Learn to improvise. 2004-2005. Lesson 24: points of orientation.

People often can play a song, but are confused as soon as they try to improvise on it. They can't stick to the chord scheme. The reason is they haven't prepared themselves well enough, because for improvisation you must analyze the construction of the song beforehand. Knowing the chord scheme is not enough. You have to pay attention to the relationship between chord scheme and melody. This is not easy. You have to stick to the chord scheme.

After I have learned a new song it takes still several months before I'm able to improvise on it without losing the chord scheme and without having ridiculous melodies. During these months I need points of support. I play the characteristic pieces of the tune in the original way and limit the improvisation to the other, more common, parts. The more I know the song the less support I need.

It is not difficult to find these points as you automatically will meet them as soon as you start to improvise on the song. In the beginning nearly the whole song belongs to the area where you are not able to improvise, but by playing the song over and over again this area will gradually get smaller. A thumb rule to find points of orientation is to look at the first words of each sentence.

As an example I will play the song 'If you were the only girl (boy) in the world'.
Hear the song.
I have learned it only recently and I still need points of support. I have underlined them. These pieces I have learned so well by heart I will always be able to find them, even if I have lost my orientation.

If [G] you were the [E7] only [A7] girl in the world
And [D7] I were the only [G] boy
Nothing else would [Gdim7] matter in the [Am] world today
[D7] We could go on [Daug] loving in the [G] same old way

A Garden of [E7] Eden [A7] just made for two
With [D7] nothing to mar our [G] joy
I would [Gdim7] say such [Bm] wonderful things to you
[Am] There would [D7] be such [G7] wonderful things to [E7] do
If [F] you were the [Gdim7] only [G] girl in the [E7] world
And [A7] I were the [D7] only [G] boy.

The pieces not underlined are meant for improvisation, but the chord scheme and the measures must stay in their original position. The melody may be completely different, but has to agree with the current temporary key, which will give no difficulty if you are musical. At the most you will make mistakes, but these will decrease the more you improvise on the song.
Hear what I mean.

As you don't play the song always in its original way you will be able to carry on playing it many times. Every time you invent new melodies for it (and it are the most beautiful ones because they are your personal choice for the moment).
Hear what I mean.

I know the song 'It's a long way to Tipperary' so long I don't need points of orientation any more. I will play it and then improvise on it without any point of orientation.
Click to hear it.

HOMEWORK: Choose the song you will improvise on (not too difficult and not too boring; see lesson 17 of 2004/2005). Transpose its chord scheme to the initial key which is most familiar to you. Learn the song to play and determine the points of orientation. Learn these points well by heart so you will be able to use them in case of emergency. (It is also useful for performance in public to have these points.) Play the song very often and decrease the points of orientation gradually until you don't need them at all.
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