07/22/14

Santana on Improvisation

English: its an image of Carlos Santana Españo...

Certain people are very mental. They need to have rules and concepts and directions and scales and theory in order to play. But that’s not what music is about. Music has the same significance as beams of light coming out of the clouds and giving information to plants. Every note should be like a beam of light. You’re giving information to the listener, and you’re reminding them they also have light and significance. That’s improvising to me. The other stuff is just like going ‘da-da-da-da-da.’ It’s nothing” – Carlos Santana

 

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06/7/14

Improv Quote of the Day: Learn Improv Early!

Jess at her Concert

Jess at her Concert (Photo credit: reutC)

Improvisation is a music skill that should be developed along with performing, listening, and analyzing because it synthesizes all these areas. Its practice, which can start at the earliest stages of music learning, encourages the exploration and discovery of music-making and gives the satisfaction of manipulating music elements without the restriction of the written page.

 

–Marta Sanchez, pianist, director of Dalcroze training program, Carnegie Mellon University

 

 

 

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05/28/14

The Ethos Collective – classical improv ensemble

English: View of downtown Vancouver from the L...

Downtown Vancouver

I just discovered the Vancouver-based classical improvisation ensemble The Ethos Collective via an article in the Vancouver Observer. Wonderful, fresh, refreshing stuff! Take a look at their web site for more information, and better, more videos. Here is one to give a taste:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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05/20/14

One Road to Improv: the Tongue Drum

Can you name the item

(Photo credit: willapalens)

The best way for beginners to start improvising is to play simple percussion. You can start right now, tapping on anything, although it is nice to have a mentor to show you ways to acquire skills and provide examples of interesting rhythms and use of accents, meters, timbres, etc. YouTube has an endless supply of all kinds of instruments, rhythms, timbres, ensembles, etc. You don’t need anything fancy – a tabletop or some cardboard boxes will do just fine, but it is also a pleasure to have some real instruments to play as well.

My second favorite percussion instrument (first place: the djembe) is the tongue (or slit) drum. They are not terribly cheap, but you can make fascinating rhythmic patterns with them very easily – the different “tones” add a touch of pitch variety. Note: I am referring here only to wooden ones; there is another class of metal tongue drums – we’ll take that up another time.

Listen to this nicely recorded performance of Tyrone Douglas playing 3 tongue drums:

Chmiller912 gives a terrific performance on a single tongue drum tuned to F minor pentatonic (3:10):

 

Steve Carmichael show us how to make your own tongue drum in this video (17:30). Thanks, Steve!

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04/17/14

On the Road Again; KYMA

Music Auditorium in ASU Tempe campus

Music Auditorium in ASU Tempe campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week was very busy; I gave lectures, presentations, and led improv games at the Arizona State University (John Ericson was the perfect host), then came back home (after a lot of airline delays) to segue into a tour with the Iowa Brass Quintet in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois (no improv there, unless you count the little jazz cadenza I got to do in our Porgy and Bess medley). Then came a three-day residency at the University of North Dakota (which still has huge piles of snow…) where I did in equal measure brass and improv workshops and presentations. Great people there, great attitudes – lots of new BFFs. Many thanks to my wonderful UND host, Kayla Nelson.

I got to do two improv concerts. The first one was partly based around something new to me. Dr. Mike Witgraaf had me play into a microphone; then he processed the sound with a software program (KYMA) and effected further changes using two hand-held Wii (the game) controllers via Bluetooth. The result was played through speakers, which mixed with my live sound. You can listen to the results here

 

1 http://youtu.be/k4F-ELZD4Yo  4:05

2 http://youtu.be/NwRogbxIbyM   4:07

3 http://youtu.be/lFBQV7wQXsI   5:59

4 http://youtu.be/sRMazAfJVeM   4:53

Seal of the University of North Dakota

The second concert was also a lot of fun. I started off with a Daily Arkady (just start playing and see what happens). Then came an improv trio – me, Jim Popejoy on vibes, and a student djembe player (her name escapes me now to my great embarrassment, but she played wonderfully). We just did the classical improv thing – start playing, listen to each other, adjust/adapt to have a balance of unity and variety (the predictable and the unpredictable). Man, that was fun. We finished up with a Soundpainting. The ensemble had just learned about 30 or so SP gestures earlier in the day, but they did terrific on such short notice.

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02/24/14

Improv Quote: Improv => Core of Music Curriculum

"Piano Improvisation III"

(Photo credit: wwwuppertal)

Improvisation should be at the core of the music curriculum.
 It should come first 
and should remain at the core of music education
 throughout the later years of increasing expertise. 
Musicians educated with improvisation at the center 
will have a better-developed ability to think musically
—to deeply understand music 
as well as be better prepared to interpret written scores.

–R. Keith Sawyer

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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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