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#1134374 - 09/03/07 10:19 AM First steps in free improvisation
Rob O'D Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 116
Loc: Ireland
Hi Guys,

Free-improvisation is a practice that I never thought I could learn but I've been so pleasantly surprised by the last couple of weeks that I'd like to share with others how I got started in the hope that this post offers a little encouragement to others.

First of all, my main interest is modern piano like Ben Folds, Keith Jarrett and some ragtime (I love Eubie's Classical Rag).

I've been following the Rockschool piano grades which have brought me to Grade 5. I have reasonable hand independence but my brain can still be tricked into sending the message to the wrong hand.

Earlier this summer I bought the book "Play piano with Ben Folds" and I went to war ... WAR, I say ... with "Philosophy", "Landed" and "Army". So much patience was needed but those songs gave me something of an idea of how to achieve that modern flowing pop piano sound.

Then I bought Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert. What an inspiration!! I'm a little dubious of just how off-the-cuff Köln Part IIc is, but it is so inspiring to witness ideas being born and evolving into themes right throughout the album.

I then listened to this ... Keith Jarrett on "Piano Jazz" and it was all the encouragement I needed to take that first step and force a VERY simple left hand pattern to accompany some EXTREMELY simple right hand patterns; 2 bars of Dmin and 2 bars of Gmaj (ii-V in the key of C).

Those first few notes could barely have been called music but after 3-5 mins I could feel my brain putting up less resistence to this new exercise.

Over the following few weeks, doing about 30 mins of free improv a day, I made the left hand patterns slightly trickier, changed the time signiture, and change keys every now and then. And each time I just walk up to the piano, paw at a few keys for a while, after a minute something catches my attention which I try to turn into a left-hand pattern and then just try to enjoy the rest. The experience is so liberating!!

Anyway, these are just the experiences of an intermediate player who is still overjoyed at the discovery that I too can be a little creative. I honestly didn't think I had it in me so I only mean this posting as some form of encouragment to anyone who has had similar doubts.

Rob.

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#1134375 - 09/03/07 10:34 AM Re: First steps in free improvisation
Rob O'D Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 116
Loc: Ireland
By the way, I'd like to hear of other first-step experiences (those steps are always the hardest). Don't forget to mention your background so that we know if we're hearing from a music-theory master, pro classical pianist or absolute beginner.

Rob.

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#1134376 - 09/03/07 11:43 AM Re: First steps in free improvisation
mahlzeit Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/06
Posts: 1910
Loc: Netherlands
Very cool, Rob!

I hadn't thought of doing improvisation like that until I got Keith Jarrett's Tokyo Solo DVD.

I have been making music for a long time now but piano only for about 2 years. The first year I really struggled with these method books and I never really knew what I was doing. Before that I wrote a whole bunch of songs on the guitar but that was always trial-and-error too.

Then I found the Piano Magic course and after a couple of weeks playing, the piano suddenly made sense. Composing became a lot simpler -- and better! -- for me then.

Then I got introduced to Keith Jarrett's work and started to apply the Piano Magic play-by-ear principles to improvising. Playing by ear, composing, and improvising are really all the same thing so it was a natural thing to do.

Except it's a little scarier because you can't go "back" to fix mistakes, you can only keep going forward while you're playing. But that's also the kick that this free improv thing provides.

Obviously, my improvisations are nowhere near as complex as Keith's (or most anyone else's) but I enjoy playing them and as I keep improving my understanding of how music works, I expect my improvisations to improve.

It's something everyone can do and I always encourage people to try it, but without a solid theoretical (and technical) foundation it becomes very hard. I think many amateur players who sightread/memorize all their pieces will have more problems with it than someone who plays predominantly by ear.

By the way, Edward Weiss has an interesting course on improvisation at http://www.quiescencemusic.com/ -- he focuses on New Age music, but his main point is that we shouldn't be afraid to improvise. I think his course is a good way to "free up" that part of anyone who thinks improvisation and composition are for other people. \:\)
_________________________
No idea what chords you are playing? Reverse Chord Finder Pro will tell you!

