improv games from Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians.

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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11/3/12

They’re Coming…

Sheet Music

(Photo credit: AKZOphoto)

I just received word from the publisher that my three new classical improv books will be published in time for the Midwest Band Clinic in mid-December. I will give more information at that time, but here are the basics for a little preview of what’s coming:

Improvised Duets for Classical Musicians by Jeffrey Agrell

GIA (www.giamusic.com) G-8381 Spiral bound, 54 pages $16.95

 

 Improvised Chamber Music: Spontaneous Chamber Music Games for Four (or Three or Five) Players by Jeffrey Agrell

GIA (www.giamusic.com) G-8380 Spiral bound, 64 pages $18.95

 

 Creative Pedagogy for Piano Teachers: Using Musical Games and Aural Pedagogy Techniques as a Dynamic Supplement for Teaching Piano by Jeffrey Agrell and Aura Strohschein

GIA (www.giamusic.com) G-8379 Spiral bound, 66 pages $18.95

 

(PS: if you are a reviewer for a music publication, get in touch with me at jeffrey.agrell@gmail.com)

PPS and shameless plug alert: If you aren’t familiar with them yet, you should also check out my previously published GIA books:

Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians (354 p.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

Improv Games for One Player (50 p.)

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