Music is a language. Through it we express joys and sorrows beyond words. Composers across the centuries have given us pieces crafted in the language of music that we perform repeatedly. We trust in their skills and creativity to create the atmosphere or transmit our feelings to others.
In our spoken language however, we do not rely upon great writers to express ourselves. Imagine trying to have a conversation where you could only quote Shakespeare. While we may not be great writers or even great orators like Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., we are all capable of putting words together and conveying our thoughts to another person in a coherent manner.
For me, improvisation becomes the ability to converse in the language of music. When we enter the world of music, why do we suddenly lose faith in our own ability to communicate? Everyone learns his or her native language, and perhaps a few others. All musicians should learn not just to recite the music others have provided but to create their own expressions in music. Complex sentences and large structures are not required in our everyday conversations. Why should we consider a good improviser only someone who can make complex music? To improvise well should be as easy as speaking a well-constructed sentence.
We learn our native tongue through constant use. We are surrounded and encouraged daily as a child to make sounds and put words together, even if they don’t follow correct grammar! To master the language of music, we need that same daily practice, encouragement, and immersion. A child doesn’t learn to say “mama” and “papa” in the same day. How many times did the parents say those words to the child before he or she uttered something close to those sounds? Find a sound or progression you would like to make part of your improvisation vocabulary and practice it daily. Do you have a keyboard at home? Play your chosen sounds every time you walk by it! We learned the grammar of our spoken language not because we learned the rules but because we heard them applied every day. A three-hour session on Saturday afternoon will not have the same lasting result as a few minutes everyday. Sure, we can make progress in a long session, but we learned our language through daily practice. We should do the same to master the language of music.
This Saturday, I will present a workshop to the local Baltimore AGO on improvisation. If you are in the area, feel free to drop in. We’ll be at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen from 9:30 to 12:30 on October 14. After an opening presentation on looking at improvisation as conversing in the language of music, there will be time for questions and willing volunteers to sit on the bench and apply the ideas.
I will also be attending the AGO Pedagogy conference next week at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. With a focus on organ and improvisation study in the French conservatory system, I hope several of you are planning to attend. Please say hello if you see me there!
Hoping you speak music daily!
Newsletter Issue 67 – 2017 10 11
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