Improv Game of the Day: AMAPFALAP

English: 6/8 clave in 3 forms

1+ players. AMAPFALAP = “as much as possible from as little as possible,” a game invented by W. A. Mathieu in The Listening Book. Over any kind of rhythmic accompaniment (e.g. two or three players with shakers or drums and/or playing minimalist ostinatos) or a drone, the solo player may improvise using only one note. The soloist must thus give his solo interest using rhythms, timbre (including extended techniques), and dynamics. Don’t forget the power of Not Playing – i.e. rests. As classical players, we have been trained to think pitch pitch pitch – “I have to play a blizzard of notes to have an interesting solo!” If that were true, the only speakers worth listening to would be auctioneers (imagine Shakespeare as performed by a troupe of auctioneers – Hamlet in 15 minutes?). This game is a welcome antidote to that and makes us classikers get back to the foundation of all music and expressiveness: rhythm. We need to be able to 1) hone our rhythmic skills and sense of pulse and time (a feeling that, e.g. 8 bars (or 16 or 32) are up… now!) and 2) be able to generate a stream of rhythms that is both coherent and interesting to listen to. This is not a musical gimme (golf term). If you haven’t generated rhythms before, it takes time and practice. The good news is that it is fun. Really, really fun. Start now with whatever you can reach that will make a noise.

Variations. Once you can make interesting rhythms with one note, you can expand a bit:

1. The soloist may use two adjacent notes.

2. Use three tones, either three adjacent (123, 12b3, 1b2b3, 1b23), two adjacent and one a third (major or minor) from the middle note (on either side), e.g. 124, 134, 1b34)

3. Repeat, with two soloists. The soloist should relate in some manner. Or not.

Don’t be in any hurry to add more pitches until you have spent quite a bit of time experimenting with just one note. When you start adding pitches, don’t forget all the variety (rhythm, timbre, etc) you just learned with one note. Western music is very pitch-centric and rhythm poor – enrich yourself by reversing the values and becoming skilled at inventing rhythms, changing timbres, exploring dynamics changes and extremes.