Modern Improvisation Part II



In my first paper on modern improvisation I simply expresse the origins and sources from which a creator may gain their inspiration for improvisational experimentation. The source of our inspiration is a very important aspect of creation. As you continue to explore and create, this process may become easier. This easiness comes from your mind opening easier and easier. Recognizing this is key. Becoming aware of your mind opening is key to your success as an improviser. In fact, this may be the single most important internal process in the art of creating. As this option becomes more readily available to you, noticing the happenings that present themselves as a byproduct is paramount. Situations and creative options will present themselves to you in a easier to digest mannor. Some of them, seemingly above your current level. The possibilities will start to roll out to you. At this point, it is truly up to you of what you do with these options. This is, simply put, a paradigm shift. You are starting to see things in a different way. You will start looking to your imagination instead of your memory. You will continue to use the learned tools that you have used in the past. But instead of letting those tools take hold, you will allow them to be tools in service of your fresh creative ideas. This power can seem intimidating, as it should. At this juncture, you may not completely understand how or where this power applies in your creative life yet. This is normal and okay. For this is process is just that, a process of steps – steps which should be taken. Also, you may start to see your art form change in color and tone. When this happens, remember not to flood your art with anxiety. Embracing change will be one of the single most important personality characteristics you could possibly cultivate. Furthermore, this process of improvisation is a direct cultivation catalyst for this change in your mind. You will think differently. You will see things differently. You will approach situations different. You will be doing things differently due what improvisation offers to your mind. Improvisation itself is the other half to constructed forms, we know this. However, truly experiencing this shift in mind frame to that other half of creativity may seem disorienting. Become comfortable. Become frequent with this feeling. Allow the free flowing feeling of creativity to completely take hold of your current understanding, and create through you. This letting of creative flow is a constant of letting go. Letting yourself go to the possibilities that have always been there, but now present themselves to you, is the first step in a millian mile journey of creativity.


Thomas McGregor

Modern Improvisation. Part I

Understanding improvisation is ultimately the attempt to understand the very essence from which musical composition is born and realized. At the very depth of musical expression you will find that the improvisor has crawled into the deepest parts of his soul to hoist out the remains of his  history, impressions, and aspirations. We find that in formulated constructed improvisation, or compositions, that the very basis of these creations have the ability to originate from infinite sources or inspirations by the composer. In this sense, the word composer means the person is an experimenter. This person is in a position to create whatever he sees fit in order to landscape the environment via any source available. The source for the composer is limitless. The limitless is only accessed when the experimenter completely opens his mind to the space between his thoughts. Openness to limitless possibilities can stem into a creativity pool. From this pool of new ideas and formulations the composer will use learned educated tools to transmit and translate these ideas into understandable constructions. This is not necessarily to the benefit of the composer, but to the benefit of the listener. Often, we find that the stream of discombobulated ideas that drop from this creative vat may not strike mind constructs of the listener when these ideas aren’t framed, or coordinated. This, solidifies the validity of education. At least at a basic level, the composer should have an concept in how to construct ideas into full spectrum layouts. When this is achieved, the composer can gravitate towards manipulating the different constructed ideas. He can stand back and look at what is build and decide how(if at all)he might sculpt his creation further.

Improvisation can be seen as a form from which an artist fully expresses himself without boundaries or limitations. Improvisation can also be looked at as a form of communication or language. Expressing what the artist is experiencing in that moment, sharing those feelings through his art form. He is not relying on acceptance by the listener, but completely in the moment absorbing everything that enters his point of creative interest. He is open to what happens in his surroundings, possibly using his current environment as fuel for creativity. This presents the question, the more vibrant environment the more creativity by the improviser? This is only true when the improviser is open to using his environment versus resisting his environment. What this does is cut down the separation that normally fortifies amongst people and their surroundings. This places the improviser in a unique situation. At this juncture, the improviser(if open)has the ability to use everything that presents itself moment to moment at his artistic creative disposal. This may take discipline in order to cultivate. The artist will need to allow himself to be placed in uncomfortable creative situations in order to break the mind set of easy go-to pre-constructed ideas. By doing this, the artist is constantly in a position of opening. Overtime, he will notice his art form becoming more open to outside situational and environmental impressions. In a linguistic sense, the artist is now opening to speaking many languages. Ultimately, speaking the language of the moment.

