Intuitive Improvisation


Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky

I’m pleased to announce that the article I wrote for American Music Teacher magazine, originally published in the winter of 2007, is now available on line here . It’s specifically targeted at music teachers who would like to venture into the world of creative improvisation and don’t know where to begin, but would also be useful for anyone who is feeling the urge to create their own music and knows a bit of basic theory.

For me, the key to learning how to improvise was allowing myself to approach the piano playfully, as a small child would, and not to weigh myself down with admonitions or expectations. In other words, to be free to create!

Intuitive Improvisation And Some News…

American Music Teacher Magazine CoverI am delighted to announce that my latest article on intuitive improvisation has been published in the December/January issue of American Music Teacher, along with a number of other great articles on improvisation. I chose to focus on games and exercises for teachers who may not have ever improvised themselves. I give practical approaches that will enable them to not only encourage their students to improvise, but to also enjoy the process alongside them. I based it on successful experiments with many of my own students over the years. It was a fun article to write.

I apologize for not having blogged in a while — I am in charge of a pilot program in Kodály musicianship for Kindergarden through second grade students, and conducting two middle-school choirs — teaching three hundred children per week. It has been extremely absorbing and energy-consuming. The program is going well, and we hope, with the help of the Ojai Music Festival Education Committee, to expand the Kodály program to all schools in the local district.

Young children are wonderfully responsive and enthusiastic. It has been amazing to see how rapidly they are progressing. I am excited at the prospect of so many young children receiving a solid foundation in musicianship and enjoying music making so much. My intention in the coming semester is to regain more balance in my life, so that I can once again have time to blog, make music, write articles, and actually have a social life as well!

Performer as Composer

I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Hough‘s article in today’s Guardian about the relatively recent separation of the roles of composer and performer.

It is only since starting to improvise and compose over the last ten years that I realize how my education was so separatist in that regard, both at school and university– “composing was for the prodigy and the rest of us probably wouldn’t write anything worth listening to” seemed to be the prevailing attitude.

Stephen writes: “…there is a modesty that is snobbery and one that is laziness, but a much more common form is just plain timidity. Anyone who can read music can write it too – and should. It doesn’t have to be performed, and it may not be very inspired, but to be totally divorced from the act of creation risks making us neighbours rather than relatives to the works we play. And, by the same token, composers who never perform risk writing music that is impractical and even unplayable.”

Looking back, I think I was a ‘neighbour’ to some extent. However much I was taught to analyse the works of others, it never seemed feasible that I might actually write something myself– certainly not sitting at a desk with manuscript paper and pencil. My liberation eventually came through discovering that improvisation (forbidden when I was a child) produced much more satisfying results. It also freed me to play the standard repertoire with greater vitality and insight. Experimenting myself with harmonic or motivic building blocks, I could then understand more deeply from the inside how Bach or Beethoven were composing.

My forthcoming article in American Music Teacher, “Intuitive Improvisation”, lays out in greater detail some good places for the budding improviser to start. Until then, I would just encourage any of you to ‘have a go’ and have fun!