Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Improvisation in Bloom!..Part Two

(Improvisation Journals, Budding Ideas, Blossoms and Bouquets)

Last month I talked about students making improvisation journals to jot down their musical ideas. Paralleling the creative process to stages in development of flowers and bouquets, ideas were offered in these areas (see Blossoming Improvisation – Part One dated 9/25/09) :

  • Preparing the Soil for Creativity
  • Planting Seeds (motifs).

Today I want to talk about the remaining three stages in my flowery discussion of creativity:

  • Budding Ideas (phrases)
  • Blossoms (sections)
  • The Bouquet (the composition)

Budding Ideas (Phrases)

In this section, short motifs from the “Planting Seeds” section (see Part One of this series) will be expanded in to phrases. The motifs may be used as “take-off” points, or combined to create an interesting theme.

Since a phrase is a musical sentence, it needs to have a beginning, and build through the middle to a period or question mark at the end. The picture of a rainbow shape is a helpful analogy of a phrase shape. Though all phrases do not follow the same melodic and dynamic shape, the rainbow shape will ensure nicely rounded, successful phrases for introductory purposes. Once this is achieved, turn up at the ends of the phrases to create question phrases.

Improvising phrases back and forth between teacher and student works well for practice (you may use a call and response format). I usually start beginners by actually speaking, or singing a question to them, and asking them to speak or sing the answer back to me. Then we put the question and answer into notes on the instrument. We are all accustomed, from a young age, to building phrases with our voices, so that is a very good place to start.

Another idea for practice, is to use a current song line or phrase from a folk or nursery rhyme as an example, having the student create his own original second phrase.

Now, lets go back to our journals (see last month’s article!) I know, I’m talking about improvisation journals, but writing some things down is good practice, and improvisation often becomes composition. Remember, you can incorporate some manuscript pages, or if using store bought journals, a page of manuscript paper can be attached to a journal page with staples, glue or tape. Hopefully, by having the students start out by notating their motifs (also from last month), putting notes down on the paper for their phrase won’t be a big deal.  I like to do one example myself, explaining all the details of how I’m doing my notes, while they watch. Now it’s their turn. Make sure to be encouraging, and not overly picky on details. These can be fine tuned as they develop some confidence.

Blossoms (Sections)

A blossom is made of many petals, all having a similar appearance because they belong to the same blossom.  But they also have some variation if you look closely. To parallel again with our creative process, we will use phrases in combination to build our first section of music. In music, a period usually consists of four phrases. This can be easily done as: question phrase, answer phrase, same question phrase, different answer phrase (you end up with A-B1-A-B2, or A-B-A-C).  I will sometimes use note cards, marked with letters, as follows:  2 with “A”, 2 with “B”, and 1 with “C”.  I will then set the cards up on the music rack or stand to create section structure variations. Examples: A-B-A ,  A-A-B-A,  A-B-A-C. This teaches students how to create good musical form, balancing the use of repetition and variation. Periods usually go in pairs, being repeated or answered by another period. Think of each period as half of the flower!

The journalling process may change here, depending on the preferred manner of notation and performance. If the music is in an improvisatory state, a chord chart or lead line format might be used. If the music is to be written out in full notation, these periods may be more notation than practical for the journal. At this point, the particular composition might go to a regular manuscript notebook, or computer notation program. Still, the journal may be used for sections of lyrics, artwork to accompany the creative process, possible phrase combinations (using the letters from the cards above) for improvising periods, etc.

The Bouquet (The Composition)

As a bouquet is an arrangement of several unique blossoms, our finished piece of music will be a grouping of two or more sections.  A skilled flower arranger knows how to put flowers together in an artistically appealing display, balancing blossoms of similar shape and colors with those of contrasting characteristics. A composer needs to do the same thing to create a successful piece. Repetition holds the composition together, while variation and contrast add interest. Often, compositions that result from the lack of a structural plan at the onset, tend to ramble, lacking in organization. Therefore, as soon a new idea is started, help the student chose a plan for a structure.

If we have flowers represent the different sections in our music, we might have two roses, an iris, and a daisy. Since the “A” section usually is stronger if repeated at some point in the piece, we’ll have the roses represent “A”. The iris will be “B”, and the daisy “C”. Then “arrange” away! Another idea for achieving a structure is to draw a rough sketch of cars of a train (engine, coal car, caboose, etc.), with each car representing a section of the piece. Or you might use the lettered cards again from phrase grouping exercise discussed earlier, this time having them represent the bigger sections of the composition or improvisation. A student may also use the form from an existing study piece (Bach minuet) as a template for structure.

My experience with my student improvisers and composers has taught me this: keeping things more toward the simple side and taking one step at a time is critical for success. Otherwise, the student will most often try too much too soon and become frustrated or overwhelmed with the whole idea of creativity. By offering some structure to work within, and encouraging him to resist getting too complex out of the gate, you will help him on his way to success! One more thing…be flexible! The point of the organization here is to help to direct the creative process. Once going, if the piece really wants to take another shape, don’t box it in…allow the student to go back and revise the plan.

Well, as usual, I once again got carried away! Take whatever you can use, adapt it to your studio, and most of all, HAVE FUN!!! It would be so awesome to see pictures of some of your students’ journals (or your own!) Send them to me at JoyfulNoise52@gmail.com and I’ll see about putting them up on the blog as a follow up to this article after the spring semester. Also, we’d all love to hear about any other ideas you have for journaling with music creativity! I don’t know about you, but I think a big, colorful bouquet of flowers for the studio will be a perfect adornment, as we get going with our “Blossoming Improvisation”  journals this spring!

Thank you for reading!

P.S.  In case you’d like my comp/improv blog articles in hard copy…I’ve published them in a 23 page book form: Music Creativity in Bloom ~ Dozens of Inspiring Ideas to help you teach Composition and Improvisation, is now available at www.PiacereMusicPress.com

About the Author

3 Comments

  1. Valentino L, Vazquez

    Dear Ms. Schumann your botanical analogy is “First Class”!

  2. Christine Schumann

    Dear Mr. Vazquez, Thanks so much for reading and expressing your appreciation for my article. And sorry so late to reply! Best wishes!

  3. […] Improvisation in Bloom:  Part II in a series from Christine Schumann posted at Music Teacher’s Helper.  What a great visual way to help to explain improvisation!  ~  ”…Budding Ideas (Phrases) In this section, short motifs from the “Planting Seeds” section (see Part One of this series) will be expanded in to phrases. The motifs may be used as “take-off” points, or combined to create an interesting theme.   Since a phrase is a musical sentence, it needs to have a beginning, and build through the middle to a period or question mark at the end. The picture of a rainbow shape is a helpful analogy of a phrase shape. Though all phrases do not follow the same melodic and dynamic shape, the rainbow shape will ensure nicely rounded, successful phrases for introductory purposes. Once this is achieved, you may have them give the phrase a tail up at the end to create a question phrase….” […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.