Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Improvisation -- You can do it!

The first thing to note about improvisation is that every one of you reading this blog already knows how.

I thought I'd bring this up because a number of people seem to think that the idea of improvising is completely beyond them, which is funny, because you already do it.

Do too.

Yes you do.

If you are having a conversation with your monitor or phone right now you are illustrating exactly what I mean. If we couldn't improvise we couldn't talk to each other.

Let's think about that for a minute.

You meet a friend for lunch. You don't know what your friend will say, but you are able to respond in a way that makes sense, and causes your friend to continue conversing with you. Back and forth. What magic is this?

It's very simple. You know a lot of words. You know what they mean by themselves. You know how to put them together in an order that will make sense. You are able to pronounce them correctly, place hundreds of them together in a line, and get that line to have some sort of overall meaning. And you don't have to think very hard about it; it just flows naturally.

You are a genius! OMG!

(And that is the very same reaction many people give when they find out a musician is improvising)

So what's the difference? Well, you are improvising in English, or whatever language or languages you happen to know and communicate in. You know those languages inside out and you can comfortably manipulate their constituent parts creatively at will. It must be wonderful. (or it should be)

In music, on the other hand, some of you don't think you can get off the ground.

Well, we've established that you know how the act of making it up as you go works, and if we consider the matter further we'll see that that is, in fact, the way most of you relate to language most of the time. After all, we can

listen / react
write or

and the odds are that we do it in that order--that most of our engagement with language comes from speaking and listening (and then returning the volley) in conversation. Then, far less, comes our email and texting, letter writing and other compositional effusions. Then, if there is any time, we might read something.

But for many musicians, grown up on a steady diet of piano lessons, we read the notes on the page first and last. We don't write anything ourselves or have any idea to do it. And we definitely don't just play stuff we made up out of our own heads and on the spot like that. No way.

Which is to say, when we deal with music, we turn that order upside down. Or rather, change the listen / react to a passive receive, and completely eliminate the other two.

listen / react

Odd, isn't it?

It's a completely different relationship--or lack thereof. Because when you read something in English or some other language, you have some sense of how it was created. You yourself might conceivably have put it there. Maybe you couldn't have written or said it as well, but you could at least competently paraphrase.

But not in music.

So what's the problem? Is it that you don't really understand the language of music very well? Or that you've never tried to speak it? Or both.

We'll pull on that string next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I don't bite...mostly.