I’m also enjoying the Campfire Challenge way of just messing around, but using the guideline as a basis. I’d be interested to hear how you structure your improving. Do you use chord progressions at all, or a background drone or drum rhythm to play over, or do you just give yourself complete freedom to play whatever you fancy?
I’ve always been tied to sheet music, until now, probably why I’m finding it so difficult to get away from it. And improvising (in the jazz sense) seems to be another step away. What you are describing seems yet another step, with even less underlying/given structure.
How is the Sing/Feel the Numbers helping you? Is it allowing you to play (more immediately) the sounds and phrases you make up in your head? Or is it even less “thinky” than this, and you’re just playing in the moment?
@mem Steve doesn’t regard the album as a ‘product’, rather as part of a ‘process’, representing the current state of where he’s at with the musical journey.
Here’s a more ‘bite size’ version of “just sit down & play”: Journées de la Culture CD01
That’s one of a pair of albums did where he was playing background music for a ‘life drawing’ class. Each track represents what he played (made up in the moment) for each model/sitter for the class.
Or here’s a 23m spontaneous improvisation by Greg Howard
Complete freedom. Any notes, any rhythm, any tempo. I sometimes bring in a drone, but if so it’s not a ‘backing track’ drone it’s a played & sustained note from a synth that’s within in reach and that can be stopped or changed at will.
I may try making use of a drum machine, or looped rhythm of some other sort, or layering of what I play, at some point - these are explorations, so anything goes.
At present two hands on the Stick are more than enough to confuse me. LOL!
StN/FtN are there to give me a better appreciation of tone. They aren’t directly related to the improv, but in music everything is part of the mix & I’m sure the ear training is having an effect of sorts.
I’m not big on genre labels, but quite a lot of this sort of thing might be labelled as ‘ambient’ by some?
For an example that I’m sure would not be classed as ‘ambient’ try another Greg Howard piece “Water on the Moon” (warning, it’s an hour long). To quote the bandcamp page “No “loops”, samples or synthesizers were used, and no edits were made of the recording. What you hear is what it was.”
No I haven’t. Interesting stuff. I have however come across (at least) one of his collaborators, fiddler Duncan Chisholm.
A little more pre-prepared and produced, I guess, but he does have some tracks where he’s just taken his flute to a river say, or out in nature and recorded there. His sound tracks to videos are also worth listen, also on Bandcamp I think.
I’ve been exploring ceòl mòr and the idea that, back in the day, pipers improvised their music. Playing solo, maybe using some motif or something based on a song, is interesting stuff.
From his notes on the album,
“I have a theory that improvisation is simply inherent to the human musical experience and I would posit an improvisatory route to the music we now call piobaireachd,“ he says. “I suppose it might be impossible to prove but it makes sense to me and I’m happiest when creating afresh – that interesting mix of performer and composer at the same time.”
I’m quite interested in exploring the contrast/differences between improvising and playing “pre-planned” music. When we are playing some music from memory, I guess we are hearing the music/notes in our heads and that is being taken up by our fingers/bodies/breath to produce the sounds on our instruments (which could also be our voice). How does this relate to improvising a completely new piece of music? Re-creation or re-presentation ad opposed to creation or innovation.
When you are playing a score, it’s like driving a car while reading a map, or taking directions from a gps device. Just follow the directions.
When playing from memory, it’s like driving to the few spots you know after visiting a new city for a few days. You know how to get there, but you only know one way.
Improvisation is driving around your hometown, where you know every twist and turn intimately. You no longer think of the map. You know several ways to get to any location, and you can create interesting itineraries spontaneously. You can drive the fastest way, the scenic way, a way that takes you past the post office, a way that goes past a gas station.
I have indeed come across the pipes. I have a number of albums in my collection, both Ceòl Mòr (the serious stuff) & Ceòl Beag (the light stuff), and not just the “Great Highland Pipes”, I also have some Scottish Small Pipes, Border Pipes (bellows blown), and Northumbrian Pipes (also bellows blown)
My favourite piper on the Scottish mouth blown pipes (Great & Small) is Fred Morrison, Gordon Mooney on the Border pipes, and Kathryn Tickell on Northumbrian.
