Freedom…when we don’t have it we crave for it, when we have it in abundance we may feel unequipped to handle it. Freedom is a skill to be cultivated and nourished over time.
Most unexperienced painters would feel overwhelmed if placed before a white canvas and a full palette of colors. They wouldn’t know where to begin! However, if they had clear instructions allowing them to use only blue and yellow shades and using only circles and triangles, our inexperienced painter could get quite creative. The instructional limitations could gradually widen until the full palette and white canvas become an invitation to dive into the creativity that has been trained like a muscle, able to tackle the task.
When asked to create and improvise music, a pianist at any level who has not been training this aspect of their playing will most likely feel overwhelmed by the 88 black and white keys staring back at them.
As the late Forrest Kinney said, the art of music has four aspects:
Reading (playing piano literature from sheet music)
Story telling (arranging)
We all do a great deal of talking. Sometimes we say amazing things that we later write down. Sometimes we talk nonsense that is washed away and forgotten. But the actual talking keeps our minds active, enables us to bring ideas to the surface and formulate them in a way that could be interesting and insightful.
Here are 5 suggestions to help get the “musical talking” started, to overcome the barrier of awkwardness and that uncomfortable feeling of not being able to do it properly.
1. Black Keys
Press the sustain pedal down (the pedal on the right side) and play black keys. Think of water, dreams, outer space and see where this takes you.
2. Note- Name Cards
Write the 7 white key names on cards. Pick a random card and play a little tune that starts and ends on that note. You could either play in free rhythm or in a clear 4 beat bar for 8 bars. First step is tune only, later on you can explore by adding chords (cadence chords or free style).
Find a collection of images displaying people in different moods, landscapes such as a stormy ocean, butterflies in the sunshine, forest in the rain etc. See if you can describe the picture in sound, telling a story as you go.
4. Several Note- Name Cards
Go back to your note name cards and this time pick 3-4 cards. See if you can play these notes in the left hand, over and over in a similar rhythm and then see if you can add some right hand notes.
5. Alternating between 2 neighboring Chords
Play a C major triad (C, E, G) for 4 bars followed by a D minor chord (D, F, A) and add white key notes in the right hand.
There are many ways of improvising. Some are in a specific style and others are free and spontaneous. The only way to feel comfortable at doing this is by actually doing it. A lot. By letting go of worries and pre- conceptions and giving yourself a free ticket to explore.
Once you start the journey, you will find the styles that appeal to you more and you will be able to continue on the track that suits you. But to begin you need to find the courage and take those first steps. I hope you decide to nourish your freedom skills!
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- Interview with Forrest Kinney about Improvisation
- Interview with Tobias Cramm, Alma Deutscher's CompositionTeacher
- How Classical Concerts Changed over 200 years