Classical Improvisation as a life art.....

Skip to first unread message

William Harris

May 7, 2006, 3:43:01 AM5/7/06

Improvisation is becoming a core concept now in dance, in film since
Altman, in drama experimentally, and it was always central to the art
of painting. In fact it can hardly be separated from art and the
creative impulse. Every composer from Ockgehem to modern times was able
to play one or more instruments well enough to test out new ideas in a
continuous flow of musical thought. This was always the musician's
personal way of thinking about music, not unlike talking or thinking
words to yourself. The flow of ideas is natural to our nature, most of
us do it fluently with words in conversation as a matter of course.

Piano study since the early l9th century was a largely un-musical
system, since it started with learning to play scales and figures
two-handed as exercises for the hand muscles, while directing the
student's eyes to the score on the stand which told which keys to press
in what order and time sequence. Learning to "play the piano" was
learning to read notes on a page of standard score, the "music" being
someone else's music which you were going to learn to play. There was
little real Play in all this, a lot of rigidity in getting the right
note while counting out one-and-two-and...... No wonder most kids hated
lessons and few continued past a few years when parents gave up.
Learning to reproduce on the piano a few pieces written a century ago
and do it badly, is not fun, it is not "play" and it is in the end not

On the other hand those of us who stayed with it even unwillingly, did
learn a lot of technique, both reading score, using the hands in some
pretty complicated ways, and if we listened carefully, we heard some
real musical ideas within the weekly lessons. For that we can be glad,
because we can now years later come back to the piano and start to
learn to make our own music, which means Improvising. Without those
hard years of hand training you cannot do this; these may be rusty
tools but they are usable.

I have been sincerely into improvising my own music on the piano for
years, and have several essays on various aspects of improvisation and
related problems on my website
<>, along with recent
improv-compositions which you can hear on the internet. In my piano
pieces I have atonal passages but I use harmonics as well, and I have
no hesitation in adapting a figure or a feeling from a
master-improviser like J.S.Bach. I avoid the idea of "playing in the
style of..." which is good for parlor tricks, but not personal enough
for a musical ear. I work cold right-off at the piano without
preconceptions but find that my mind has a lot of inner-order which
comes out as developments and contrasts in each five minute piece.
Organization should come from the mind, not from a schematic layout.

I recently put a long article on this website
<> which is a
loosely constructed course as an "Introduction to Baroque Improv. " It
is not a series of "lessons and exercises" which I don't believe it,
but a discussion of how to go about it on your own, in an experimental
way. Give this a try as a starter, see what you can do when you get
free of directions, orders, corrections and sticking to the notes on
the score. Improvising at the piano is no different and no more
threatening than talking out some ideas, or humming a made-up tune or
whistling while out on a walk.

Best wishes,

Bill Harris

May 28, 2020, 5:42:12 PM5/28/20

John W Kennedy

May 28, 2020, 10:39:56 PM5/28/20
I learned a few years back that all those young ladies who play piano a
little in Jane Austen were, in fact, sight-realizing figured basses.

John W. Kennedy
"The blind rulers of Logres
Nourished the land on a fallacy of rational virtue."
-- Charles Williams. "Taliessin through Logres: Prelude"

gggg gggg

Aug 1, 2021, 1:29:18 AMAug 1
On Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 12:43:01 AM UTC-7, William Harris wrote:
(Recent Y. Upload):

Why is Improvisation SO DIFFICULT for Classical Musicians?

Peter T. Daniels

Aug 1, 2021, 8:29:26 AMAug 1
On Sunday, August 1, 2021 at 1:29:18 AM UTC-4, gggg gggg wrote:

> Why is Improvisation SO DIFFICULT for Classical Musicians?

?? Where did you get the idea that it is?
Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages