A website devoted to teaching/playing/writing for/ the King of Instruments
May. 25, 2016
Improvisation, Part III
(con't from Part II) This work (photo) is a simple and nice book for English readers, spiral bound to rest on the rack, which allows the hobbyist or part time organist to start learning improvisation in progressive steps, and constraint-less [See blog, Improvisation, Part II]. In the end, here's what matters: Can we play? When people are listening to us play, nobody's checking for our music degree; music school has its benefits, but it's not the end of the road for our musical education; in fact, if we picked up the right skills there, it would be just the beginning. If we never went to music school, it doesn't mean that we can't play; becoming a great player takes the same type of work, whether we're enrolled in a music school or learning on our own. When it comes to improvisation, our improvement stems from the basic building blocks of musicianship; if we can't hear a ii-V progression and we're rusty on our major scales, but continually trying to improvise on hymn tunes, it's like trying to be a world class Olympic swimmer and not knowing how to do the back stroke. We need to stop setting ourselves up for the frustration of failure; we should first start by building a solid foundation of technique, harmony, theory, and ear training, and go from there. A natural affinity or ability for something is great, but to succeed in improvisation we need to tirelessly develop our skills day in and day out; when we take a close look at musicians who seem comfortable improvising, this "talent" of theirs turns out to be a deep passion for the music and a willingness to spend hours each day pursuing their craft. This is what it takes to succeed as an improviser; we truly have to want it. Becoming a great improviser takes time, in fact, a lot of time; we should remember that this is not a mindless hobby that we can conquer in a few weekends; it's something that will take years of dedicated practice. As the old saying goes, "A shortcut is the longest distance between 2 points." Ultimately, we get out of the music what we put into it; we should never give up after a few weeks of difficult practice; we need to trust the process and know that the work we're doing now will come out in our playing soon enough. In learning how to improvise, there's no set formula; everyone takes their own path to success and develops their own voice along the way; we can accept the suggestions of others, but trying to copy someone else's method or biography to the tee just doesn't work. We need to study the musicians who move us, realizing that we have our own life and it's shaping the way we ourselves sound; we can't help it, we're already on the path to sounding like ourselves. It looks like divine inspiration when people sit on the bench and create these amazing improvised works out of thin air; the fact is, this is all just an illusion to the untrained eye (or ear); all of it took hard work, fundamentals. When we hear a great improvisation, we're really hearing the result of hours upon hours in the practice room. We should never get trapped into the belief that the masters of this music didn't have to work to achieve their abilities; anyone who sounds great has definitely put in the time in the shed. Improvising can be whatever we want it to be; we just need to make sure that our practice reflects the goals we set and, more importantly, that these goals can be accomplished with the time frame we're willing to devote to practice. It's easy to look outside of ourselves for excuses for the way we sound, and the excuses can go on forever; if we're not happy in some respect with the way we sound, we can only look to one person to fix that: ourselves. We need to have something personal to say when we improvise; to do this, it helps to get out of the practice room and live, to experience everything we can, and then bring this into our playing, communicating this with our audience. If we want to stick out from the majority of improvisors out there, then it helps if we would finish the projects that we start; we need to explore, in time, all 24 keys in the entire Circle and get comfortable with the entire thing. The improvisors we love to listen to were always looking for ways to improve and evolve; it's as if they were never quite satisfied with themselves, musically; we need to try to emulate this mindset in our own practice and find a way to improve each aspect of our playing on a daily basis. This becomes harder once we've made some progress and begin to feel confident in our abilities; we become complacent and lose our drive, but we shouldn't stop there; every day, we should strive to get to the next level. The path to knowing how to improvise on 100 hymn tunes starts by learning one; after we get through one, the rest becomes easier. We also need to learn to listen to the words of the great musicians that we encounter; it's easy to get trapped in our own little world, trying to find our own solutions to our own problems, but eventually we're going to get stuck; not every word of advice may be applicable to our current situation or ability, but we need to keep them in mind; some day it may be the key to unlocking a difficult problem we're struggling to overcome. We need to keep an open mind; our perspective can change in an instant; our ears are continually evolving, and our goals in music will inevitably shift; something or someone that you couldn't make sense of may become your favorite after a little study. If we don't love this type of playing, we're not going to be successful, plain and simple; every time we hear our favorite recordings we should be reminded of why we do this. The sound should excite us, the rhythm should give us hope, and it all should give us the determination to continue pursuing the music we love, that music which we create on the spur of the moment, in real time.