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Music and Improvisation

Improvising in Music/bringing it to the surface:

Many don’t realize what they are experiencing when they listen to improvised music. I will start this conversation by saying that the first time a child makes a purposeful noise they are improvising. As the child learns to speak, he/she begins using the language of their surroundings to first express their needs and then everything grows and develops from there.

In music, it’s not that different but the language of music is one that reaches different places in the soul partly because it’s so abstract and not limited to words that symbolize exactitude. Music is the purposeful manipulation of pitches, rhythm, and a deep evolutionary process that we have learned to bring out harmonics that make up the notes to create various tones and harmonies to support a fundamental melody. How those harmonies and melodies are placed in time related to a beat also influences how those abstract utterances are expressed and perceived. This has been developed into what we often refer to as "music theory" and is theory partly because it hasn't reached a final conclusion or definition of what music actually is. So, I guess it's an ongoing theory.

The other part of this that we often overlook are a few of the different elements within these parameters. When we listen to improvised music, we are actually hearing varying degrees of puzzle solving by piecing together different patterns and shapes within the realm of the science of sound, math by creating the numeric patterns of the puzzle, hues of sound and modulations that in simpler terms are similar to matching colors of a shirt with the colors of pants or socks. When we put one pattern and make it fit with another pattern we are matching things up. When we follow or precede one note with another, we are constructing an expression that is subliminally or purposefully chosen to compare with what the science of sound might have constructed naturally. THIS choice making or decision making becomes the expression of the improvisor or composer. Different improvisors use varying degrees of each of these constructs simultaneously. One person might use a lot of patterns and shapes while another may use connect-the-dots linear pathways through a given chord progression and another might use mathematic relationships to express their improvisations - a dash of math combined with a hint of matching or a complete different array of combinations. All that are chosen by the improvisor clearly defines their personal relationship with music and as they get more and more adept it can eventually become their recognizable style. Above all, the closer the relationship with music is, the more interesting the outcome.

The next time you hear an improvisor or create an improvised work yourself, consider the not-so-obvious elements and choose your balance and learn something about your own preferential creative and listening aptitude. Do you like the melody mixed with patterns and full of expected resolutions? Do you like to break the rules and fake left and go right? Do you like a lot of math in the patterns as it relates to the harmony and rhythm or do you like to mix it up? Which of these elements supports your listening daydream the best. It doesn’t matter which it is, they are all infinitely wonderful.


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