Tips for improvisation

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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Wildlifephotographer » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:15 am

wow! Excellent information. Thanks everyone. Now to practice!
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby dulcimerbird » Thu Sep 09, 2010 12:40 am

I hope this helps

As I learn a song, I try to always keep in mind where each measure starts and at least at first emphasize that note. This gives me the rhythmic framework. Once I've got the melody worked out, I figure where the chord changes are. Then I work out a chord arpeggio accompaniment (Is that spelled right?). This gives me a framework to play with. Don't forget that you can embellish a song with variations in dynamics (soft to loud) without ever changing, adding or deleting a note. It's one of the advantages that a HD has.

Don't be afraid to try stuff, you won't know what it will sound like until you try it. You are not being recorded. I think a lot of the difficulty people have with embellishing on the fly is a fear of hitting a wrong note OH HORRORS. There are no wrong notes, some just sound better than others. I sometimes hit a sour note on purpose. Rhythm matters, however, so make sure you don't add or delete notes from a measure.

I have found playing in a jam, on the outer edge with soft hammers very useful, in developing embellishment skills. If you don't have people you can jam with put a CD on and play with it. I find using an ear bud in one ear with the other ear open works, well.
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Stephen Seifert » Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:14 pm

Improvisation is something I've worked and played very hard at for a long time. I used to play/practice 3 to 6 hours straight once or twice a week. I almost never got less than 30 minutes in a day. I went through periods where I played around the clock. My time was a combination of three things:

1) This one is the most important and the most fun. I've always been happy to just screw around on an instrument. I love being a musical explorer. It probably didn't sound so good to others for many years but I was addicted.

2) About a third of the time was geared toward specific exercises to make my improvisations more enjoyable for others. Some examples:

a) Slow down a recording and try to figure out some part of it, even a small part, note for note.
b) Work on a fingering system that allows me to play more notes more clean.
c) Practice chord voicings around the cycle of 4ths.
d) Practice sight reading.
e) Practice learning by ear.

3) Getting into high pressure situations where I have to do or die, trial by fire kind of stuff. Like:

a) Agreeing to play piano for a church service even though I can barely read the hymnal.
b) Becoming a music major even though I could barely read music.
c) Joining a Jazz combo even though I couldn't play Jazz.
d) Backing up various singer/songwriters and joining a number of bands where I had to cram to be able to play along on a ton of songs.

These three things together, properly fed, produce some great fruit. It's not so hard to improvise. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_improvisation) To do it in a way that most people find listenable takes work and time. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bebop)
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Stephen Seifert » Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:21 pm

Here's an interesting look at improvisation. Just read the introduction to this book:

http://books.google.com/books?id=Crjf9mltrkcC&lpg=PP1&dq=patterns%20for%20jazz&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Stephen Seifert » Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:24 pm

Ken Kolodner has some great ways of training hammered dulcimer players to improvise on fiddle tunes. Any chance we could hear from Ken on this?
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Sharon Gartley » Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:00 pm

Stephen Seifert wrote:Improvisation is something I've worked and played very hard at for a long time. I used to play/practice 3 to 6 hours straight once or twice a week. I almost never got less than 30 minutes in a day. I went through periods where I played around the clock. My time was a combination of three things:
Excellent, Stephen!! This is exactly the sort of help I want/need! Thank you for the concrete tips about practicing! I will check out the links too.

Thank you!
Sharon

P.S. I have done some of the trial by fire things and will continue to do them. I crashed and burned on a couple and it's hard to get back out there. So, there are a couple of types of things I won't say yes to at this point but will keep working toward!
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Stephen Seifert » Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:48 pm

Sharon Gartley wrote:I crashed and burned on a couple and it's hard to get back out there.

Usually it's not a crash. It's a rough takeoff, flight, and landing. Sometimes, THERE IS a crash. I went this cycle A LOT. People have no idea. It made me sick to my stomach. It filled me with self doubt. It also made me better. It drove me to get better in different areas. It drove me to passionate play and deliberate practice.
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Ken Kolodner » Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:22 pm

A topic dear to my heart...one of my main interests is traditional music. I will confine my observations to fiddle tunes but many of the ideas can be generalized to whatever...of course, these are all just words. It really helps to have someone guide you through the process of learning to improvise. It absolutely can be taught and learned...here are some thoughts...

Step #1: Learn the chord progression. In approaching any tune, try not to focus on the melody. Think structure, i.e., learn how the tune is put together in terms of question and answer phrases and especially the chord progression. In fact, if your eventual goal is to improvise, it is useful to mostly ignore the melody (except for developing the chord progression!) when first learning a tune. Focusing on the melody has the effect of locking you into the notes of the tune. Approach the tune as most guitarists do and develop an accompaniment first. I.e. “live in the chord progression.”

