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#986596 - 01/14/09 01:07 PM Improvisation
IncendiiAnima Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/13/09
Posts: 3
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Hey everyone, I'm new to the forums. I've begun learning piano on my own, with an hour of practice every night. My end goal is to be able to improvise well enough to express myself effortlessly.

My question for you folks is: how might I best effect this? My own unlearned ideas of piano playing lead me to believe that the sine qua non of fluid improvisational skill is a long, intimate familiarity with the keyboard, meaning years of regular practice. I'm not put off by this -- as an autodidact, I'm pretty well-heeled with self-discipline for long projects -- but I've been wondering if there are any other techniques that might help me along.

Am I right in thinking that thorough familiarity with the instrument is the key to fluent improvisation? Does an understanding of the niceties of music (theory, harmony, etc.) play a big role? Are there any exercises, techniques, etc. that I could integrate into my practice to accelerate the acquisition of this ability? Thanks for your replies!

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#986597 - 01/14/09 01:51 PM Re: Improvisation
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
You can start off improvising right now
without knowing any theory, etc. For
example, if you play the three chords
D F A C, E G B D, and F A C E with
l.h. (these are four-note seventh chords,
the first two minor and the third one major,
but that's not important here), in any
order, you can then improvise all sorts
of jazz-like tunes by playing only white
keys in the r.h. And then you can add
other chords, etc.

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#986598 - 01/14/09 01:56 PM Re: Improvisation
verania5 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/24/08
Posts: 386
Loc: Michigan
Incendii. Piano playing and improv playing are two different types of skills. While piano playing skills are doubtlessly necessary it isn't sufficient to be an improvisational player just because you know how to play the instrument. A good analogy is just because you can read a book doesn't mean you necessarily know how to write one. However, I've tinkered around enough to know there is a method to learn improv by investing some time in harmonic chord theory. That is, how to pick a nice chord or arpeggio to follow along a melody with.
_________________________
Steinway M & Yamaha P120

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#986599 - 01/14/09 01:56 PM Re: Improvisation
knotty Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/01/07
Posts: 2999
Loc: Bethesda, MD (Washington D.C)
yes, you should start improvising today. Everyday.

Theory is going to be important, and so will technique.

Start with the kind of exercise Gyro suggests.

As you start learning scales, you can do it using not only C major, but other keys are well. Do it in F, in G, in Bb, in D, etc ...

What kind of music are you interested in?

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#986600 - 01/14/09 02:47 PM Re: Improvisation
Seaside_Lee Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/19/04
Posts: 2167
Loc: Blackpool, UK
Hi IncendiiAnima

I have made a few videos on youtube with regards to starting improvising for beginners

take a look they may give you some ideas

here's the link to the first one:-

Beginning Improvising part 1 by me [click]

Hope you find them useful

Lee \:\)
_________________________
Twitter: @Seaside_Lee

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#986601 - 01/14/09 03:20 PM Re: Improvisation
Kymber Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/25/08
Posts: 1348
Loc: MA
Hi and Welcome,
I don't think I can offer too much here but I think you are on the right track.
I think learning scales and chords would be a good place to start. It might be a good idea to keep pencil and paper handy or record your playing for when you play something you really like and want to remember.

Also, if you play only the black keys you don't have to worry about clashing sounds so you just play 'til your hearts content making stuff up as you go along.
Enjoy
_________________________
“The doubters said, "Man cannot fly," The doers said, "Maybe, but we'll try,"
And finally soared in the morning glow while non-believers watched from below.”
― Bruce Lee

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#986602 - 01/14/09 03:51 PM Re: Improvisation
jjo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 656
Loc: Chicago
One additional key element of learning to improvise is to listen to recordings of improvisation that you like. Then, try to imitate the notes or rhythms that you hear. You can also get transcriptions of improvised solos that you learn to play (I play them note for note with the recording). Finally, when you reach the appropriate skill level, you can transcribe solos by yourself. It may sound odd that you have to imitate others to learn how to come up with your own improvisations, but this imitation is how all jazz musicians start.

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#986603 - 01/14/09 04:16 PM Re: Improvisation
IncendiiAnima Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/13/09
Posts: 3
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Thanks a ton for your replies, everyone!

