Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 15: personal expression.
Public wants to hear music it already knows. This simple remark has
much influence in the world of improvisation, to which this course
belongs. People who play beautifully, but are actually never willing to
improvise, don't belong here. From time to time the idea rises,
composed music is better than improvised. This is an inspiration killing
virus. It spreads easily as it can be expressed in words, e.g. "He only
plays boogie woogie". The real emotion of music however is impossible
to express in common language. Creative musicians sometimes feel the
need to improvise.
The reason is the adventure. Even if you like Bach, you still can be
surprised by the sheer beauty of a singing voice, independent of the
quality of the composition, or of the 'drive' with which a simple boogie
woogie is played. In a blend of a composer and an interpreter one might
miss a person.
Improvisation has degrees of singularity. You can learn a piece by
heart, but you can put more of yourself in it, if you paste shorter known
pieces together. If those pieces are as small as a note, you have the
highest degree of singularity. In other words every note, so everything,
is completely made by yourself. People who improvise in this way
radiate their personality so strongly, it is impossible to explain to
someone who has not been actually present. This is the irreplaceable
aspect of improvisation.
It is disturbing when an improviser is confronted with the complacency
with which supporters of composed music sometimes ignore these
aspects. They attach more significance to the construction of the notes
than to the soul. They seem to be deaf for the difference in timbre of a
singing voice or a 128th note of a rhythm. The abiding renewal of music
in the last century has not come from rational researchers, but from the
jazz, folk music from the heart. It are the not in notes to grasp aspects
that move the soul. Improvisation needs especially those aspects.
The fingers of the interpreter may be as virtuosic as can be, if he
operates his pedal a bit too slow, it cancels out his fingering. This will
not happen to an improviser who plays listening, as his creation is
completely made by himself.
Apart from the note devotion, also the fingering gymnastics reduce the
expression. Control of fingering is a blessing for the improviser, but it
must remain a tool dedicated to the soul, not something appreciated as
sporting achievement. The same holds for knowledge of chords. If but
a piece has lots of difficult to nominate chords, it often gets much
Play only notes with contents. A note originated from the need to hear
it now, so an honest improvised note automatically gets the value it
deserves. It has not to be practiced. The nuance will not escape the real
listener, but who is eating in the mean time, will prefer something he
knows already, in order not to be deviated from his food and partner at
Who wants to be popular for the public, must not improvise. He must
practice and interpret known pieces. Improvisation is for the
connoisseur of the soul of his fellow man.
Difficulty of improvisation is another reason not to do it. It requires
expertise. Your soul may ask complicated things, of which the
expression requires a certain skill. You will not build that up by
improvising now and then.
HOMEWORK: Try to play honestly what you really want to hear,
preferably with a high degree of singularity. Invent, listening, every
tone on the spot one by one. Keep the construction simple (a chord
scheme is a compromise: it decreases the freedom of expression, but a
frame guards from chaos).
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