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Improv to Improve

At Caroline Springs School of Music, we teach musical improvisation from the very early stages of every student's education. Improvisation studies should not preclude beginners and the earlier we get started, the better for our future development. Improvisation is valuable to all musicians, not just jazz or modern players. Great classical masters such as, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart were all incredible improvisers.

Being able to improvise is a tremendous skill to have in its own right but there are many other great benefits to studying improvisation. We encourage everyone to get started as soon as possible, if you can play a few notes on your chosen instrument, then you are already able to begin.

At CS Music we generally start with small cells of musical vocabulary (3 or 4 notes) as it gives us something easy and very tangible to work with, whole scales and arpeggios can be too much information in the formative stages, better to limit the options at first (this is also sometimes better for advanced players as well!) Using small melodic motifs is a good way to start. Nothing new here, many teachers have adopted that approach for years. Christopher Norton's fantastic range of early improvisation books use this method as well.

Some of the benefits of improvisation include the following:

1 - It teaches us that mistakes don't matter. Improvising engenders in the student a sense of freedom and a relaxed approach that benefits all our playing. There is no such thing as a "wrong note" when improvising. If you do hit a "wrong note" hit it again, or as Miles Davis said: “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” Moving a semitone either way after the note will always resolve the so called, wrongness.

2 - It develops our ear, listening for note choices, melodic contour and rhythmic control, greatly enhances our musical listening skills. Interval recognition rapidly improves when we hear different scale degrees and extensions against harmonic accompaniment.

3 - It keeps our practice fresh and organic, something is always happening. It is liberating to not always have our heads buried in printed music.

4 - It allows us to work on auto pilot, not overthinking, not concentrating too much. Learning to play instinctively and intuitively helps all of our musicianship, not just the creative part.

5 - It is great for our technique. Most would agree that practicing our scales and arpeggios is more fun in an improvisational context. It helps our technical facility when we play musical lines that we are naturally drawn to.

6 - We find our own voice, our own identity, whilst a small amount of copying the great masters can be a good starting point, we aim not to become parrots. Always strive to find your own voice and sound, you will be better at that than trying to be someone else. No two improvisers will ever sound exactly the same anyway and that is a good thing.

7 - It helps us to compose music, many composers ideas are borne out of improvisation, some of the greatest musical ideas appear out of the ether without labouring over them or trying to force it.

8 - It is a great way to memorize scales, arpeggios and melodic ideas. I have always found that students tend to learn technical work much faster once they are using them in their improvisations.

9 - Scientific studies have shown improvisation to improve health as distinct from other musical practices.

10 - Improvisation helps build confidence, you are controlling the musical outcome! You are making choices and not following composer instructions on the printed page.

If you have not yet started, ask your teacher in your next lesson. Good luck and let us know how you go!

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