“Say That Again” – Repetition in Improvisation

When I was looking through some easy classical piano anthologies for examples to illustrate the “I’ve Got Rhythm…” article , I was struck by how much repetition, melodic as well as rhythmic, the tunes contained. I knew there would be plenty of combinations of two phrases – ABAB, ABBA, etc., but I wasn’t prepared for the number of pieces (or sections of pieces) that were built on a single rhythmic pattern. I’m always trying to drive home the point that less really is more if you want to create a memorable tune but I don’t think I’ve ever suggested sticking to a single rhythm.

Once the beginner improviser has absorbed a feeling of phrase length, the next challenge is to strike a balanceĀ  between repetition and variation: too much repetition is boring – sorry Schubert! – while too much variation will quickly lose the listener. The problem is that, if you’re going to repeat a phrase, you have to remember it.

A good way to work on memory is to create tunes four phrases long, in which the first idea is played three times and then a different idea is used for the fourth phrase, rounding off the tune. Actually, this is a very common structure in melodic construction, although the fourth phrase is often an extension of phrase three rather than a new idea. Lots of ‘Blues’ use this idea. In fact, once you begin to look for it, it crops up all over the place!

The next stage is to to improvise using two or three phrases ABAB, AABB, ABAC, ABBA, etc.. A really extravagant use of resources, apparently! :>)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.