Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 23: humour in music.
Music to listen to and humour have in common expectation and surprise
in a special timing. If you look at it this way, music to listen to is a
chain of subtle humour, only understood by a selected group of people,
who appreciate creativity. Dance music and background music may be
less original but improvising requires surprising findings.
In classical music one also has searched for findings. Once Mozart
wrote to his father he had build into his composition a finding, no one
but a specialist would recognize. A composer like he does not do a thing
like that for commercial reasons, but for his own satisfaction and for
connoisseurs. An improviser knows what I mean: he, too, plays for his
own enjoyment and is appreciated only by a minority.
If you play a folksong, which normally has a major key, in a minor key,
the first time it sounds funny. After a while however you get used to it
and consider it as a process of a composition. Think of the song
'Twinkle, twinkle little star' which Mozart edited in several ways in a
composition. He probably considered it funny himself and has also
enjoyed the experience 'eureka' of his findings and the richness of his
A song in a major key played in a minor one.
The seriousness, with which the classical music is approached,
disregards the wit it often has. We all know the pianist who frowns
during a tender phrase, where he should look meditative; we all know
the bragging singing of a cute song of Schubert. Once I could not find
how to play some measures from a piece of Mozart due to the fact that
he had an obviously minor melody with a major accompaniment. I
forgot the melody, but the principle can be used for improvisation.
Left hand in major, right hand in minor key.
Many ideas can be found in program music, where sound must represent
something, like water, thunderstorm, birds or a story, e.g. the Pastoral of
van Beethoven, The Moldau of Smetana or L'apprenti Sorcier of Ducas.
Also we may look for ways to illustrate particular things in sounds, e.g.
we may use a trill in a song about birds.
A song about birds played with a trill.
In general subtle humour in music is not easy. E.g. try to play 'for fun' a
waltz in your right hand and accompany it in a four beat with your left
Left hand in 4/4 beat, right hand in 3/4 beat.
Music should be playful. You should enjoy it. Who says: "It is mere
entertainment music", will not enjoy music. How will they ever be able
to make agreeable music?
Searching for a funny and still musical idea one may hit some notes at
random in the middle of an improvisation. As you don't know
beforehand what the effect of the random notes will be, you come into a
situation where you have to save your music. This is an inspiration for
ideas and also a training in masking mistakes in general, which will
make your performance less tense. This in turn may improve the quality
of your play and your creativity.
The point is: don't be afraid to use humour in your music. Don't think
seriousness is necessary for beauty. Especially music full of findings (I
don't say 'grace notes') may move. The real artist doesn't cry himself but
makes others do so.
Don't think music is a serious business, but enjoy fooling around with it
playfully and subtle. Search for findings, funny effects and variations
Choose three random notes. Then start improvising in a normal way.
Halfway the song you suddenly play these three notes. You will be
startled, but try to save the situation as musical as possible. It will
freshen up your mind.
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