Learn to improvise. 2004-2005. Lesson 20: what to play now? Inspiration.

Before you start playing you may decide to one of the following approaches:
  1. Improvise to a given song or chord scheme, changing the melody but sticking strictly to the chord scheme.
  2. Improvise with the theme of a song, using the melody as a theme and changing the chord scheme.
  3. Compose, inventing the chord scheme as well as the melody without playing it immediately.
  4. Improvise freely, inventing the chord schema and the melody and performing it at once.
Ad 1 (Improvise to a given song). This approach is used when people play together. One keeps strictly to the chord scheme (making playing together possible). Only the melody is changed. Not every chord scheme is equally suitable for that. It has to have the right balance between simplicity and complexity.
Click to hear as an example an improvisation on 'The Sheik of Araby'.

Ad 2 (Improvise with the theme of a song). If you play all by yourself you may deviate from the chord scheme and use the theme of the melody. If the chord scheme is too simple you may improve it. It is easier than improvise to a given song and nobody can complain if you actually take the liberty to anything.
Click to hear as an example an improvisation with the theme from 'Toen onze mop een mopje was'.

Ad 3 (Compose). A possible approach is the following:

  1. Hit the three main chords of the chosen initial key for orientation.
  2. Make some melody notes in this key. The human voice is suitable for inspiration as it connects your biological person with the mental one (artistic, sensitive, musical, etc). This piece of melody may later on be use as a theme for further elaboration.
  3. Now it is time to pay attention to the chord scheme, because it is easier to make a melody to a chord scheme than to harmonize a given melody.
  4. Once the chord scheme is settled the melody may be worked out. Sometimes the chord scheme must be changed a little bit afterwards.
Click to hear a demonstration of the following 4 points.
  1. Chords C F G7 C to get a feeling for the initial key.
  2. Inventing some notes of the melody.
  3. First try for a chord scheme (here I hummed along with the playing).
  4. Final result of the chord scheme together with the melody:
    C Am C Am C Am D7 F G7 (F en G7 in één maat)
    C Am C Am F C F G7 C (F en G7 in één maat)

Don't bother if the chord scheme turns out to be not original. I made a scheme, and discovered afterwards it had much in common with the scheme of Autumn Leaves. So what?
Click to hear another example of the previous 4 points.
Am D7 G Em Am B7 Em E7

Ad 4 (Improvise freely). Thought the principle is the same as of the previous point, the attitude is quite different: less aimed at perfection of the construction than at the live effect of the moment. It requires inspiration and concentration. Meditate some seconds before beginning, start your playing soft and simple, listen well to your playing and hum along with it. If people have a certain expectation of their performance beforehand, because they have prepared a melody at home, they tend to improvise not as good as when they use only their skill. They add some notes to the prepared melody to make it look like an improvisation. This way their music degenerates to background music. To create you must be relaxed.
Click to hear a free improvisation.

Your choice out of the four approaches depends on your character and your mood. Composed music is less inclined towards rhythmic drive as improvised music. But perhaps you can't find the notes you want to hear fast enough to improvise.

HOMEWORK: Try out the effect on inspiration if you meditate some seconds before beginning, start softly, play listening and by any chance use your voice.
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