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 I have amassed more games in an unpublished Vol. 2 of the big book; I hope to convince the publisher some day to publish all those as well.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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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.)









Improv Games for One Player (50 p.)

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Challenge to You (and to me) – Classical Improv Videos

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I have a great idea whose time is overdue: making YouTube videos of improv games from my book. It’s high time to put my money where my mouthpiece is and start making and posting video examples of the games so that if you’re new to classical improv, you can have some idea what’s possible (of course you can buy my CDs as well for that ;  >   ). I hope to enlist some of my current and past improv students to help out, but what would really be peachy would be to have you, dear reader, join in.

I don’t think it will ever happen that we get a video for every single game, but what would be great would be to have a video from as many categories as possible; also have multiple videos of the some of the more basic and/or more popular games – what I mean is having several versions of the same game to show how different they can be. Or have the same group (or person) do the same game several times, showing the diversity possible. In classical music, the challenge is to do it exactly the same every time. In creative/improvised music, the challenge is to do it differently every time. Just had a brilliant improvisation? Great! Don’t do it again – next time do something completely different.

At this point I have no idea how to upload a video to YouTube, but it can’t be that hard. I will have to learn as I go. At the moment I am in the throes of preparation for fall. I have one sort-of new class, Creativity in Music, about where music comes from i.e. improvisation and composition for nonmajors (50 count em 50) and one freshman seminar: Weird Music. I taught CiM last year for the first time – it was a lot of work to put together (there is no textbook for something like this the way there is for your typical music appreciation course), but terrific fun and very enriching. And of course, planning horn studio activities for the year (some of those may show up in my other blog).

But the future is internet. And video. Time to join this century and learn how to do it. And thereby make access to the vast fun and benefits of improvisation easier for those out there who would like to jump in but don’t exactly know what they’re getting into.

If you’re doing some improv, consider doing the same: videoing it, posting it on YouTube, and sending me the link so I can post it here.

And while we’re at it, how about photos? If you have some fascinating pix of yourselves deep in improv, send one/some or a link.

This is getting back (or to) the one of the original main purposes of this blog – to become a center for sharing what we’ve (improvising classical musicians) done, what we know, what we think. Hopes and dreams.

Put the idea on a back burner. Heck, how about a front burner. And send ’em in!

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Improv Game of the Day: Übergroove

A regular feature of this blog will be the Improv Game of the Day. There are 556 (or was it 566) games in Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, but since the book was submitted for publication (July 2007; published December 2007) I have continued to invent and collect games and probably have at least as many new games that may appear in a Vol. II some day. This collection of unpublished games will be our source for the games that appear, although I would like to send out an appeal to our readers to send us improv games of theirs (which could simply be tweaked versions of games from the book). You will be noted as the composer/author of the game.

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