How Does Improvisation Work?
Can I Learn to Do It?
There are main 3 ways in which a pianist can use improvisation in their playing:
If you understand how these areas work, and know how the original is supposed to sound, then you can learn how to improvise them. It’s like acting or doing a comedy sketch, you really need to know how to play the music correctly before you can successfully improvise with it.
If you are going to work with melodic improvisation you can either decide to play most of the original music and only keep a few familiar phrases to identify the piece, you could play around with improvising just the odd group of notes here and there, or you could create something in the middle. Listen to what you’re playing. Does it still sound good? Is it still recognizable as the melody you’re supposed to be playing?
Here you have greater scope to improvise because the melody line will carry anything that you change in the harmony and still leave the listener feeling that they heard the tune they expected to hear. You could add more depth to the base line, or remove the base line. You could add a counter melody that works with the main melody. You could use the basic harmony chord structure and improvise this using such things as passing notes and suspensions to create a completely different sounding harmony that was originally composed.
With rhythm improvisation you can play around with different styles of rhythm. Perhaps your romantic love theme could turn into a dance tune by quickening the pace a little. Cover artists often use this technique in order to put their own mark on a song made famous by another singer.
Apart from these structured forms of improvisation that deal with music already composed, you can also improvise using your knowledge of music themes and structure to create something completely new – a real time composition. This allows you to create a new melody line with harmony as you play and each time you sit at the piano to use this free form kind of piano improvisation you will compose something original.
Any piano player can learn to improvise using the above techniques but in order to perform an improvisation that’s fresh, but it takes practice. If you use melody, harmony or rhythm improvisation methods then you need to practice to ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of playing the tune the way it’s usually played. If you’re going to free form improvise then you must know how to bring a melody and harmony together with a rhythm in order to create something that sounds as if it’s always been that way. You are making it up as you go along, but the end result needs to sound flawless and that takes hours of free form practice in order to ensure that you don’t bring discord into the music by using a combination of opposing chord – unless, of course, that’s your intention!
For wonderful courses in improvisation and other related subjects please go to Improvising & Other Good Stuff!
Copyright June 17, 2011 by Duane Shinn. Do not use without permission!