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!

01/24/14

Improv Course Begins, Spring 2014

Percussion mallets held with Matched Grip

Percussion mallets held with Matched Grip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been giving a semester course in non jazz/classical improv for past dozen years. My first improv book, Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians was published by GIA in 2008 (354 p.); it was based on my experiences in the first five years of the course. Since then, GIA has published 4 more. I have amassed more games in an unpublished Vol. 2 of the big book; I hope to convince the publisher some day to publish all those as well.

In the meantime, the course goes on. This week was the start of school. The course is Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to 11:45. I prefer this set-up – two longer sessions – than 50 min. 3X a week. 50 minutes is just not long enough – you just get going and it’s time to stop.

I do the course a bit different every year. I want to try new things, so a third to a fourth of the course is different every year. The first day of the course (last Tuesday) is just me talking – telling them all about this kind of improvisation and what we will be doing during the semester. After that, most of every hour is spent improvising.

I’m trying something new: sticks. I always start with about two weeks of Rhythm Only, to work up some percussion/rhythm chops and combat the pitch-centricity that tradiationally-trained players bring with them. We start by building up some basic rhythm skills through body percussion – tap, rap, slap your lap. This time I had everyone bring drumsticks. I thought that we should develop some basic sticking skills (along with hand drum skills) to add an extra dimension to our percussion work.

Following is a brief description of what we did in class today:

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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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