Friday, September 2, 2016

The Art of Improvising

A few weeks back, I received an article asking about IMPROVISING... how to do those riffs and runs, and in general, how to find and confidently lock into new ways of playing with melodies. Here's what I wrote back... hope it's helpful!

"Improvising... when we next talk, let's explore a bit more what you mean specifically. Riffs? Runs? More jazz lines? Basic melody shifts / slight variations?
Regardless, there are some approaches that work with all of them. And in my mind, the most important is, mentally, cultivating the willingness to let go of control, which then translates into a release of the physical tension.
A couple great ways to release in this way are: a) listening and singing along with music in the car / shower... anywhere you're 'distracted' and not fixated on singing well. Harmonize, play, goof around. The more you do it, the less your brain can maintain such a stringent focus. And the more you'll be wowed by 'what you just did' in terms of improvising.
Another critical and much overlooked tool is LISTENING. Listen to people that improvise well and let your mind and body learn what is going on. Through hearing, let your vocal vocabulary expand, and your body start to sense- without singing a note- what is possible. This same tool is imperative when it comes to physically carving out the runs you want to hear. Yes, some things can be off the cuff, and certainly the more you improvise, the more willing you'll be to take risks (aka: letting go of control) and see what the voice comes up with.
In the interim, however, HEARING what you want to create- whether you want to imitate what someone else has done, or are imagining it in your mind- is imperative before CREATING it in the world, with your voice. Imagine a run you'd like to do in one of your own songs. Hear it in your mind. Most likely, you'll come up against, 'I can't hear it... I'm not sure what it sounds like, what I would want to do.' And that's OK... that's why you haven't been able to do it! Start imagining what you would like to hear. Hear the notes, and more importantly, how your voice sails around them. Hear the pace, hear the run faster, then slower. Feel your body start to 'sing along' with them, engaging slightly in places... again, without opening your mouth. When you really hear and feel- clearly- what you want, let the body create what it now understands and knows. Once your ear has 'carved out' the run, your voice will follow.
Lastly, most of our warm ups in the vocal world are walk-ups and downs, thirds and fifths in the major scale. As such, our bodies- and minds- aren't used to really hearing and playing with 7ths and 9ths, seconds and tritones, as well as the minor scale. The same goes for vocal flutters (Arabic and Indian music) and other interesting grace notes and rhythms. Play around with these things, experiment. Be zany and willing to sound hilarious in your search for the edge and beyond of what sounds and feels 'normal' and familiar. Make the odd and interesting a part of your vocal vernacular, and you'll be amazed at how effortlessly these things will appear on command when improvising in your own songs.
Hope that helps!"

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