improvisation

(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.  [···]

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(Improvisation Journals, Preparing the Soil & Planting Seeds)

“How do I get really good at improvisation?” a student will ask me from time to time.

Most successful artists practice their craft daily. Think about any artist you may know. If you go into their studios, you will likely find evidence of the artistic process in many different stages of  creativity. With a creator of fine paintings, you might find a pile of rough sketches, pencil drawings and canvases with texture and shading patches; four or five versions of a still life of flowers and fruit, varying in color value, styles and techniques; and a landscape in water color sitting on an easel ready for finishing touches. The studio walls are decorated with finished works done by the artist, as well as pieces created by his contemporaries and influences which provide an inspiring work setting.

Journals are used by writers to keep the creative juices flowing, and to record their ideas.

Next spring, my students will be encouraged in their daily musical creativity with new improvisation journals! These journals will be specially created by the students themselves. There will be lots of space for jotting down melodic ideas, lyrics, doodles and drawings. Every other page will be manuscript paper, my intentions being that a great deal of the journaling will be done in a musical language (i.e. traditional notation, chord progressions, lead line, short hand notation, etc.).

We will have a journal making day in early spring when the students will put their books together and personalize their covers with pictures, pretty scrap booking paper, and collage. Manuscript paper can be downloaded from the internet and printed out from your computer. You might have access to a binding machine, or take the journals to an office supply store and have them spiral bound. You may also choose to use a simple audio software program (here is a free one you can download: audacity.sourceforge.net/) to do regular recordings of the students’ ideas. CD pouches are available also at an office supply store, and can be adhered to the inside covers of the journals.

Our journals will be divided into four sections, labeled “Planting Seeds“, “Budding Ideas“, ” Blossoms“,  and “Bouquets” to set apart the various stages of the creative process involved in improvisation and composition.   [···]

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Jump Start Your Creativity!

…with Mozart or Beethoven! At one time, using another artists idea to build a masterpiece was considered an homage, a great honor! (These days it’s called plagiarism!) So, we won’t need to take it straight off the page, but gleaning another artist’s great idea and using it as a springboard into improvisation or original composition, is something quite worthwhile.

I would like to share just a few improv/composition exercises that use previously written music as a starting place. Since I have discussed in my earlier articles more specifics on motifs, development and form, please refer back to Parts 1 and 2 of “Get It Going” if you haven’t previously had a chance to read them!

Theme & Variations

This is probably the most obvious place to start. I’d suggest to start by listening to some examples. Here are a few suggestions:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman” (K. 265 / K. 300e)

Ludwig van Beethoven, 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120

Max Reger, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart, Op.132

Make a simple lead line chart of a familiar tune (I like to use Twinkle, Jingle Bells and Jesus Loves Me, to name a few).

  • Write (or have the student) write out the melody line. You may choose to use just the starting note for the melody, and then only the lyrics.
  • Using the most basic chord choices (I, IV and V in the given key), play the melody, and let the student  [···]
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