Step #2: Returning to the melody, identify the "anchors" or "hooks" or "corners" the tune. Decide what the essential elements of a tune are. You might also think of this process as one of identifying the “skeleton” of the tune. It can be argued that it is not the specific notes that define a specific tune as the tune. The “hooks” along with the tune’s general shape define the uniqueness of a piece of music. Stated differently, for many tunes, the hooks and the chord progression ARE the tune. Extending this argument, most tunes have many notes and even entire phrases that are not essential to the tune. Try to identify these non-essential notes and phrases in addition to the hooks. These are passages that are ripe for exploration and improvisation.

Step #3: Identify alternate chord progressions. That is, use chord substitutions such as relative minors, dissonances, 7ths, diminished chords etc.

Step #4: Learn the standard tools of the trade. Many of these are closely related to ideas used in arranging tunes. Perhaps an important difference is that these are used more “on the fly” without any real planning.

• Be completely fluent in playing the scales and especially the modes forwards and backwards
• Know the chord progression thoroughly
• Think small steps first
• Change beginnings and endings
• Drop/add pick-up notes, triplets
• Learn standard "licks" to be used to replace small phrases
• Use "melodic runs" to replace phrases with arpeggios
• Use arpeggios and inversions to replace melodic phrases
• Look for notes to drop to create space, and, alternately:
• Look for notes to add to fill space
• Change the rhythm (accent shifts, syncopations, 3 against 2’s, 4 against 3 etc), melody (e.g. switch the order of notes in moving thirds, runs, arpeggios, etc.), dynamics, harmony, and texture
• Use the pentatonic scale
• Use target notes and change everything else!
• Exploit the two measure phrase construction of many tunes: alternate between improvisation in one phrase and then stating the tune clearly in the next
• Learn how to develop counter melodies by thinking the chord structure only

Step #5: Be willing to take chances and be adventurous. Be willing to fall apart but learn how to find your way back. Practice exploration. Finding your way back is possible if you have the structure and “target” notes to guide you (i.e. the chords and how the tune is put together).

Step #6: Keep an open mind. Traditional tunes are not etched in stone. In playing traditional music, we are in the business of preserving a tradition. Part of that tradition is that it continues to develop. To me, this means that the tunes should continue to be explored, re-interpreted and developed. Of course, it is up to each of us to decide what the limits are.

Some “rules” of improvisation!!

General Rule #1: Be careful not to change the "anchors" of a tune

General Rule #2: Break rule #1 at your own risk, but stick to the tune before and after the anchors

General Rule #3: If you break #1 and #2, all you have left is the chord progression. This is almost certainly taking things a bit far but it up to you to decide what the limits are...this is where counter melodies can be quite effective
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Marjorie Orr » Fri Sep 10, 2010 10:39 pm

Ken,

What you have outlined is one of the most concrete ideas I have seen. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I will start tomorrow with chord progressions for Happy Birthday as I need it for the nursing home next week.

I am, however, reading "between the lines" to understand some of your phrases. I "think" I understand what you mean, but would you clarify these terms so that I feel confident about them: "anchors", "hooks", "corners", "skeleton", and "licks". Thanks again for a year+ worth of lessons!!!
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Sharon Gartley » Fri Sep 10, 2010 11:00 pm

I am so glad this thread came back to life! Thank you so much for the wealth of information you have just shared, Ken!

Since I asked the original question back in May, I find that I have improved in playing improvisationally even though I've not been able to give it the time I would have liked. I have a long way to go but it is encouraging to see that things are sinking in! I so appreciate the help you all so freely give on here.

Thank you!
Sharon
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Lisa Ferguson » Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:52 am

Love this thread!!!!!! It is so informative and a big thanks to Sharon for starting such an awesome thead.
Wow what great advice Stephen and Ken gave!
I have started a journal to learn how to use my computer and also for music practice so I decided to write down Stephen's advice and then I got to Ken's and I decided to copy and paste it into a word document so that I can access and reference it to apply as I am practicing!
I am thinking implement one of these ideas a day into practice so I don't get overwhelmed.

Here's another improvisation idea that Dan Landrum gave me in my lesson the other day!
While playing a song ( think of a totally different song and implement the rhythm of it into the song you are currently playing) He used Chattanooga Choo Choo as an example for a different rhythm.
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Re: Tips for improvisation

Postby Sharon Gartley » Tue Sep 14, 2010 12:06 am

Acmespaceship posted a link in the Improvisation Group that I wanted you to be aware of. The group page is: http://everythingdulcimer.com/index.php ... Itemid=168. The page she links to is: http://www.jazclass.aust.com/im1.htm.

Sharon
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