A website devoted to teaching/playing/writing for/ the King of Instruments
Oct. 31, 2019
Improvisation, Part VII
(con't from Part VI) Even if it's a "bare bones" effort of ours that we think doesn't amount to a trifle, it's still an improvisation. When we let our imagination run free at the keys we cannot make a mistake .. every note of it belongs to us. It's ours to shape into anything we choose. It doesn't have to sound written; it doesn't have to sound recital-worthy; it doesn't have to be in more than 2 voices; it doesn't have to obey every rule of voice leading; it doesn't have to be devoid of chromatic wanderings; and it doesn't have to be very long. We can start anywhere, in any key or mode; we can take the music forward or backward, up or down, right side up or upside down, straight or curved, into or out of any region of musical space we want. It's still an improvisation. It still opens up a new dimension to the performer of repertoire -- a dimension of endless discovery, flexibility, uncritical self-correction, creative joy, and beauty. It still brings a level of confidence and serenity of mind by knowing that any unforseen situation requiring incidental music to fit a time requirement presents only a small challenge. It's still part of an organist's education ... the whole purpose of which is to make things easier. All kinds of things can be "unearthed" when we start out very simple and just give it a go. Whenever organists find themselves together and the subject turns to free improvisation or perhaps how to improvise between hymn verses with key changes, someone usually admits how difficult it seems for them and asks for practical tips from colleagues on how to get somewhere with it. These tips typically run as follows: "Try improvising a solo melody, or take a pre-existing one, and add a bass line, first in the left hand, and then in the pedals -- add a third voice, and then a fourth -- find a chord progression you like, make it your own, and just use very few ideas, recycle them, and hope no one notices. "The key to it, is melody -- if you find yourself playing chords with no direction, that's just wallpaper -- melody doesn't have to be obvious, but it will give your playing a narrative -- also, of course, be able to change key -- modulate, as my old teacher used to shout to me, every 20 seconds. "Develop a set of rhythmic or note patterns that you can use -- write them out so you have them in front of you -- start slow with basic chords -- LEARN TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH MISTAKES -- if you play a note that sounds wrong, don't worry -- wrong notes resolve to something -- over time, take your ideas and adapt them a few times -- invert them, play them higher or lower, change them from major to minor, etc. -- the biggest thing to overcome is the idea that everything is a mistake -- NOTHING IN IMPROVISATION IS A MISTAKE -- it's also really easy to have drones in your left hand or pedal while the right hand just meanders -- it doesn't have to be complicated. "Just listen and you should create a wonderful improvisation -- play the tune/hymn with one finger and add harmony, then another note or two and pretty soon you are improvising -- nothing elaborate, just have fun with it. "Avoid variations on a theme -- study what the harmony is doing, how it's moving, and make up alternative phrases to fit it -- listen to what others do and try to absorb. "Think chord progressions and modulation, throw in rhythmic variation, and devise melodies to fit with your chord progressions." "Lessons with someone who improvisations you admire and who you think can teach you something can be a good idea -- despite the volumes written on the subject by Marcel Dupre and others, these will not listen to your playing and find what needs to be modified or otherwise guided." All good stuff to keep in mind, no bones about it.