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Rethinking Improvisation

I think that improvisation is often overlooked these days by classical musicians. Classical music is, in many ways, very safe. Everything is already figured out for you. Notes, dynamics, key changes, even fingerings are already written down. As musicians, all we really have to do is get the coordination to play it and maybe add a little of our own artistic interpretation. Easy right?

Maybe not. But with so much initial information presented to us before we even attempt to play, the chances of playing a piece "wrong" the first few times is much higher than playing it "right." This is not an entirely bad thing. It instills in us a drive for perfection. To work hard until the desired result is achieved.

But this sense of achieving perfection must be balanced out. We've all hit ruts at some point when learning one song or another. Even when the teacher is encouraging, we still think on some level "I didn't play that piece correctly because I messed up some of the notes." Therefore, it is important to occasionally put ourselves in an environment where every note you play is the right note.

The seemingly open-ended vagueness of improvisation scares those of us used to the strict, comforting structure of pre-written compositions. It means that there is potentially more for others to judge. Not only can others judgehow you play but also what you play.

But experimenting with this level of creative expression can only help your playing. It teaches things like how to key change without the help of a visual aid or how to play difficult fingerings on the spot. And it doesn't have to be an excruciatingly painful process either. Designate your own boundaries. A really simple way of doing this is improvising only with one note at a time. So play whatever rhythm you want with A. Experiment with different A notes all over your instrument. There are no wrong rhythms and you already know exactly which note to play.


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