One great thing about horn camp is that you have time to do all sorts of things that you seldom get the chance to shoehorn in the narrow time slots available to you back at school. I luxuriated in the three hours we had at KBHC (Kendall Betts Horn Camp) every morning to get deep into various topics (my favorite topic this summer was constructing a thread to organize all of horn technique in a progressive way, using video games as one model…). Also fun were the “Open Studios” that were special times when the faculty member could visit other topics and participants could switch from their regular routines to sample the various offerings. My open studios were on Classical Improv, and attendance was the greatest ever. We had a lot of fun working on horn technique and musicality in the context of classical improvisation. I was delighted to work with some wonderfully talented folks, especially high schooler Nikki La Bonte, who, in spite of being a novice at this, instantly seemed to acquire a very experienced ear, which is often a great challenge to classical players – they have to listen in a very different way than they are used to, and quickly understand what they hear and respond. Kudos, Nikki! I also had the pleasure of jamming with Ian Mayton (college sophomore from the U of NC-Greensborough, a student of my friend and colleague Abigail Pack), who was a terrific jamming partner as we made stuff up for about an hour (I also enlisted him to join me in an improvisation on stage that very night. He didn’t hesitate and did great).
While the language [of improvised speech] itself may lack the precision of an edited reply, the value lies in its freshness and authenticity. We all know what a canned lecture sounds like. Real speech (improvised speech) will always be more interesting, attention-getting, and persuasive than its scripted sister.
– Patricia Ryan Madson, Improv Wisdom
2 players. Player One solos. Player Two builds an accompaniment out of two notes, i.e. one interval, i.e.
Minor second (m2), e.g. C – Db
Major second (M2), e.g. C – D
Minor third (m3), e.g. C – Eb
Major third (M3), e.g. C – E
Perfect fourth (P4), e.g. C – F
Tritone (TT), e.g. C – F#
Perfect fifth (P5), e.g. C – G
Minor sixth (m6), e.g. C – Ab
Major sixth (M6), e.g. C – A
Minor seventh (m7), e.g. C – Bb
Major seventh (M7), e.g. C – B
1 player and an audience (e.g. of Second Graders).
John Manning teaches tuba and euphonium all day long at The University of Iowa School of Music, but after hours he has a remarkable creative side that manifests itself in various ways, one of which is bringing his tuba to his daughter’s second grade classroom. In this game John asks each child in turn for a suggestion for something that he will then depict in music on the tuba. The creativity of children this age is still unbridled; the educational system has not yet squelched the joyous creativity spontaneity of the child at this age, and they are still immune to worrying about appearing “cool” to classmates (making primary schools a terrific place to bring musical improvisation). So John hears wonderful combinations of words and images and never knows what to expect: “A million gophers!”; “Purple cheese!”; “A big bug!”; “My dog!”; “Sand!”; “A red truck!”; and so on. Try this yourself the nearest class of 2nd graders – but be ready for anything!
The first time I gave a semester course in improvisation for classical (traditionally trained) musicians (8? 9? years ago), it was half jazz oriented, half nonjazz. The experiment didn’t really work: it was too much jazz for those who didn’t want to work on jazz, and not enough jazz for those who did. The next year the problem was solved: separate courses for both.
The content of this semester course has varied every year as I learn from the last course and get new ideas for the next one. Probably one-third to half the course is new/different every year. Teaching improv to classical players in college is still very new and methods and procedures for it are still experimental and have not (yet?!) ossified as the old 19th-century oriented music curriculum in place most everywhere has, and alleluia for that.
There are, nevertheless, some procedures and principles that remain the same in teaching a course in this kind of improvisation, and I’d like to share some of those with you so that you don’t have to completely re-invent the wheel when you give your improv course (and be sure to get back to me with stuff that worked for you that I missed).
Turn out the lights and improvise in the dark. Sight is the great bully of the senses. You will hear much better in the dark.
The key to the melodic direction in playing solos is to try to think of yourself as a singer. Think almost conversationally- play sentences. Even Bach, whose music seems so linear and continuous, still his music is a conversation. The best music and the best musical statements are just that, they are statements. It has to make sense. -Kirk Whalum