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4) Improvisation, theory and composition

[Post # 4] This post begins debunking a common belief: improvisation belongs only to jazz music. According to this common belief, only jazz musicians can play instantly "jamming", all other musicians need a score below the nose to make music. Certainly jazz music made of improvisation one of its distinguishing features, but such drastic statements clearly crash with the fact that it is historically known that "classical" musicians like Bach, Mozart, Chopin, List, and many others were improvisers with extraordinary gifts.

It is said that Bach had achieved such a mastery in counterpoint to be able to improvise a fugue with several voices. It is said also that Chopin, seized by illness, rather than cancel a gig decided to turn the concert program into one immense improvisation, which ended with a triumphal applause.

When it comes to composition, improvisation and theory are closely connected.

Even jazz players know the theory. Who improvises makes music following some rules, breaking those rules systematically, or alternating tradition (rules) to innovation (violation of rules). It is not necessary to know all music theory, harmony, counterpoint. Just the basics can be enough.

You can improvise knowing the theory, but it is also possible to go from theory to improvisation. In this case you can use cadences, harmonic sequences, standard melodic patterns and many other rules. From here you can build a song improvising, the only ingredient you need is a bit of creativity.

We can say then, that the the base composition is a mix of improvisation, theory and creativity.

Those who say that "it is enough to be able to improvise to compose music", are wrong. Even those who argue that "a solid and broad theoretical competence can compensate for not being able to improvise", are wrong.

Improvisation and theory go together. Improvisation can give us a theme, the theory helps us to change it, develop it, to make it a music. The theory suggests a natural sequence of chords. Improvisation helps us to change it, to personalize it, to find a suitable melody.

At the very base of this process there are inspiration and creativity. The first launches the composition, the second leads to its development and refinement.

I recommend to anyone who decides to make music to learn theory. At least the basis theory. We must win the reluctance to open books, to study. To learn scales, intervals, cadences, how to modulate, even at an elementary level, could be the distinction key between a good composer and a bad composer. Even if in modern world both run the risk of remaining anonymous.

I recommend to anyone who decides to compose music to learn to improvise. Practice and try a lot, even at an elementary level. We must win the desire of having everything at once, of playing a piece immediately "on the fly", of leaning perfectly a music in half-day. All this is possible, of course, but this is reserved to artists with extraordinary gifts. To know how to improvise could be the distinction key between a creative musician or a trivial musician. Even if in modern world both run the risk of remaining anonymous.

In the previous post, we talked about the sources of inspiration of the musician, now we have seen that we need a good mix of improvisation and theory if we want to compose.

This will be even more true in the next post, in which I will talk about the composition at the instrument and the composition away from the instrument. In this case, in fact, it is absolutely necessary to know the theory rather than improvisation, as it misses its own raw material: an instrument to play.


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Learn To Compose And Notate Music - Beginning LevelLook InsideLearn To Compose And Notate Music - Beginning Level (By Lee Evans and Martha Baker). Evans Piano Education. 24 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.9072)
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Complete IdiotLook InsideComplete Idiot"s Guide to Music Composition For composers. Reference Textbooks; Textbook - General. Complete Idiot"s Guide. Instructional and Composition. Instructional book. 264 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.74-1592574033)
...more info
4) Improvisation, theory and composition Reviewed by Satin Beaus on Sunday, February 27, 2011 Rating: 5

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