“Improvisation” – An intriguing mystery

improv_fi‘Improv’ (short for “Improvisation”) is a somewhat intriguing subject, raising a number of insightful questions – “Exactly, what is Improv?”  “Can it be taught?”  “Can any performer, on any instrument, learn to Improvise?”  “Is it like playing by ear?”  Improv is something I was never taught; but it’s something I’ve always done without giving it a second thought.  So, I’ll soon be addressing these important questions with you.

When a Korean choral group performed at our church, at their conclusion I invited them up to Eagles Nest, my recording studio in the Rockies just to enjoy a Sunday afternoon two miles high.  Eventually, we gathered around the piano to sing a few songs.   They asked me to accompany them.  I instinctively did my ‘Improv’ thing, making use of a variety of chords and most of the 88 keys.  At one point the director stopped me and asked “What are you doing?  How do you play different notes without reading the music?”  When I told him I was improvising, he appeared quite puzzled.  I scrambled for words to define what it was.  I was totally blown over to learn that he and his performers had little or no idea what I was doing so naturally.  Clearly, the musical focus of Asian culture has been on sight-reading Classical music. At that point, he invited me to come to Seoul, Korea to teach Advanced Pianists how to improvise so that they could teach their students to do the same. I had never given any thought to what goes on in my head when I improvise.  So, in preparation, I began to write a syllabus in an attempt to answer these very relevant questions and to codify some process by which a performer might learn to improvise.  What I’ve shared in seminars internationally, I now share with you.

If you’ll keep looking over my shoulder, in future Blogs I will delve further into this subject, giving you whatever helps I can offer from a distance. I will turn a camera on my keyboard and demonstrate some ‘how to’ concepts.  Out of that Korean experience, I developed a Self-Test – for performers of all instruments –  to help you determine if, and to what extent, you have the one gift required to Improvise.  What is that one gift?  I’ll be back soon to answer that question?  Stay tuned…


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