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#1134377 - 09/03/07 12:38 PM Re: First steps in free improvisation
193866 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/06
Posts: 777
Loc: Manassas,Va
So happy for all of you. This is a talent and a blessing to you and to me. My free improv, arranging fake sheets and making my own arrangements , I composed after classical studies too, I wanted to learn to improv big band. So I paid an excellent concert level piano teacher to learn this for one extra year. I love to just sit and improv out of the blue. What fun. I can hear your joy also and you are so grateful as I am too. At 68 years old I really hope you have the long wonderful years at the piano I have had and continue to have now. Sandy B
_________________________
Sandra M. Boletchek 08/02/06

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#1134378 - 09/03/07 09:41 PM Re: First steps in free improvisation
Serge88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/27/06
Posts: 775
Loc: Canada
Your story is an inspiration because I tried before and failed. Nothing comes out of my head.

Serge
_________________________

“Being able to hear recorded music freed up loads of musicians that couldn't necessarily afford to learn to read or write music. With recording, it was emancipation for the people.”
-Keith Richards


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#1134379 - 09/05/07 03:46 PM Re: First steps in free improvisation
Jerry A. Greene Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/20/05
Posts: 111
Loc: San Antonio,TX USA
Hi Rob,

I certainly know how it feels to have this certain sense of liberated creativity...as I struggled with it at first.

When I first started to improvise, it wasn't that great. I always felt that everything was sounding the same. I was talking about this with a fellow college classmate of mine (we were both freshmen at the music department of Montclair State University) and he told me to watch and listen to a couple of the older guys that were practicing that type of stuff all day. So I did...and it was the best learning experience! I then went out and got some CDs with the "sound" I was looking for and learned, aurally, how to play like that.

I went from everything sounding the same, to "pretty darn good" in about a year and was playing cocktail parties soon after.

It amazes people when you show them a fakebook and they realize how much is actually NOT on the paper!

I wish you all the best and welcome any questions you may have for me.
_________________________
Jerry A. Greene
Some of my latest articles:


Getting Internet Radio Airplay:
http://jagmmp.com/music_articles/getting_internet_radio_airplay.html

Putting Out Your Own CD:
http://jagmmp.com/music_articles/putting_out_your_own_cd.html

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#1134380 - 09/06/07 08:03 AM Re: First steps in free improvisation
Rob O'D Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 116
Loc: Ireland
Hi Jerry,

Thanks for the encouraging reply.

 Quote:
I went from everything sounding the same, to "pretty darn good" in about a year and was playing cocktail parties soon after.
That's wonderful ... !!! But enthusiastic about the piano as I am, I couldn't see myself achieving "pretty darn good" in the space of a year.

Tell me Jerry, in your experience, should someone who wants to learn to improvise (in a pop/modern/jazz style) concentrate solely on improv as much as possible, or should time be split evenly across improv, scales, learning sheet music and sight-reading?

I'm hoping to tackle the Rockschool Grade 6 in June next year and I have a number of scales and tunes to learn (as well as some sightreading and improv sections). I'm just wondering if my hope of eventually becoming a reasonable improviser would be delayed a little if I spread my time across these practices in the coming year?

Personally I think it's good to learn tunes, scales and sight-reading, but I find that progress is so incredibly slow when you allocate a time to each area.

Thanks Jerry,

Rob.

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#1134381 - 09/06/07 06:09 PM Re: First steps in free improvisation
Jerry A. Greene Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/20/05
Posts: 111
Loc: San Antonio,TX USA
Hello Rob,

Learning scales and understanding chord progessions (and how they work together) are very important.

The main reason, that I would suggest you split up some of your time to work on sheet music, is that as you work on it, you will find certain ways of playing chords (voicings that you like) and you'll start to internalize these patterns into your own style.

By the way, thank you for signing up for my mailing list! I really appreciate your interest in the information I have available.

All the best!
_________________________
Jerry A. Greene
Some of my latest articles:


Getting Internet Radio Airplay:
http://jagmmp.com/music_articles/getting_internet_radio_airplay.html

Putting Out Your Own CD:
http://jagmmp.com/music_articles/putting_out_your_own_cd.html

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