(Big) Improv Quote of the Day: What Does Improvisation Do For a Musician?


(Photo credit: Emilie Ogez)

For one, it gives me a break from tackling my wrong notes, distasteful vibrato, and being torn between interpretations in the practice room. There are no wrong notes, no wrong inflections. I wouldn’t say that a note during improv with “distasteful” vibrato/intonation/whatever was necessarily done on purpose, but was made in the moment and without expectation. There is something very freeing and empowering about this. What happens on accident- a cracked note, or a gasping breath, can turn into inspiration for what is to come.

At the same time, I can tackle my classical music troubles through improv. Lately, I’ve had issues with controlling the style of my double tonguing. I’ll start moving my fingers, with no regard to scales or my piece, and focus solely on my double tonguing. This allows my mind to be entirely focused on the production of my tonguing, because I am not going to be distracted by the fingers in an awkward passage, or by the monotony of scales.

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Improv Quote of the Day: Begin By Learning to Play

Unfortunately, a too-early emphasis on reading has kept many music students from developing this vital skill. But there’s another good reason to begin independently of notation. This approach enables you to concentrate on the physical aspects of playing. Good technique requires a relaxed body, and it’s a lot easier to be relaxed when focusing on one thing at a time. If you’re not familiar with the symbols of music, learning to play through notation is like rehearsing a new dance step while trying to read a description of it—in a language you don’t know. Reading is a valuable skill. It’s simply out of place in the earliest stages of learning. … Begin by making music from the heart, and by building the connection between ear and hand. Begin by learning to play.

– Bruce Siegel, “Learning to Play is Learning to Speak”


Improv Quote of the Day: Wait for the icing?

During the early years of study, correctness is often the focus, pleasing the judge is important, and in some cases little more is asked of the student. Sometimes signs of originality and spirit, such as experimentation and improvisation, are sternly suppressed by teachers, as countless adults have told me from their own frustrated memories. The theory seems to be that everyone ought to master the “basics” first; and later, the good stuff – personal connection to the notes, spontaneous feeling, imagination – can be added, like icing on a cake. … When the day finally arrives that we’ve mastered enough basics, will the spark of vitality still be there? -William Westney, The Perfect Wrong Note

English: A layered pound cake, with alternatin...

Improv Quote of the Day: Play First, Notation Later

François CouperinOne should begin to teach children notation only after they have a number of pieces in their fingers. It is nearly impossible that, while they are looking at their notes, their fingers should not get out of position, fumble, or that the ornaments themselves should not be changed. Besides, memory is developed in learning things by heart. –François Couperin (1668-1733)

By the age of four, apparently, [Bartok] could play forty folk songs with one finger at the piano. – Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise, p. 81