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Author Topic: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?  (Read 2949 times)

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arty

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Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« on: January 21, 2019, 10:37:16 AM »

I have just chosen a beautiful tune to learn, called La Candela by Cyrille Brotto. I found this lovely video of a young couple playing the tune, in a manner that I feel I should attain without too much trouble. Here it is: https://youtu.be/LgO-uHqnrLM

Then, I came across this video, of the same tune being played with lots of improvisation, decoration, changes of sound and I think, WOW! Here it is: https://youtu.be/-H3gTTAfNm8

What intrigues me, is the improvisation. What skills does one have to learn in order to be able to do something like this? I guess a knowledge of scales and arpeggios would be a starting point. And then there is the imagination and sensitivity to invent passages in such a way as they sound like they could have been written by the composer.

Where does one start? I would love to be able to make a stab at improvisation like this....Help anybody?
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BJG

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2019, 10:45:12 AM »

In relation to guitar, I've come across the suggestion of humming/singing ideas and practising being able to play what you sing.
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Maggie

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2019, 11:46:47 AM »

As one of the steps towards improvising, my teacher has me playing right hand chord accompaniment, then playing the chords in different positions on the keyboard.  Now playing the individual notes in these chords, up and down the keyboard.  Eventually I should be able to easily find harmonising notes.  I still have a long way to go..........

Maggie  :|||:
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arty

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2019, 11:59:59 AM »

Oh, thank you Maggie, that makes sense  (:)
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John MacKenzie (Cugiok)

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2019, 01:07:09 PM »

There's no substitute for knowing your scales, then you know what notes fit with the key you're playing in.

SJ (who doesn't know his scales)
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Clive Williams

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2019, 01:23:47 PM »

Then, I came across this video, of the same tune being played with lots of improvisation, decoration, changes of sound and I think, WOW! Here it is: https://youtu.be/-H3gTTAfNm8

Simple, just be Aurelien Claranbaux :-) He's one of the very best players out there IMHO, and his work with Duo Absynthe is just exquisite. So don't beat yourself for not being able to play like him! On a more practical level, and Chris would be able to confirm I'm sure, but I think a lot of this is done 'Grenoble style', via a large amount of the improvisation theory that Pignol and Milleret have championed - so a visit to their workshop weeks in Grenoble would undoubtedly help. It's based around jazz theory, rather than being specific to an instrument to a melodeon I think, and a large part of being able to do that comes from the Pignol/Milleret layout which is fully chromatic on the pull - such players spend a lot of their time on the pull rather than push because it opens up the chromatic scale. Aurelien also uses unisonoric 'Darwin' bass instruments, so he's not *that* fussed about whether something is on the push or pull - he's got all chords in both directions.

Us mortals can do our best, but without an astonishing amount of time and practice, we're not going to get that close. I had a go myself under TOTM a year or so back

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZimjIGTQKKs

... and while I found it an interesting exercise, I'm not kidding myself that I'm anywhere near performance standard, especially in my "improv" section (3rd time through). My approach to improv can be described as "start high, then work your way down the scale".

Oh, and Aurelien uses quite a bit of reverb. He's got a pretty decent recording studio I gather - facebook informs me that the wonderful Ciac Boum are recording there at the moment - so you can expect even a quick recording he makes to be of very high sound quality.

butimba

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2019, 01:36:56 PM »

I can't claim to be any good at improvisation but I've found sessions a useful place to start - trying to busk along with something that sounds vaguely right while other people play the tune.

Other advice I've heard is to pick a simple tune (or part of a tune), play it over and over and try to change one thing each time. It can be really small to start with, e.g. just change one note or syncopate the rhythm slightly in one bar, and so on.
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Stiamh

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2019, 01:45:35 PM »

I contrived to lose the entire text of the answer I was composing and in the meantime Clive and Butimba have covered some of what I was saying, but here is a summary.

Know your scales and chords, yes. Know your keyboard and your right-hand chords inside out. But you can glean a lot by studying what he does here and there and identifying the techniques he is using. Yes, a lot of it is pure inspiration (just sit back and enjoy and be grateful), but other stuff is more accessible: e.g. using a spare finger to tap a note that is part of the chord a couple of times; dressing up a downward run with grace notes to make triplets; playing the melody in octaves but with the lower note delayed so that the lower octave shadows or chases the melody in the higher octave, and so on. These are techniques you can identify, practise and incorporate into your playing of more straightforward tunes before you attack something of this nature. This isn't perhaps improvisation, but improvisation requires technique...

Wonderful interpretation by M. Claranbaux - thanks for bringing it to our attention.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2019, 01:47:22 PM by Stiamh »
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george garside

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2019, 01:46:46 PM »

Tony Hall is a pastmaster at 'improvisation' on the melodeon.  He described the technique as something on the lines of ' keep playing a single note of a tune and at the same time press other treble buttons until you get a sound you like - then remember that combination for future use - or something like that!

