So, Carmen and Brunnhilde go into a bar…

Cover of "Mozart - Don Giovanni / Hampson...

The last concert of the improv class was a hoot, as they all are. Our amazing bassoonist (she of the intergalactic extended techniques) was absent (off taking a professional audition), but we were helped out by Laura G. (viola, voice), and Jim S. (trumpet & 39 mutes). We started off with everyone scattered around the hall. Alone on stage, I started a rhythm with brushes on a djembe. Then everyone came in antiphonally on a Coplandesque-wide-open-spaces sounding improv in (ca.) F. After a while, they moved slowly to the stage, finishing the piece in their chairs in a semi-circle in the middle of the stage. Then everyone moved (one by one) to the piano, segueing into the next part of the piece: everyone experimenting with extended techniques in the open grand piano just behind the chairs. Interesting sounds! After a while, the pianist (Matt) took over on the piano (using the ivories this time), very sparse, soft. Everyone else drifted back to their chairs, and accompanied Matt’s solo with various small percussion instruments. Then everyone gradually switched back to their instruments and finished with the same Coplandy-sounding music that began the concert.

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Improv games that we’ve been playing in class lately

Mosaic dels gladiadors (detall): músics tocant...

(Photo credit: Sebastià Giralt)

Accompaniment Interval (described in a recent post in this blog). We had some interesting combinations: #1: piano: minor 3rd + tuba: tritone. The bassoon soloed over this. #2: Tuba: minor 3rd. Bassoon: Perfect 5th. Flute solo. #3: Bassoon: Whole step. Flute: Perfect 4th. Horn solo. #4: Flute: major 3rd. Horn Perfect 4th. Trumpet solo.

Atonal/Beautiful. The idea was to be as atonal as possible while making the music as beautiful as possible. Beauty + Beast. It makes an interesting discussion to figure out what can we do to make something sound beautiful (in spite of beastly pitch sequences)?

This idea worked well when we added styles:

Atonal March

Carribean rhythms

Atonal Fanfare

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Improv Game(s) of the Day: 10 Ways to Get in on the Fun

Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) - 30000 waiting f...

(Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

Games for an improv concert that uses the audience. Rehearse one or more of these games with the audience just before your improv concert (or improv piece in a chamber music concert) begins.

#1:  Have them sing a note in unison. Ask them to experiment with going slightly and/or a lot of tune and then back to unison, perhaps inventing a gesture/signal for this so that you can use it during a piece.

#2: Give them one, two, or three noises to make that you cue with a gesture (e.g. hold up one, two, or three fingers), like “ssshhhh” or “[air sound]” or “mmmmm”.

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Improv Game of the Day: Descriptive Improv Experiments

English: R. Murray Schafer in 2007 at the Univ...

2+ players. Canadian composer, writer, and educator R. Murray Schafer has long been one of the most original voices in creative thinking in music education. His 1976 book Creative Music Education is chock full of creative ways to think about and do music. In the chapter “Descriptive Music,” he shows how to engage students in improvisatory experiments by taking sounds from nature and translating these into sounds on instruments. He classifies things into two groups: those having a unique sound of their own, such as a waterfall, gunfire, a cuckoo’s call, and inanimate objects that have no sound to imitate, but which can be brought to life nevertheless through improvised music. In this game, players choose one of Schafer’s examples to depict in music:

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Improv Game of the Day: Write What You Can Sing


Everybody Sing (film)

1 player, i.e. you. You have 1 minute. Write a melody that you can easily sight sing. Now you have 30 seconds: write words to the melody. Theme: things you see or do on a farm (or any other topic of your choice). The words do not have to rhyme or make sense together. Don’t stop or delay to edit, polish, or criticize – just write as quickly as you can.

Sing it!

(Source: Charles Young)


Improv Game of the Day: Time Sharing

Crew Player Combinations: Defenders3-6 players. Players must observe the following playing time chart:

¼ of the time – be silent (i.e. listen! Gather ideas! Appreciate solos – how are the other players making their choices? What would you do differently?)

¼ of the time – play solo. At least half of what you play must be stolen from other players (rhythms, melodic motifs or shapes).

½ the time play accompaniment. At least half of what you play must be derived from other players’ solos.