Quote of the Day: Listening and Imagination

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

Listening is an adventure of the imagination in a world of sounds and to anyone who has not been involved with such first-hand participation, to approach music first by way of recorded performances can present difficulties. A recording has about the same amount of value as a photograph of a painting: it is a useful tool for further study if we have already had the direct experience, but without previous and substantial encounter with the reality of music in performance – either as listeners or as singers/instrumentalists – a recording conveys only a small part of the whole… A disco, for all its atmosphere, does not attract the same kind of enthusiastic support given to live performances, for example at open-air rock concerts and pop festivals. No matter how good a recording is technically, as an experience of music it is limited.

–John Paynter

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Improv Quote of the Day: New Kind of Listening

Hoover Tower as seen from the Stanford Univers...

Listening to an improvising group puts new demands on the auditor, who must realize that he is not hearing a finished performance as he would a traditional chamber music concert. What he hears instead is the coordinated effort of a group of individual musicians at spontaneous self-expression within a given mode of musical thought.

– Marvin L. Silverman, from his dissertation “Ensemble Improvisation as a Creative Technique in the Secondary Instrumental Music Program,” Stanford University, 1962.

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Improv Quote of the Day: Free to Listen


Free form expression/improvisation and the removal of musical notation opens an avenue into an individual’s expressive center. They become free to listen to what they are playing while making musical decisions about how the melodic line sounds. The significant changes in performance are due to the fact the mind is no longer consumed with a visual response to notation, only listening to the flow of notes being played.

–Edward S. Lisk, in Intangibles of Musical Performance


Semester Course in Improvisation for Classical Musicians

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).

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