Thomas McGregor

/// Music. An Emotionally Clean Slate ///

As we go through life we experience different situations that enable us to open ourselves to a degree. We find that when we allow ourselves to let the moment be as it is, the experience we are in flows naturally and cohesively. Music can act as a conduit. A portal out of the daily areas of our lives we continue to try to change and manipulate. Music can offer us a time for when we are completely present, void of meaningless thoughts of the past and future. When we play music we plan, we think, and we map. These are the same aspects that seem to hinder us from every day happiness. Why then do we run to music as a refuge? Why do we strive for that creative spark to take hold? What we find in music no elements of attachment. Although, we can develop musical attachment – I.e. Our favorite songs, artist, or genre(s). However, there is still a detached aspect even from our very beloved songs. When we are detached from something, this means that the thing we are detached from has little or no aspect to mentally grab a hold to. Music is invisible. We can associate images with songs, sounds, or artist. We can even associate experience when we were listening to particular music. To us, that experience is locked in time by way of that music. However, we cannot see the musical vibrations that occur when someone creates a tone on their instrument. This presents an element of assumption by the listener. Meaning, after hearing something for the first time we start making assumptions about what the music represents. We do this in the attempt to make an association with an emotional construct with the music in order to have something to hold on to. This is key, because we self generate the implied music emotions. Music itself is a clean slate for this action. As a composer, improviser, and educator I know that what I produce for the world can be absorbed in any fashion. This means, that I am not the only one being creative. For each listener can be creative in the choices they make when choosing an emotional value for what they hear.

The Cultivation of Dimensional Music

As a composer I understand the importance of multidimensional music expression. By the addition of the different aspects of sounds and tonal manipulation tools one can create something that has a dense significance to the whole of musical expression. Through history, we have seen such expressions change through the interpretations of music that is passed down from generation to generation. The interesting part is that the musical dimensions such as dynamics, bowing styles, phrasing, and note accents don’t solidly transfer from person to person. This has two implications: 1)Musicians have their own ingrained musical personalities that they superimpose on music they learn. We even find children placing their own musical ideals on music they are learning. 2)These dimensions aren’t directly taught when the transfers of music happen. What this implies is that that our focus is on the notes themselves when we first setting out to learn from a teacher. From a teacher’s standpoint this can present issues in teaching musical expression in future lessons. We find that through the cultivation of musical expression during the act of learning a new tonal sequence is optimal. If musical expression transference does happen when a teacher is teaching, the results are a perfect basis for a student to future develop their own musical expression. I find it interesting that music educators tend to teach musical expression separate from melody. I believe this divide comes from the misunderstanding that musical expression can only lend itself to those of higher caliber artistry. I would challenge this by saying that when you find a child playing on pots and pans in the kitchen, their technique isn’t perfect. They aren’t concerned with how they are holding the spoons. Their main concern is how it feels to hit something and produce a sound. At this juncture we find ourselves at a dilema to how we approach the idea of adding musical expression development in young artists during the learning of the original music. Simply, we would  subscribe to becoming conscience of the fact that each song taught to our students would also include multidimensional aspects. This, in turn will contribute to the all-around interest in music by the students. For I believe we have drifted from thinking as music as more than just melody, harmony, and rhythm. For I see teachers teaching their students singly the melody and moving on to the next tune. This is an abomination to the art of music, directly. Clarifying, I am not insinuating that one should spend a year teaching a single song. However, we should not neglect the options of the many dimensions that are possible with musical expression. When teaching we should understand that the musical expressional tools we install in our students are those for which will be primers of their musical future. Through the cultivation of musical expression in learners of the artform they are opened up to the dimensions of music. In this, we set the standard of musical development and progression.

In the 1959 release by Miles Davis titled “Kind of Blue” we find such dimentional aspects demonstrated during the listening of the track Freddie Freeloader. When listening through the first time you might not catch the simple additions of dynamic influxes, rhythmic subtleties, and note placement. However, as you listen you will find more and more slight modifications to each phrase as if the song is morphing under your ears. Through the listening of such masters at work, we find that one can literally take a previously composed melody and make slight alterations to the melody without touching the actual notes composed. This kind of musical manipulation is in the forefront of a seasoned and experience musician. Therefore, as communicators and  educators we should continue that focus through our instruction. For we can learn from this recording that there are multiple dimensions possible in a single song. But, we can’t instruct students that there are many aspects to a song during the teaching of the song? I believe this to be a faulty belief by instructors. For we should always be perusing the best in our pupils, guaranteeing the highest in music excellence and expression by presenting to our students every aspect we are aware of.