for any instrument or number of instruments.

an improvisation primer. uses only text instructions.


from the introduction:

I am writing this as a way to explore improvisation in any musical setting. The first thing many people — musicians and non-musicians alike — associate with musical improvisation is jazz. Despite my love for jazz — or perhaps because of my love for jazz — I feel it's time to reclaim improvising for all musics, and especially for those of us who, for better or for worse, are “classically trained.” Improvising needs to be a normal part of everyone's music making, no matter what styles one prefers. Many people have figured out by themselves how to make up for omissions in their musical upbringing, but many haven't for various personal reasons. This is an invitation to figure it out with me.

Since originally writing this, I have done various ‘scholary’ work on the subject, and came across an important essay — “Improvised Music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives” — by George Lewis, in which he discusses jazz and improvisation as “Afrological” and “Eurological” phenomena. He writes about how many in the classical world came up with alternative terms for ‘improvisation,’ perhaps as a way to disassociate themselves from what was going on in African-American music — a conscious or subconscious form of racist differentiation. Do I fear being lumped in that category with my previous paragraph? Hell, yes. It's not that I don't want to learn bebop; it's that I feel my classical training has given me a language and skills with which I could learn to improvise and move more easily to, say, bebop, than by trying to start from scratch with bebop. The issue is that improvisation pedagogy doesn't exist in classical and jazz pedagogy doesn't jive 100% with classical theory. This is an attempt to bridge different musical backgrounds.

Part of my aim is to create a work that doesn't require a traditional, Western music education. While I am very happy to have received such an education, I know that not everybody takes the same paths to the same place (thankfully). Because of this, I chose not to use any notation. Yet, in order to achieve my goals, I found that I had to use some technical language; I will do my best to define terms in a simple and direct way. Being a product of a traditional, Western music education that did not involve improvising, I want to make this a work that makes people with this background comfortable, while also asking them to stretch, musically and creatively. No matter where you are coming from, whether you are seasoned or green, use what you know to discover new things.

These improvisations were written without any particular style in mind (although they owe much to particular stylistic influences). Don't worry if your improvisations don't sound like “anything.” Let them sound — you can categorize later. Having said that, I do think it is a fun challenge and musically healthy to try and make your improvisations sound like Mozart, punk, bebop, zydeco, or whatever you like. Turn on the radio or put on your favorite recording, open the book and try to follow both sets of “rules” at the same time. Either way, you're bound to discover something about the way you like to play your instrument.

score — formatted to print up on Avery® business cards. That way you can throw them all up in the air and pick one out at random to play! Whee!

Do consider making a donation (of any amount, but let's say $5), if you choose to perform this piece, make copies of it, use it for educational purposes, if it has improved your life in any way. Otherwise, yes, it's yours for free. It is copyrighted, so give credit as necessary.