Free-Improvisation Classes

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Improvising with your fellow musicians is fun! In our group class, everyone is ready to explore making musical sounds. We will use our voices and our instruments while we listen and respond to the sounds around us with the goal of shaping our sounds into interesting music in the moment. Improv is musical play of the best kind, where we let our imaginations run and enjoy the sounds that result.

How it works

Over the course of the semester, you will learn to use long tones and drones, scales, rhythms, call and response, improvising over a repeating rhythm, and imitation of melodic motives to build coherent musical compositions on the fly. In each session, you will do group and individual exercises and play musical games to train your ears and musical reflexes. We will discuss the results and learn how to make each improv more musical and interesting. Each session will end with an open-ended improv so you can make music with what you’ve learned. Our style of free improv is not structured jazz improv over chord changes, but a jazz rhythm or melody might be a jumping-off point for an improv.

Participants, from 3 to 6 students, can play their instrument in traditional and non-traditional ways, vocalize, and use other noise-makers, like shakers, drums, gongs, chimes. Homemade and found objects are welcome (jars with beans, oatmeal-box drum, resonant pan, a goblet that rings).

Why improvise?

You can use this type of improvisation with your chamber music groups or other students for developing an understanding of how musical materials are created and transformed. It can also help with listening skills and expressivity, as the performer temporarily lets go of exact counting and notes and pays attention to the shape of his or her own sound and, with practice, the group’s overall sound. Best of all, it’s fun!

Raw materials

Familiar tunes can be the source of variations and alternative treatments.

Any idea that you can describe can inspire a musical reaction. I've used grab baskets of moods, animals, ideas to trigger improvs.

You're not limited to "musical" sounds. How about an improv where you only use sounds that are not the normal way of playing your instrument?

As a textbook, I use Jeffrey Agrell's "Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians", which is full of imaginative and fun ways to transform musical material.

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