Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 10: different approaches to improvise.
Up to now we started with a scheme and made melodies to it. That
approach is mostly used. But it is also possible to begin with a
melody and to harmonize that.
Hear course-member Hans use this approach.
In case of amateur level 'singing sisters' one of them sings the main
melody and the other harmonizes a second voice often in thirds. If
they use a scheme more variation is possible. A composition can
have a well developed second voice, but that does not belong to
If the main melody is prescribed, harmonisation may affect the
nature of the melody (Gregorian chant). Harmony has more
expressiveness than melody. E.g. if E7 is used in the
accompaniment of a simpel melody like 'Brother John' (starting at
c), it may (used at the right moment) sound well, but the harmony
will dominate the melody then.
Music has to have structure. This can be obtained by other means
than a scheme, e.g. a scale.
Hear the air of the whole-tone scale c d e f# g# a#
Hear the air of the Dorian scale d e f g a b c
Hear the air of the Mixolydian scale g a b c d e f
Hear the air of the Mol-dur scale c d e f g a-flat b
Hear the air of the Gipsy scale a b c d# e f g#
Hear the air of the Gipsy scale a b-flat c# d e f g#
Another way to get structure is to reduce the accompaniment to the
degrees of a scale.
Hear course-member Vera play on exclusively the white keys.
Hear course-member Fred play on exclusively the degrees of scale C.
Also one can learn a song by heart.
Hear course-member Meta.
Or play a song by ear.
Often improvisation is done by pasting very short pieces of scheme
together. These are miniature schemes of 2 or 3 chords of which
you know they fit together well, e.g. G7 C or C E7 A7.
Hear course-member Teun, who has much experience.
Riffs are very short melodies which are repeated over and over
again while the chords change. They are often used in blues.
Hear a riff.
Nowadays one learns 'licks', prepared short melodies, not meant to
repeat but to help in case of shortage of inspiration.
The very best is your own creation of every tone. A possible
procedure is to have a good but too accustomed phrase and to
change one note in it at random. If it turns out to be wrong, one can
return to save haven. This seems strange but to solve an alien tone
is often done in music.
The highest level in improvisation, however, is to feel and predict
the right tone and to hit it right too. As a rule one listens to
every tone to make sure it is right before going on with the next
one. This listening way of improvising is always appreciated as it
takes into account the acoustics of the room and the effect on the
audience too. My advice is play always listening! Only Beethoven
could predict the effect of every tone in spite of his deafness.
Compare the different approaches of improvising with speaking.
Small talk at a tea party is comparable with playing without
structure, business talk with playing on a scale, an old teacher who
knows his lesson by heart with playing by heart, sheet reading by a
speech read from paper, and the orator with a little list of notes and
improvises the rest of his words with improvising by means of a
scheme. Every course for speaking in public recommends the last
HOMEWORK: Harmonize 'Brother John' (in fact it's a canon, but
can also be accompanied in another way) in order to discover how
the harmony influences the effect of the melody.
Hear Brother John as a canon.
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, brother John, brother John,
morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing, ding ding dong, ding
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