Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 17: expectation and surprise.

Every performance (of an actor, speaker, magician, musician, author, etc) has to balance between expectation and surprise. Some people have a natural gift for it, others suppress their feelings, due to every day habit in society. It is diplomatic to give people some time to get used to a new idea. On stage, however, a faster timing is possible than in daily life. This holds particularly for improvising.

We must start to play a predictable piece long enough to create an expectation. If this piece is too short it will have a chaotic effect. The realization depends on the style demarcation. If the performance is allowed to have spirit, we may have a surprise like: "Got you!" In meditative music there is no need to keep the audience awake, but in other styles we may like to get the people out of their chairs.

Contrasts animate the experience. People, who have to improvise in my course for 6 minutes, often play the whole time in the same beat and atmosphere. This is all right, of course, as long as it is the pure repercussion of their feeling, which is the target of this course. But sometimes it is caused by subtle influences from outside: the idea it is not worthwhile to start another style, the fear a change will not be appreciated by the people present, or simply a bond with the atmosphere you're in. Your nature has influence: the one prefers the road of which he knows it is good, the other is more adventurous. If you're in between, consider variation. This may concern larger parts, like allegro - presto or chorus - refrain, but also very small ones, like the touch on the keys or the subtle hold up of tempo which creates an expectation as an introduction to a new opening. Feel free to make changes in tempo dependent on your temper, or dare to slow down if you discover your fingers can't keep up with your ardor. The break, known in every music style, is particularly useful for improvisation. During a break, the accompaniment stops for a moment, e.g. a measure. What happens then is the surprise.
-We will go into the break in more detail.
Without a break a piece can sound like this.

-A Break asks for a fill in.
Without a fill in a break sounds like this.

-A solo player takes care of the fill in.
With a fill in a break may sound like this.

-In a band (several) solo players can get extra attention if a chain of breaks are used.
A chain of breaks.

-In Dutch bands the end of a break often is played by all instruments simultaneously. It is more subtle to introduce the end of a break not so sudden, by letting to start one of the accompanying instrumentalists a bit earlier.
An introduction of the end of a break.

-More lively is a break when some of the players start the end of a break too early. This impatient disobedience has refreshing possibilities.
The disobedient break.

A solely piano doesn't have the possibilities of a band, but by loving the break in a way an orchestra can do, automatically some of its liveliness will radiate in the play of a piano improviser.
-Don't play a long time in the same atmosphere (unless for meditative music)
-Develop working with breaks.
-Invent solos for it.
-Try to prevent your breaks to sound like 'just stopping' (inviting the people to fill in something themselves), but try to make a little rhythmic or melodic surprise.
-Try also to introduce the end of a break by a subtle note, so it gives associations with a tap-dance shoe rather than a wooden shoe.
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