Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 08: improvisation in practice.

The six chords of C and Am are sufficient to make music, but sometimes they don't inspire people enough. Now, however, we have more chords, giving the possibility to more interesting schemes. Those of the homework are appropriate.

Before we continue with theory we must make music with the knowledge we have. With this knowledge I mean all the chords we can derive from the previous lessons. There is explained how to make a chord and some of them have been elaborated, but it is not necessary to do that for all of them.

To make music first of all you have to explore the scheme of the homework (later on you will learn to make a scheme yourself). This requires a fluent play without a hitch (!). The point is to discover the scheme has something to say by itself even without a melody. (As long as you don't hear this it makes no sense to go on). It is normal though that it will take some time before you grab everything the scheme has to offer. Twenty repetitions are not many. Play the chords with a nice ring, e.g. in the right hand, while the left gives the bass note of the root. Don't make the tempo too slow, as otherwise the connection from one chord to the other is lost, which is just the purpose of this exploration.

After the second or third repetition of the scheme you can start humming along with the piano. This may succeed well for the easy parts, but not yet for the modulations. After more repetitions also those will become clear. If a note in your mind is too high to sing, at least you have got a notion of a possible one to play. To hit the note you have in mind is a skill which will improve by practice.

Don't think of theory, scales, etc at this moment. First of all you have to get the right mood of music and creation in stead of understanding the separate chords. You have to feel the line of the 'story' the scheme has to tell. A scientific oriented person is inclined to understand the things previous to using them. He keeps on focussing on the structure and don't spend 99% of his mind to playing but to study. Compare someone who is going to learn to ride on a motor-bike and first wants to understand the machine. If he puts 99% of his energy in this study he will become a repairman in stead of a motor-cyclist. He will not experience the dynamic aspect, which is the point.

Feel the flow of tension, the climax, the possibility of emotional changes. When you start making a melody try to make one with as few notes as possible. Use long notes and let the chords change underneath them while keeping the long notes on. People often think: "A melody is a row of notes, so I will put many of them in it". That is the same mistake as the idea that much has to move in a motion picture.

If you are the type who thinks: "I will study my improvisation first, then I can spend the rest of the time playing piano from my sheet music", you underestimate the devotion improvisation requires. You have to become composer who creates in real time. That is the highest intellectual activity possible.

Never consider your creation as bungling work. Self criticism has its value, as long it is not undermining. Sheet music is a danger. You will compare your results with those of composers. This way you will activate the wrong parts of your brain. Invent a rhyme with a story l'improviste. I think that will require comparable brain functions.

Don't practice chords separately but in a scheme. Then you will learn them in practice. Write the scheme down large and clear, so you can give your full attention to your creation.
Click here for a printable version of the homework.
Measure and tempo are free, as also transpose, but stick to the scheme:
C  C  F  C   C  Am D7 G7  C  C  E7 Am  C C  G7 C
Am Am E7 E7  Am A7 Dm Dm  G7 E7 Am Am  C G7 C  C
The sound example illustrates the development in 4 minutes:
1) just the scheme
2) with sometimes a note for a melody
3) melody with minimum number of notes
4) a melody starts to come
The melody is not developed any further to give all the attention to the very beginning of the creation.
Click here to hear a sound example
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