May. 25, 2016

Improvisation, Part IV

(con't from Part III)
The end of a worship service, ceremony, or big meeting is often the most demanding when it's traditional to play something to show off the organist's technique.
When you're first starting out, it's better not to spend months trying to learn a piece from the repertoire that's very difficult to play, unless you've got the time, of course; instead, playing a variation on some well known hymn tune can be very effective.
You can change the rhythm, alter the harmony, vary the tune slightly, even make reference to other well known hymn tunes.
There are many ways you can add your own personality to a simple chord sequence; the more you use your imagination, the more ideas you're going to come up with.
Improvisation is very similar to written composition except that, when improvising, everything that happens takes place in real time, uninterrupted, without pause to do anything in between, has to sound agreeable from the first try, and has to be within the performer's own bubble of what's comfortable for them.
You're inside certain places when you're improvising, among familiar keys, chord progressions, runs, etc., where you've tried these things before and know what they sound like.
When you're writing you're outside that bubble; you can wander through this space at your leisure, experiment to the fullest, even insert awful sounding chords, wild runs, atonal passages, etc., test them with your ear, and go back and fix them later, if you want to.
In both situations, however, you never create something out of nothing at all.
You start with a musical idea in your head, a theme which can be likened to "the soul" of the music, which you then develop by giving it a body, a shape, a corporeal form, which endows it with life and permits it to move, to "go somewhere."
Your bubble as an improviser starts out small (photo).
Everybody's does.
In time you should eventually feel that bubble expanding to where you're doing more things.
Even beginner musicians can learn to improvise and learn to create music spontaneously; the biggest barrier that currently stands between them and improvising isn't instrumental skill or music theory knowledge or a gift of talent; in fact, the biggest barrier is simply the belief that improvising is something that "other musicians" can do, and they can't.
Improvising isn't a magical "gift;" it isn't some magical prowess bestowed upon a select few by a Muse above; and it isn't necessarily an advanced musical skill; it's a learnable skill, one that can be learned through practice -- and, if we learn it the right way, it's the most fun musical skill we can spend time practicing.
(con't in Part V)