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#2342955 - Yesterday at 02:08 PM On improvisation
Pover Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/14
Posts: 168
Loc: Jordan
I sent this to someone I admire and look up to in the non-classical world of piano. He's a member of this forum - Ted. In my opinion, one of the greatest improvisers I've had the pleasure of listening to. I thought I could get a more general view and advice from your collective wisdom!

Keep in mind I'm a classically trained pianist. Self-taught. Love different genres of music, and here's the message now :P

This is basically a cry for help! In short: This is a question (questions maybe) on improvisation in general, and it will likely be a long post. So proceed with this in mind :P

A while back a started a thread asking others about how I would approach playing in hotels/lounges and other similar venues. A very common suggestion was to improvise, but alas, I don't know how. That's why I met up with one of my previous teachers who couldn't teach me at all classical repertoire, but who is an AMAZING improviser.

I asked him to give me some tips on where I would start as a complete beginner, and he basically told me to find a chord progression and play chords in the RH and octaves or octaves with the 5th added (for example: C major would be C-G-C). It went okay, but I couldn't find any progressions so he gave me some.

The first one was C, lower A, lower F, upper G, back to C. So basically in the LH I would play C-G-G, A-E-A, F-C-F, G-D-G, then back to C-G-C. I was reluctant at first and only played chord or chord notes and arpeggios but didn't move from there because I was afraid it won't sound nice, but he told me to go wild with all the white keys, and it worked.

I suspect that worked because it was this particular progression, and not any other (which would need some black keys). Another progression in a darker/minor mood was A,G,F,E, then back to A. This is also playable on only white keys.

Two things:
1) I can't improvise a great melody: usually when I'm playing I'll play certain notes on the scale and then sometime decide "Hmm, I think it would sound good if I resolve this note down to the lower note", and other times it might be the opposite, and usually I'll have a run or something leading from the E to the tonic A, and land on the A in the right moment to give a feeling of "arriving" there. But I don't remember the melodies I play earlier and can't recall them or reproduce them exactly.

2) I run out of ideas: I have a couple of 'tricks', like arriving at a note by playing a cascading 2-note figure. for example, to arrive on A, I would play the upper G-A F-G E-F D-E C-D B-C A-C A. sort of like a flourish/ornamentation kind of thing. But I know that after a while my improvisation start to sound boring and without any new ideas. I feel like I'm repeating the same things or playing random notes or something.



WOW I can't believe I wrote all that without actually posting a question, so here it is. Do you have any ideas on how I can take this further and improve in the area of improvisation? Things like what chord progressions to use (because usually I can't do anything without a basic 'structure' to follow) or things to incorporate to make my improvisations more interesting? or how I can improve in general?

I'm asking you because I know you're like the perfect improviser from what I've heard, and I honestly salute you for your creativity and ability.

Thanks in advance,
Faris
_________________________
Faris
Self-taught for around 3 years now. All advice welcome laugh

Working on:
Schumann arabeske op. 18
Bach French Suite 5
Mozart Sonata k 311 D major

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#2342986 - Yesterday at 03:33 PM Re: On improvisation [Re: Pover]
JazzPianoOnline Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/14/07
Posts: 94
Loc: raleigh, nc
faris

i can help you learn to improvise over jazz tunes. first, you need to learn the 5 essential 7th chords. these are the major7, dominant7, minor7, minor 7b5 and diminished chords. these 5 groups of chords make up most of the progression of any given jazz and standard tune. i have a free lesson on my site that will help you learn how to play these chord types.

once you have the chords in your head and hands (there are only 60 of them) you can then read lead sheets. playing tunes from lead sheets will help you cement the chords in your head and hands and will help you learn repertoire.

as the chords become more familiar to you you can start to play around with them. you can arpeggiate them and improvise short ideas with them.

this will get you started. i hope it is helpful.
_________________________
br
bill@jazzpianoonline.com
www.JazzPianoOnline.com

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#2343152 - Today at 12:02 AM Re: On improvisation [Re: Pover]
KurtZ Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/10
Posts: 936
Loc: The Heart of Screenland
Bill Hilton has good quality full tutorials online about what he calls lounge piano. You can easily find him at You Tube or by googling his name. I also found his book online to have a look at it fully intending to buy a full copy if I decided to work from it. I decided not to and deleted my copy but I found it to be complete and well laid out.

Kurt
_________________________
I just wanted to be just "a" guy. That's enough of a life.

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#2343213 - Today at 05:21 AM Re: On improvisation [Re: Pover]
Pover Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/14
Posts: 168
Loc: Jordan
JazzPiano and Kurtz, thank you for your replies. Kurtz, I remember watching some of Bill Hilton's videos, and I gathered that most of them already assumed that people know these 'classic' show tunes and songs. Well, where I live, almost no one has ever heard that kind of stuff, so they wont think to themselves "Oh, he's doing a nice arrangement of [insert famous classic], I like it!".

I need to play something that isn't based on a basic song, if you know what I mean. Just kind of improvise out of thin air to create a nice mood for those situations. I hope I'm being clear :P

JazzPiano, I'll go ahead and check your piano website, but does it work if it isn't based on a popular show-tune? Like just jazz improvisation on the spot, not related to a specific piece or foundation?

