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The Art of Improv

May 17, 2010

“Contrary to the Romantic notion of the transcendent genius who channels divine inspiration, improvisation is a skill that can be learned through sustained, disciplined practice. Jean Langlais quipped that he could teach stones to improvise. Good improvisation is more like spontaneous composition (“composing without an eraser” as another Parisian organist, Pierre Pincemaille, puts it) than aimless meandering about the keyboard. The first step is to gain a solid footing with theory and composition. The best method I have seen by far is Harmony and Composition by Deborah Jamini. Once you have a good grasp of theory, a book like Making Music: Improvisation for Organists by Jan Overduin can help you apply your theory knowledge to keyboard improvisation. (While geared toward organists, the ideas can be easily adapted to the piano.) Then it’s a matter of practice and plagiarism as you steal – ahem – borrow ideas from the great composers to build your harmonic vocabulary. A fellow organist once told me that improvisation is like having a group of playing cards in your hand, where each card is a compositional device that you’ve practiced in every key beforehand. The more cards you acquire, the more choices you have while improvising. With enough effort your improvising will become gradually more effortless; through systematic practice you can achieve spontaneity.

Happy improvising.”

View the full article HERE

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