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#1235461 - 07/22/09 04:11 PM Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together?
eweiss Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 2393
Loc: Beautiful San Diego, CA
In her excellent book "Writing Down the Bones" Natalie Goldberg talks about writing practice. It's an exercise where you sit down and just write without editing what comes out of you. This is also a good idea for musicians to do.



She'll have her student's do timed writing exercises, i.e., you sit down and write for 10 minutes non-stop. Your job is not to critique the writing but enter into it like a meditation.

The whole purpose of this is to get to a place where you are not thinking - you are feeling. This is a realm of true artistic expression and can be reached by anyone if they learn to let go of self-judgement and instead, focus on the process of creating.

The most fun I have is when I let go and just let the music take over. It's only at these times that I'll write something down that resonates within me and develop it into something later - which is not to say that it is not something already.
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#1236982 - 07/25/09 05:17 AM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: eweiss]
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1507
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
I know what she's getting at but the trouble is, these days I can't be bothered developing anything into a formal end product at all. The prospect of trying to notate the things I improvise increasingly seems a hideously difficult waste of time. So I am left with an already colossal and still rapidly growing body of recorded improvisation. Why cannot a recorded improvisation actually be the finished article, the work of art itself ? Jarrett seems to see things that way and he couldn't be accused of not being a real artist.

This has always been an interesting puzzle to me. Unless they are told, most people don't have a clue whether or not a score exists for something they hear for the first time. Why then, should knowing a piece of paper exists somewhere alter the artistic worth of the sounds heard ? Yet it seems to matter very much in the minds of many, indeed perhaps the overwhelming majority.

The spontaneous, the calculated, and anything in between are surely just creative options aren't they ? No better or worse about them.
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#1237075 - 07/25/09 12:15 PM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: Ted]
Pianos_N_Cheezecake Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/15/07
Posts: 150
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
I guess Jarrett sees things that way but I don't. I know what you're saying Ted but I think there is something valuable in creating a solid piece of music on paper. I almost feel more complete when I write a piece of music, give it a name, and present it to an audience of listeners who appreciate it. For me I feel like it creates a solid identity of who I am as a musician and who my audience interprets me to be. My most recent piece of music came directly from me in a practise room at my music school. I was just improvising whatever came to mind with no intention of writing it down until about 10 minutes in when I played something that I particularly liked. I scrambled for a piece of paper and a pencil and created 1 of the first pieces I ever really fell in love with. This was based off of maybe 15-20 seconds of improvisation. No doubt that there is something valid in a full improvisation remaining as it is, but there is definitly something about creating structured pieces of music from it too.

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#1237104 - 07/25/09 01:12 PM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: Ted]
eweiss Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 2393
Loc: Beautiful San Diego, CA
Originally Posted By: Ted
Why cannot a recorded improvisation actually be the finished article, the work of art itself ? Jarrett seems to see things that way and he couldn't be accused of not being a real artist.

It can be. Some of my "best" stuff is from pure improv with just one take.
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#1238004 - 07/27/09 07:09 AM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: eweiss]
DL33 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/09
Posts: 27
Great thread topic!!!

I've read Natalie's book and I do the same thing -- play around with the keys and see if something worthwhile emerges. It works. I've come up with some compositions that I can't believe came from me and people react positively to my music.

Sometimes I get an inspiration as I am playing a piece and I follow it like she suggests doing with writing and it turns into something entirely different than what I was playing.

I also play a game of picking 5 keys at random (eyes closed) and trying to make a melody out of them. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I never know what's inside me until I start rooting around--same as with writing.

And writers are supposed to carry notebooks with them to jot down ideas -- well, I carry a recorder with me and if I come up with a tune away from the piano I sing it to record it so I won't forget and can work on it later.

I do intend to write scores once I am satisfied that I have done my best with the pieces, but I don't feel it is absolutely necessary. I'd just like to see my work on paper and be able to share it with anyone who wishes to play it themselves and be able to give it as a gift along with a recording to the people for whom the music is written if that be the case.
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#1238433 - 07/27/09 07:43 PM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: DL33]
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1507
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
Pianos N Cheezecake:

Yes, of course, I do understand that. I forgot to mention that I wrote masses of compositions in earlier years. Their scores are still lying around the house. A few of them are on the earlier Pianoworld CD. I treasure them because each one seems to encapsulate some particular state of mind, person, event, life perception, and preserve it forever. Other people can read and play them, and this important communicative property is not shared by a recording.