I know my questions are kind of silly and noob-ish, but it's probably because I AM a noob at improvisation! ha
_________________________
Faris
Self-taught for around 3 years now. All advice welcome laugh

Working on:
Schumann arabeske op. 18
Bach French Suite 5
Mozart Sonata k 311 D major

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#2343217 - Today at 06:03 AM Re: On improvisation [Re: Pover]
alberto Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/07
Posts: 43
Loc: Brescia - Italy
In my opinion could be a nice school to practice improvisation starting from what you know and you like and then extend your knowledge in term of harmonic/theory but also in languages.
If you like a song or a mood, try to start from that: analyse, play and develop some variation of it (repetition and variation). In that way you gain some material you can use in improvising.
Then keep practicing improvisation study all that can be useful to enlarge your skills in term of instrumental technique, rhythm, harmony, form, etc...
_________________________
This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
https://soundcloud.com/alberto-forino


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#2343226 - Today at 06:36 AM Re: On improvisation [Re: Pover]
Mark Polishook Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/12
Posts: 696
Loc: Leicester, UK
Originally Posted By: Pover


1) I can't improvise a great melody: usually when I'm playing I'll play certain notes on the scale and then sometime decide " ...... But I don't remember the melodies I play earlier and can't recall them or reproduce them exactly.



With the level of experience you've described it's not surprising you can't improvise a great melody! It takes a while to learn how to do that, just as you've learned over time to play the piano.

It's hard to say without hearing you play but if you can't remember what you played earlier then it sounds like you're not "hearing" what you played earlier. "Hearing" meaning having some internal sense of what you've played.

A possible place to begin is FIRST hear what you'd like to play and then SECOND play what you hear. Of course no one hears EVERYTHING they play in advance and improvising is at times going to consist sometimes of FIRST playing something and SECOND hearing it. Because learning how to play what you hear is a skill. It takes time to acquire it and the learning process isn't straightforward.

The more you can do in the way of advance hearing the better off you'll be in terms of knowing how to begin and then how to continue. Knowing how to continue means understanding how to build an arc that takes you and your listener from point A to point B. It''s ironic and it can seem counterintuitive but the arc that goes from A to B–the music you're trying to improvise that tells a story–doesn't require a lot, if any, knowledge of chords or scales or theory. But it does require a willingness to work from what whatever it is you're hearing internally.

Here's an interview on my blog with Joey Alexander

http://www.polishookstudio.com/2014/02/interview-with-joey-alexander.html

He's an 11-year old pianist from Indonesia who's completely self-taught as an improviser. Herbie Hancock, among others has been mentoring him. Last I heard (from news reports) he was in NYC playing in jazz clubs and (with the supervision of his dad!!!!!) figuring out how to stay in NYC so he could grow there as a musician. But in any case, in the interview JA has advise for aspiring improvisers. It really is as simple as "tell a story .... if you don't have a story then make it up!

Originally Posted By: Pover


2) I run out of ideas:



Whatever an idea might be for an improviser it usually takes a lot of experience to spin them out, much less effortlessly. Because you've said you have no real experience as an improviser it's perfectly natural that you run out of ideas. In fact if you have any ideas at all then you're doing great and you're way ahead of most beginning improvisers. As you acquire improvising experience your ideas will flow with more ease.

It may or may not apply directly to you - but it is often the case that pianists who have never improvised underestimate how much work goes into the profiency great improvisers demonstrate. That proficiency, among other things, can make improvisation seem to be easy. Well, it is easy with enough experience and study and practice. But, the experience and the work precedes the skill. That means trial and error and experimenting and practicing.

Originally Posted By: Pover


Do you have any ideas on how I can take this further and improve in the area of improvisation? Things like what chord progressions to use (because usually I can't do anything without a basic 'structure' to follow) or things to incorporate to make my improvisations more interesting? or how I can improve in general?


The question about where to begin is of course the first step! You could seek out some basic chord progressions. Or find "things to make your improvisations more interesting. But how much that'll help is debatable. A better place to start is with repertoire and sound–repertoire perhaps from a fake book and the sound of great improvisers from recordings, Youtube, etc. or live if possible.

I'm recommending sound as the important step because if you have a sense of the what the music you'd like to play sounds like then it becomes much easier to play it. Because we've brought the ear into the process. And music is about ears and hearing.

Something else to mention is that no matter where you are along the path (beginner, intermediate, advanced, world-class) a perfectly sound approach is: Improvise with the skill and technique you have now instead of with the skill and technique you wish you had and which you might have later. To improvise with the skill and technique you have now may mean you're improvisations are going to be simple and not all that ambitious. Perhaps. The idea is to bring things to the level at which you're actually hearing them.

I book I often recommend is The Primacy of the Ear by Ran Blake. Ran is one of the most influential teachers of improvisation anywhere worldwide. He's been teaching at the New England Conservatory in Boston for 30 or 40 years. Probably more like 40 years. The book describes an approach to improvising that, as the title suggests, is about the ear and hearing what you play. It has practical exercises and, really, every aspiring improviser should read it.

The short version of all above is do some listening. Find recordings of great improvisers who inspire you. Get the sound in your head. Read Ran Blake's book and get a better sense of how improvisation, the ear, and inner hearing are connected. Begin to improvise by listening to what you play. And playing no more than you can really hear. Get a fake book (of your choice) and learn melodies and do the best you can do with the chords. Remain non-judgemental throughout: play what you hear without worrying too much about whether it's good or bad or a variation on either. And pick up some theory along the way. But let theory build onto what you play. Instead of playing according to theory.

I hope this helps!


Edited by Mark Polishook (6 minutes 51 seconds ago)

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