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Music Improvisation 101

July 1, 2010

“Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.”

Improvisation focuses on carrying one’s personal reality into a moment of sublime pulsation and consciousness in which one can develop a greater understanding towards whatever action is being concentrated on. The combination of awareness and thoughts can enable a musician to know he or she can act within a range of ideas that can best fit the situation; even if this moment has yet to be experienced. This can result in uncharted territory for an artist of any kind.

The art of improvisation has been utilized by tradesman for many centuries. Composers, artists, authors, poets, film directors and musicians have all explored this magical craft. The skills can apply to several talents and forms of communication, which express artistic, scientific and cognitive qualities. This can result in the creation of new practices, ideas, patterns and structures.

“There’s no right or wrong, just some choices that are better than others.” - Wynton Marsalis

There is something unique about artists or bands that get together to “jam.” Quite simply, there is nothing like it. Making sure every live performance remains fresh and different is quite an achievement for a musician. The Dropa Stone, an “experimental jam-rock” band originally from South Florida has a similar approach to their live performance. Simply performing a set list of the same songs in the same fashion every night can be a grueling task, but allowing things to be fresh, “tight but loose,” can push the songs to morph and magnify itself with each show. Within each song is an ability to push the limits and see what is and isn’t possible. It can enhance one’s individual prowess on an instrument. This is the point when separate entities combine together to form one source of inspiration.

Composed written music to that of improvised music may seem to be exact opposites, but in Jazz they combine to form a unique mixture. “You’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it.” - Duke Ellington.

This is important because it illustrates the important of songwriting. Without a song, there is no vehicle for exploration or experimentation. This has been true for all genres of music from classical to jazz, to blues to rock.

This approach is a great technique when constructing new songs, experimenting on hypotheses or drawing paintings. Some of the most magnificent creations in human history have been as a result of taking chances; “on the spot magic.” Great songs have been born as a result of that one riff, one groove, one bass line that pops out of nowhere. Another jazz legend, Thelonious Monk’s Straight, No Chaser is an example of an intricate composition that was built from an improvised line.

There is something about entering the unknown which is both nerve wracking and enlightening at the same time. Sometimes you miss just slightly, sometimes you fail and sometimes you exceed with grand results. How do you know if you don’t try?

The true value of improvisation can be drawn from an artist’s individual creativity and that process of physical expression is what we call…..MUSIC.

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