Indeed. This “massed Pipes & Drums”.stuff is relatiely modern, arising largely from the use of the pipes in the armed forces.
Perhaps also allow a fourth category where you are out walking on the hill and there are no preprepared roads or paths to choose from, nor buildings to get in your way, just the natural features of the landscape? Your journey might be aiming for a feature in the distance, or perhaps aiming to maintain a compass bearing (no GPS), or you might be aiming to take a circular walk & end up back where you started?
@mem e.g. discovering some interesting uses of chromatic tones maybe, or exploring a new harmonic environment?
@hender99 They are rarely perfect, but provided that’s kept in mind I too find them very useful. They help illustrate and can provide a launch pad for further thoughts (including, but not limited to, thinking about what’s different between analogy & reality).
Before I came across IFR, my view of improvising (in music) was very limited. I associated it mainly with jazz and blues, where a chord progression, or rhythm motif provided some kind of framework/structure and player riffed off of it. Sometimes with simple variations, sometimes with seemly wild abandon, it was an acquired taste.
With IFR encouraging us to improvise to learn and grow, it has completed turned me around. Improvising in the comfort of my practice room is one thing, but improvising with others, either as a shared activity or as a performance seems quite a different kettle of fish.
@DavidW has pointed me towards some solo performance improvisers, which is bringing this to my attention. I’m looking into this more deeply.
So, I’m really trying to zero-in on the skills I’d like to improve, to get me where I want to be. That is, to be able to play along with others in a session, when I have the tune being played in my head, but haven’t learned it for sheet music. I others words, I could sing along to the tune, or could sing the melody from memory, but I haven’t sat with the sheet music at home and learned it from the dots.
Focus here is not on being creative per se, making up new melodies, but reproducing melodies I have absorbed by listening to recordings.
I’m using StN tracks, but recently mainly FtN tracks to help me with this. Also, slowing recording down and listening phrase by phrase, and trying to reproduce each one on my instrument.
This is difficult in different ways. Just reproducing the notes is one, but also remembering the phrases and how they fit together, without have written music as a reference. I’m finding I have to write down or sketch (make a drawing or diagram) of the tune structure to help me not get lost. I hope I’m not just replacing sheet music with my own drawings! So, trying not rely on them for very long, and trying to commit it memory as soon as I can.
@mem. I think what you’re doing is the right approach, but it will be hard to do for a while. That’s exactly what Lennon & McCartney did for most of the songs they wrote for the Beatles. The wrote enough of a sketch so they could reproduce the sounds of the song.
What you’re doing is learning a new language. You have to play with it enough so your subconscious recognizes the new language patterns, and how those patterns fit together.
The book that sent me on that search was “First Lessons Native American Flute” by Andrew Bishko (Content Editor and Product Manager at Musical U). It’s not that I wish to learn to play NA Flute, the clue to my interest is in the sub-title “How to Sit on a Rock”.
Apparently the classic advice to anyone picking up an NA Flute for the first time is “Go Sit on a Rock”, where the student should then spend time working out their own (improvised) sound. An idea that’s somewhat reminiscent of David Reed (@ImproviseForReal)‘s recent comment about a tree? The book contains a series of suggestions about how to approach your time on the rock. Just as popMATICS’ Campfire Challenge can be used on instruments other than keyboard, the ideas for what a flute player might do on their rock can also be adapted to other instruments. Well that’s the idea.
I agree @mem. Maybe it’s a bit like my fretboard diagrams? Those started as drawings, and I still use drawings at times, but over time I have built up a mental image of those diagrams which are now a part of how I think about the IFR numbers, i.e. when I’m doing StN / FtN I (sort of) see/follow the number sequences as patterns on a virtual fretboard.