There are plenty of interesting youtube vids of Tony doing his stuff

george
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Theo

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2019, 02:07:27 PM »

As an occasional improviser I suggest starting simple and building up a toolkit of things that you find can work.  There are some examples above to which I would add: simplifying parts of the melody, eg hold the first note of a short phrase or a bar or where chord changes come.  Occasionally there are tunes (usually played on the row) where you can play the same pattern of push/pull but starting one button up.  Play the chords you would normally but on the right hand instead of the left. If the tune is tending to start low and go up try starting high and going down.  If there is part of a tune which is simply a run up a scale try starting on a lower note and going up in parallel.   You can probably think of more.  You have to try these things out with some tolerant musicians and find out what works where and, very important, what doesn't work!
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Dick Rees

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2019, 02:19:36 PM »

I have just chosen a beautiful tune to learn, called La Candela by Cyrille Brotto. I found this lovely video of a young couple playing the tune, in a manner that I feel I should attain without too much trouble. Here it is: https://youtu.be/LgO-uHqnrLM

Then, I came across this video, of the same tune being played with lots of improvisation, decoration, changes of sound and I think, WOW! Here it is: https://youtu.be/-H3gTTAfNm8

What intrigues me, is the improvisation. What skills does one have to learn in order to be able to do something like this? I guess a knowledge of scales and arpeggios would be a starting point. And then there is the imagination and sensitivity to invent passages in such a way as they sound like they could have been written by the composer.

Where does one start? I would love to be able to make a stab at improvisation like this....Help anybody?

It appears that the improv guy is playing an essentially chromatic instrument.  As others have said, know your keyboard, scales and arpeggios.  Learn how to play harmonies to the melody.  I particularly agree with the hint about vocalizing and would just add:

Listen to as many different people/versions of a tune as you can.  All you need is one good tune with lots of recorded performances.  It can be anything, so I listen to singers and instrumentalists both.  Louie "Satchmo" Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald are great for picking up scatting.  Andy Cutting is great.
So are Clive and Ellison.

One of the best takes on how to play freely comes from jazz great Jimmy Raney.  Watch this several times:

https://youtu.be/f29a1RL2ly0
« Last Edit: January 21, 2019, 02:29:51 PM by Dick Rees »
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Theo

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2019, 02:23:12 PM »

He is also playing a variety of rhythmic patterns on the bass and hardly ever Om Pah Pah
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Dick Rees

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2019, 02:32:28 PM »

He is also playing a variety of rhythmic patterns on the bass and hardly ever Om Pah Pah

It does occur to me that most folks actually start melodeon improv in the LH as they decide which chords to use and how to combine the buttons in combinations other than the nominal pairings.
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rileycat

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2019, 05:01:09 PM »

Maybe start with a simple blues - 'Lay me down a Pallet on your Floor' or similar for instance.  I find thinking 'blues harmonica' has helped using outer row and crossing to inner and using a draw bellows to start, again like the blues harp folks.  Just a thought  ;)
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arty

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2019, 06:47:29 PM »

Wow...what an amazing amount of advice !
Thank you, everyone, so much. There is loads there for me to work through, which should take me through the next few years!
Wish me luck  (:)
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Dick Rees

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #15 on: January 21, 2019, 07:21:19 PM »

Arty...

Try starting to put the info into practice by making harmony lines for a few...or a bunch...of your favorite tunes.

Good luck and enjoy the journey!
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Squeaky Pete

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2019, 10:51:08 PM »

I find it useful to improvise in my mind as I'm wandering along, shopping, driving or whatever.
Try it, you probably do it all day long anyway.
Later you might try and reproduce something like it. It won't be quite the same but it will be related to the tune and with a bit of luck, sound ok.
This sounds a bit contrived and long winded and in the end it's certainly not improvised, BUT it gets you into the habit and you learn the fingering of a few phrases you just made up. Next time you play the tune, you have the chance to stick in that odd phrase, or stick to the original. You will be improvising, in a very modest way, but it's a start.
I'm a pretty rubbish player, but I improvise all the time, making tunes up or little grace notes and flourishes. If I was a better technical player I'd make a much better job but I don't practice enough.
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playandteach

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2019, 11:52:02 PM »

Hi Arty,
For my tuppence worth, of course he knows his instrument intimately. I can write (English) pretty well on the keyboard, because I know what I want to say and I know where all the letters are.
But, it doesn't have to be the only way.
Others here have mentioned the left hand rhythm. I think the right hand rhythm, dynamics, phrase shaping and textures are equally important. I think if you can build the confidence to commit to a strong rhythm for your chosen melodic line and really stick to that commitment, the actual pitch choices become less scary. If poor pitch selection becomes an issue, I bet it is because it's made you lose the rhythm.
Try it.
Pete
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arty

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #18 on: January 22, 2019, 10:33:55 AM »

Thank you Pete, as usual, you make a lot of sense.

I have decided, that what I have to do first, as Maggie suggested, is to learn some right hand chords. This will increase my knowledge of the right hand keyboard and will also give me a way in to improvisation. I can hear many of the melody sounds present in the chords already and so, I should be able to start finding notes to link from one chord to the next, in much the same way as a guitarist might.

I recognize the importance of keeping the rhythm and feel of the tune going as I do this Pete, so thanks again for highlighting that.

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george garside

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Re: Improvisation - how to learn that skill?
« Reply #19 on: January 22, 2019, 10:44:34 AM »

for anyone relatively new to the DG ( or CF etc) box it is worth keeping in mind that on the push any combination of buttons 'on the row' will harmonise  and on the pull there is just one pair of button that won't ( find this out by suck and see method so you will remember it)

This simple fact opens up the way for all sorts of Improvisation which can then be added to by experimentation 'across the rows' etc etc

george
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