 Quote:
Originally posted by verania5:
Incendii. Piano playing and improv playing are two different types of skills. While piano playing skills are doubtlessly necessary it isn't sufficient to be an improvisational player just because you know how to play the instrument. A good analogy is just because you can read a book doesn't mean you necessarily know how to write one. However, I've tinkered around enough to know there is a method to learn improv by investing some time in harmonic chord theory. That is, how to pick a nice chord or arpeggio to follow along a melody with. [/b]
My diction was lacking, I think. What I mean by "familiarity with the keyboard" is familiarity not only of the fingers, but, just as importantly, the ears and the mind. What I should have said: only with a lot of playing will I get a really good, instinctive feel for which key has the proper sound for expressing my idea, an understanding of where I can take it from there, and the hands to make it happen. I'm still new to this, forgive my tendency to lump it all together as "piano playing!" So basically, what you say confirms what I was thinking. Good deal.

knotty: I'm not so much interested in jazz (the word I usually see accompanying "improv") as in classical stuff. Beethoven's sonatas seem pretty representative of what I'm into (though I haven't heard too many of them); I heard #31 the other day for the first time and was absolutely captivated.

Lee: I watched that first video, and it's like you made it just for me. I'll have to hunt down the others. Very helpful, thank you!

Kymber: Since I was a kid, I've enjoyed banging on a piano from time to time, experimenting to see what sounded good and what clashed, so I have a very basic feel for which notes work together and which do not, but no technical knowledge to support it (theory, scales, etc).

So, another open question: any recommendations for learning theory? No such thing as "too dry"; anything that presents the information in terms basic enough for a rookie to understand will do.

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#986604 - 01/14/09 04:19 PM Re: Improvisation
IncendiiAnima Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/13/09
Posts: 3
Loc: Iowa City, IA
 Quote:
Originally posted by jjo:
One additional key element of learning to improvise is to listen to recordings of improvisation that you like. Then, try to imitate the notes or rhythms that you hear. You can also get transcriptions of improvised solos that you learn to play (I play them note for note with the recording). Finally, when you reach the appropriate skill level, you can transcribe solos by yourself. It may sound odd that you have to imitate others to learn how to come up with your own improvisations, but this imitation is how all jazz musicians start. [/b]
That's something I wouldn't have thought of. Thank you!

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#986605 - 01/14/09 05:15 PM Re: Improvisation
majones Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/21/07
Posts: 331
Loc: Deep East Texas Piney Woods
Lee makes a very important statement with that E note. IMHO too many times our first attempts at improvisation is to run as many different scales or modes as we can and see if something develops. Most of the time nothing does as we just end up running a bunch of random notes together.

That one E was much more effective than a whole string of random notes.

Improvisation is improvising the melody. That begs the question, what is a melody, how do you make one?
http://smu.edu/totw/melody.htm

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#986606 - 01/14/09 05:20 PM Re: Improvisation
xxmynameisjohnxx Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/08
Posts: 625
Loc: San Diego
The biggest aspect in improving my improv was learning music theory, the more I knew the more I was able to use while improving. Easily being able to throw in secondary dominates, borrowed chords, and other such things really helps in good sounding improve.
The second biggest thing was playing a piece in the style I wanted to improv so I could get the style firmly in my head, and of course it helps improve the technique require to play such pieces.
_________________________
Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.

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#986607 - 01/14/09 05:54 PM Re: Improvisation
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
IncendiiAnima,[/b] I came to music five years ago via what I later realized is called "improvisation."

It may help to recall that Chopin loved to improvise when performing, that Beethoven would have friends over and regale them with his improvising, and that Bach would sometimes go to a date with no plan at all and just sit down and start playing. (This latter should probably be left for people whose name is J.S. Bach;-)) Baroque concertos sometimes include a cadenza - soloist improvises here. Actually more than a thousand years before any of the giants of Western music appeared, the Imperial Chinese wrote down rules for playing at court: Primacy was given to the song; within the song, primacy was given to melody; and the soloist - probably playing what we call a "Dulcimer" - was expected to improvise. Expected.

You can start anywhere. (Knowledge is good; but as I often post, building a large vocabularies won't transform people into writers [verania posted similarly above]). Some of your best work can be done away from the piano. Just take a theme or snippet from something that you like and try to complete it or hum or whistle variations on it.

At first process is much important than result. The reason is that what you're actually trying to learn is how to naturally use the other side of your brain. Study is done with the rule-making and rule-bound side. Creation uses the other side of the brain.

If you continue, you'll discover that things occur to you while you're sleeping. When that happens, just get a small tape recorder and hum what you heard. When you have time, try to work it out at the piano. If you then still continue, you'll probably want a simple notation program into which you can notate your improvisations. And if you continue for even a few months, you'll begin waking up in the morning wanting to improvise. At that moment you'll have entered the creative state of mind. Enjoy!

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