Limits Set Me Free!

Rory’s comments on “What Second Life Should Learn From Myst” really resonated with me and it struck me that would-be music improvisers could also learn from Rory’s improvisational theater experience. Improvisation seems to be more frequently encountered in drama than in music, other the jazz idiom, so beginners may find this a fruitful seam of ideas to mine.

As always, ‘freedom’ is an illusion! If we can do absolutely anything, we invariably do absolutely nothing because we don’t know where to start! The composer, Stravinsky, said that the more restrictions he placed on himself, the more inspired he was to write. I’m certainly more ‘fired up’ to compose if there is a clear brief and is the reason I find it so absorbing and rewarding to write for beginner performers. It makes one really strive hard to distill the musical experience and to draw upon the potential of each note and technique accessible to the player.

Like Rory, I need to be emotionally engaged by the ideas I’m working with but I think that actually communicating such engagement in a piece of music is a difficult task for the improviser/composer because it requires a synthesis of all the playing techniques and sound qualities of the instrument(s), placed at the service of the emotion.

Beginners may find that another good starting point* is a focus on the sound qualities of their own instruments. What is the emotional ‘feel’ of the same few notes played in each register of the instrument, or on each string? How does changing the articulation alter it? Initially, try letting the music grow naturally out of the instrument.

*See “The Rhythmic Basis of Melodic Improvisation” for an alternative starting point.

One thought on “Limits Set Me Free!

  1. I have always been a huge fan and believer in Stravinsky’s comments regarding freedom through the ‘restriction.’ It was a topic of much discussion in my composition classes in college.

    My work with Living Stage Theatre Company definitely drove that point home. Although our work was all improvisation – we had to memorize over 400 poems and 200 songs (and I as the music director has to learn each company member’s preferred key for each song). These were our arsenal that allowed us to comment on the improvised scenario and action – where we would inject the poems and songs as our instincts moved us. The primary requirement was always to be true to the emotional life of the moment.

    Love your idea of getting in touch with the ‘feel’ of the sound rather than the technique of producing it.

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