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Improvisation in Music: Is that What Your Soul is Saying or are You Just Regurgitating?
As a fan of all kinds of music, I’ve seen my fair share of concerts, from the heaviest metal to the quietest folk to the funkiest jazz. I enjoy all kinds of concerts but there are always certain concerts that stand out as particularly fascinating and exciting. These concerts are the ones that involve a lot of improvisation. There’s something significantly more exciting about a dynamic show that changes every time than a show where you know the band probably played it almost exactly the same, note for note, the night before. I believe that without improvisation we miss the point of the music; to be an expression of the soul.
What is improvisation?
When you improvise music, you’re basically making it up as you go, or writing music on the spot. Instead of following a predetermined structure or pattern of notes, you develop your own melody or countermelody on the spot as you play the song.
You see improvisation in its purest form in jazz because jazz is based on different soloists each taking their turn to improvise something compelling. Classical has the least scope for improvisation because you usually perform a piece of music as written. Still, by developing your own take on dynamics and phrasing you can still introduce some new elements to the performance. In modern rock and roll, you usually see improvisation in the form of solos, or lead parts, although not nearly as much as in the 60s and 70s.
No matter what kind of music, what you add to it and develop during the performance is what makes that performance more alive, dynamic and exciting.
Why does music need improvisation?
Music seems to be the most direct connection between the human soul and the “real world”. It crosses all boundaries by evoking emotions and communicating ideas without necessarily using words or language. Musicians can evoke and express any emotion they choose by playing the right notes with the right inflection.
In a live performance, simply by changing certain aspects of a song, certain inflections, a musician can take the same song and evoke a new emotion in each performance. These changes are a direct expression of the musician and a direct connection to his soul. Improvisation allows the greatest range of freedom of expression for the musician foe, allowing them to express exactly what they want at any given moment.
Without improvisation, whether through the smallest changes in pitch, or major changes in chord progression or melody, a live performance is just a stale reproduction of what the composer intended and wrote/recorded. Why go see a live performance when you can hear the same thing by listening to a recording? The music needs improvisation to allow the musicians to perform the piece as an expression of their soul and to give dynamic and exciting performances.
Why should you develop improvisation skills?
As a musician it is important to develop and practice improvisation because it makes the music more enjoyable to play, allows greater expression and increases your skill. Music lives in the soul and by adding some improvisation to our music, we can take an ordinary song and turn it into an expression of our soul and what that song means to us.
The improvisation also makes the performances much more dynamic and unique. Anyone can practice a piece a million times and play it the perfect note, but it’s just repeating what they’ve learned, it has no soul, excitement or feeling. Real musicians take that piece and make it their own and then when they play it for an audience, that audience gets to see a glimpse of the musician’s soul and passion as the musician takes the song in whatever direction they see fit.
Improvisation is basically writing music from the strip so it can also help with your songwriting or composition. This can help you learn your instrument better as you begin to recognize what effect certain techniques have on how the music sounds and what kind of emotions they seem to evoke. Then when you want to evoke those feelings to express your feeling, you will know which techniques will be most effective.
How can you develop improvisational skills as a musician?
The easiest way to improve improvisation is to practice it. It can be as simple as taking a practice and instead of listening to a repeated piece just play what you feel. You can try writing a tune and then improvising on it, start with an existing song and add your own touches, or just start from scratch and let your improvisation run free.
Be sure to play with others or with a backing track of music. This helps save time and develop the skills to be able to express exactly what you want on command. It’s easy to improvise something effective when you have time to work on it, but to be able to do it during a song when needed takes practice.
Try to listen to all types of music as you may find note progressions and little improvisational techniques that you can develop, expand and use in your own playing. At the same time, don’t get too caught up in what others are playing. Each person is unique and therefore the way they express themselves through a tool will be unique. You don’t have to use a million notes, or any specific technique just because that’s how your idol plays. It is important to develop your own style.
Don’t be afraid to take risks with your game and be adventurous. Those moments when we let loose, put everything on the line and take a risk with our playing are pure expressions of soul.
It is important to enjoy and play what you like, but also to be open to new techniques because otherwise your musical advancement may freeze.
Learning to improvise on any instrument requires time and intimate familiarity with the instrument. It’s not easy, but over time your instrument can become a direct link to your soul, so that when you want to express yourself, you can easily and freely.
Conclusions about improvisation:
For me, music without improvisation is not really worth the effort. A robot or machine could just as easily create the same effect. When a musician improvises, it makes the show dynamic, exciting and what makes me keep going to concerts year after year.
As a musician, I can attest to how difficult it can be to learn to improvise on any instrument, but the way it allows you to express yourself is worth it. There is no greater feeling than being able to take a song in a new direction and add your own emotion and soul to it instead.
If you are a musician, then I encourage you to continue to explore improvisation within your music and recognize its importance. If you are not a musician, perhaps this has inspired you to become one, or simply to become familiar with the important improvisational plays in creating powerful dynamic music.
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