|Practice Routines 1|
Musical Improvisation Basics - Practice Routines 1This article is the first of a series to assist developing a daily practice routine that assists in the development of improvisation-related mental and physical muscles...
Our purpose is to shift your thinking. The suggested exercises are structured to break down established ways of thinking so that new choices can be made. Sometimes you will see instantaneous results. Sometimes you won't see any results for a long time. Trust the process. Our adaptive brain is capable of awesome shifts in awareness, but it takes time for real progress.
Also, be forgiving to yourself. This is different than any other study. We are not trying to do something right. We are trying to free ourselves from a limited view of what right is.
It is recommended that you purchase a small notebook of music paper, a journal and a simple cassette recorder. These will be your constant companions for the duration of this study.
I realize that your current musical studies can not stop, so our work in this book is structured so that you only need spend 30 minutes, twice a day in order to make progress. As technical studies are added, I will make suggestions for including them as a part of your standard pianistic practice - exercising the head as well as the hands to save you time.
This study is designed to expand your musical capability, not to contract it. Therefore, it is vital that you continue your practice regimen in the study of your current classical repertoire. As time unfolds, you will find technical studies and musical approaches that can be included as a part of your daily practice. Always weigh these shifts to your daily discipline against the result. The study of this book should make you a better musician overall, unlimited by the type of music you choose to play.
A few ideas for starters...
Practice major scales in all keys - include contrary motion.
Major scales are the basis of diatonic music. As one of the major systems of music, the scale defines subsets of notes and intervals which will be very useful for our study. In addition, knowledge of major scales indirectly informs us of modal forms of music and improvisation (the most important modes are derived from the major scale).
If you decide to practice the major-scale-derived modes, optimize your fingering according to how the major scales are designed. For starters and where possible, start your selected mode with the 5 finger in the left hand, and the thumb in the right hand. The reason for this, is that we are trying to get you to know what the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. degrees sound like, and fingering is an unconscious way of doing this. On a strictly mathematical basis, it may be easier to use the root major scale fingering - and in some cases this must be done (G# Dorian - based on F# major, for example). Ultimately, you must have facility to do both styles of fingering, because you will always be challenged to change up on the fly.
Practice your scales consciously.
Improvisation calls on the musician to have practical theoretical systems in place. Since major scales are such an inherent part of our Western culture and are so useful in the tonal and modal systems, their study assists in “mapping the keyboard.” This mapping trains our minds to have command of key centers and their interrelationships such that we can make changes according to the instantaneous needs of the music.
Practice scales in multiple keys at the same time.
Once again, stretch your mind. We are trying to break old ways of thinking and stretch into new realms.
Practice arpeggios in all keys - major and minor, diminished and augmented
Like our study of scales, arpeggios assist us in “mapping the keyboard” or breaking down this expanse of notes into recognizable and useful patterns that can be used musically. Triads are the basis of tonal harmony, and vital in extended tonal (or jazz) harmony. Intervalic mapping breaks the keyboard down into mathematical symmetry.
There are several different systems of music theory. They include tonality,extended tonality, modality and serialism. The tonal and modal systems are assisted greatly by examining the scaler and triadic forms. But serialism and its related cousins are best served by the study of intervals. While it is a mathematical study, it is immensely useful for the improvising musician to have a command of intervals and their interrelationships.
John Coltrane and many others have used the Slonimsky Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns - which was a mathematically based map of possible melodic patterns - based on intervals.
Obviously, the diminished and augmented arpeggios would be considered interval study, as would the whole tone scales. The challenge is to also cover the larger intervals as well (P4 and beyond), and to mix things up in order to expand your ear and mirror that in your technique.
I've employed a method that is hardly original, but it serves to challenge in both ways:
Identify a challenge that you have - ear or technique or both.
Design an intervalic exercise that challenges you. So, for a simple example, start on a chosen note, then go up a m3rd, down a M2nd, up a M3rd - a total of four notes including the start note. Now repeat this pattern in interval-defined keys. Maybe, the pattern will get repeated over minor 3rd's, or more complex intervalic structures. Keep trying to anticipate what the note should sound like before striking the next key - to stretch your ability to hear intervalically.
Obviously, you need to design your fingering so that it makes sense, but doesn't lock you into limitation. Always be thinking of ways of going somewhere else with your fingers.
In the end, it is up to us to create mind-stretching exercises that keep us on the edge of our mental seat. This is what we want. The only person who is truly an authority on what we need to work on, is us. We live with ourselves and our mistakes every day, so we have the greatest appreciation of where our appropriate growth path lies.
We will expand upon some of these ideas in the next article.
I hope that this article has been helpful to you. If you like it, gift it to someone. I only ask that you credit me as below:
©2005 Ben Dowling, the author of "The Metaphysics of Improvisation" - is a pianist, composer and an authority on music improvisation who publishes Music-Improv.com, a web site that provides useful paradigms and practices for musicians interested in expanding their ability to improvise.
Learn more about the conceptual and metaphysical underpinnings of musical improvisation by visiting http://www.music-improv.com
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