Structure alone does not completely explain it. Some of my written pieces have rather weak structure and some of my improvisations seem to possess stronger form than I could have applied consciously.

It is almost as if there are two psychic imperatives, trying to find a single, syncretic creative identity and always doomed to fail. I felt it pretty acutely when I was young but now I am placid and simply let things happen. I guess it might just be me, as most players happily either choose one arm of the dichotomy or, much more rarely, embrace both but clearly separated in style - for example jazz and classical.

My early teacher was a prominent composer and an obsessive improviser, and I know he felt the dilemma because he often used to talk to me about it. I didn't understand what he meant until years afterwards. He was very highly gifted and trained, I am neither, so the issue transcends ability.

I cannot think of one composer of vital piano music, who was not also known to be a fluent improviser. This fact has to be very important in some way. Exactly how is probably not quite as simple as it appears.


Edited by Ted (07/27/09 07:45 PM)
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#1238450 - 07/27/09 08:06 PM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: Ted]
eweiss Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 2393
Loc: Beautiful San Diego, CA
Ted, I thought I was the only one who struggled with free improv vs. composition. laugh

It can be frustrating at times. I've actually come up with a happy compromise between the two.

I jot down the first 2-bars of the melodic idea and allow the rest of the music to "write itself" so to speak. I'm actually working on a new CD right now.
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http://www.quiescencemusic.com

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#1238679 - 07/28/09 05:40 AM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: eweiss]
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1507
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
I have never tried anything has specific as that. However, I have found that almost all my compositions are crystallised out of improvisation over time; sometimes quite quickly, sometimes over a very long period. Once I find myself regularly playing the same complete thing in the same way all the time, actually writing it out is a formality, and one which I have to admit I really do not enjoy. Therefore in the past I have been known to carry pieces around in my head for months. I suspect through this procrastination I might have lost a few altogether, as on the hundreds of old tapes there are complete pieces here and there which have to be mine but have no associated score.

There is also the practical difficulty of finding the best written approximation to an improvisation even if I decided to write it out as is. I suppose it would be all right for somebody whose improvisation was governed by notational rhythm at the outset - and there's nothing wrong with that in itself - but much meaningful yet metrically asynchronous playing seems supremely hard to notate in unambiguous fashion unless the reader also has the original recording as a guide.


Edited by Ted (07/28/09 05:58 AM)
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#1239768 - 07/29/09 03:54 PM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: Ted]
eweiss Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 2393
Loc: Beautiful San Diego, CA
I never write the whole thing out. What I do is chart it out using chords. This gives me a "roadmap" to follow and quickly shows me the phrases, sections, and the entire composition - all on one page!

I've developed a short hand way of composing that allows me to quickly get ideas down .. which can then be remembered later. Sometimes years later.
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Play New Age Piano
http://www.quiescencemusic.com

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#1240138 - 07/30/09 01:30 AM Re: Piano Improvisation and Writing Practice Together? [Re: eweiss]
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1507
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
I see. Unfortunately most of my music these days does not contain clear sequences of harmony and so chords are not a practical shorthand option for me. I do use them for jotting down ideas in conventional music though.

The only really satisfactory shorthand for my modern ideas I have found to be recorded verbal description accompanied by demonstration. I might play a complex cell through first, then read out the notes I am playing, describe my fingering, demonstrate any crucially bizarre characteristic or rhythm and so on. It is a deadly accurate way of preserving free ideas which bypasses the need for either laborious aural transcription or problematic notation. The spoken commentary can be wildly personal and devoid of most conventional musical terms aside from note names and possibly chord names.

It sounds naive but it is the best compromise, in fact the only satisfactory bridge I have found between free improvisation and composition.


Edited by Ted (07/30/09 01:33 AM)
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