Friday, November 24, 2017

Some thoughts on learning new tunes for improvisation

For the past three years I have been learning improvisational music. Having come from a classical tradition, much of my study has been concerned with how to approach music in a way that is conducive to improvisation, rather than replication of what is written on the page. For example, learning (by learning I largely mean memorizing) left and right hand parts independently allows for later improvisation, rather than left and right hand interdependence in memorization. This is very different than leaning a classical piece, in which the goal is accurate execution of what is written on the sheet music.

Improvisational music comes in many varieties. From free improvisation; which has no pre-written reference, to more traditional jazz; in which the form, harmonic progression, and melody serve as a starting point for spontaneous music making.  In this essay I am offering some thoughts on the latter, that of learning a traditional jazz piece for improvisation.

Learning left and right hands independently
I began memorizing my left and right hand parts separately after reading The Primacy of the Ear, by Ran Blake. As Blake describes, learning each hand alone allows for independent playing in either hand, which allows for easier improvisation. Both melodic and harmonic substitution become more fluid when the materials are learned separately. I begin by learning the melody, and then learning the harmonizations as written in the chart.