#1
I was chatting to a classical guitar teacher friend of mine (she teaches at schools), and trying to find out what exactly she teaches. Lot of it turned out to be guidance on suitable choices for playing a written piece of music (score), and technique.

This then lead on to a talk about improvisation, and she told me that it's common for classically trained musicians taking music degrees to spend a huge amount of time improving how they interpret the written music (phrasing, sound of produced note), to the detriment of understanding how to improvise. She knows lots of people that can hardly play without the score, yet are magical when the score is there.

I was mega suprised by this. Do you guys have similar stories, or experiences?

(I'm the opposite ... I understand theory, and I can improvise for most styles, but put score in front of me, and I grind to a halt ... something that is annoying me more as I get older, and am considering fixing this. But I never have got into a situation where I have to play note for note something for someone else (in sessions) ... just given chord sheets for background info ... so I've never had the impetus to really learn sight reading.

If I want to learn a piece, or a solo, I'll use Transcribe to slow it down and work it out, or get tab.)

cheers, Jerry
#3
I am the same. I am an ear kind of guy, but i can play from a sheet. That is why i don't do as much session work that involves heavy reading, it's just not my thing. Want me to learn tunes for some session, write a guitar part for a tune etc, everything is fine. But give me a score for something and i have slight problems getting it to sound alive.
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#4
For better or worse, improvisation as a skill has fallen by the wayside in classical academia. Most people with degrees in classical music will never have had to improvise in any significant way. To be fair, it's not a particularly relevant skill for most performers anymore outside of specialized contemporary music, which isn't really what you're talking about I don't think. There are some that can still do it really well, but it's the exception not the rule.
#5
Classical musicians are awful at improvisation and most have never even attempted it even once. So....yea.......

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#6
I'm studying in jazz, so I can improvise and play from a lead sheet. However, I am not that good at reading melodies perfectly. I might get away with easy melodies though (we usually leave the melody reading to the brass section, trumpet and sax)

I never studied classical music, so I don't really know the philosophy behind its practices, but it seems to me that the goal of a classical musician performer, traditionally, is to execute perfectly the written piece and respect all the dynamics written on the score.

I can understand the beauty in that, but what does it say about the musician other that he has impeccable technique? What is the difference between someone who will graduate today with a doctoral degree in piano playing Liszt and Debussy for a recital than someone who graduated 50 or 100 years ago playing the same pieces if their goal is to play perfectly what is written on the chart? They probably sounded the same or very similar

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that, but the added element of improvisation in music just makes things more interesting because every performer is unique and has a different voice. There a million ways to play on a rhythm change tune because nothing is written on the chart for the solos parts
#7
I'm surprised you haven't come across it before Jerry - it's not uncommon for a classical musician to feel lost without their sheet music. Improvisation is generally not encouraged, you should stick to the music on the Page.

Ill proabably be shut down for saying this, but it's not uncommon for classical musos to "look down" on cover bands belting out tunes in pubs. The strange thing is that an orchestra really is a big cover band, simply playing songs from a different time period.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
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#8
Quote by AlanHB
I'm surprised you haven't come across it before Jerry - it's not uncommon for a classical musician to feel lost without their sheet music. Improvisation is generally not encouraged, you should stick to the music on the Page.

Ill proabably be shut down for saying this, but it's not uncommon for classical musos to "look down" on cover bands belting out tunes in pubs. The strange thing is that an orchestra really is a big cover band, simply playing songs from a different time period.



I just cried reading this comment right now LMFAO. -EDIT- Your comment has a lot of truth in it that's why it's funny.
Last edited by Black_devils at Dec 7, 2014,
#9
Quote by SuperKid
I can understand the beauty in that, but what does it say about the musician other that he has impeccable technique? What is the difference between someone who will graduate today with a doctoral degree in piano playing Liszt and Debussy for a recital than someone who graduated 50 or 100 years ago playing the same pieces if their goal is to play perfectly what is written on the chart? They probably sounded the same or very similar


I think you're underestimating the space for interpretative freedom in classical scores. Think about something like dynamics. You have a score with dynamic markings, but usually none of them are really precise instructions. You know that piano passages have to be 'quiet' and forte passages have to be 'loud', but what is quiet, what is loud, quiet or loud in comparison to what?

Maybe that's not a great example, but I think if you listen to enough recordings of the same piece by 'great' players you'll start to hear noticeable, maybe even radical, differences in performance style. Try this performance of Bach's C major prelude by Glenn Gould vs this performance by Sviatoslav Richter, the difference is immediately noticeable.
.
#10
There are clear differences between different performances of the same piece. It's about tempo, dynamics, articulation... Other stuff than the notes.

Also, I'm sure most professional classical musicians can improvise and play without sheet music. But many classical pieces are a lot more technical and complex than pop songs (and by pop I don't only mean the pop genre but any non-classical music). They are harder to memorize than basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus 4 chord pop songs. (And yes, even if there are more chords and more sections in the song, most classical pieces are still more complex - there's usually more stuff happening.)

The thing is, a big orchestra leaves no room for improvisation. The bigger the band, the more planned your parts have to be. But many solo players can also improvise. Also, I would say today many classically trained musicians also learn to play pop and jazz. Or it may depend on the instrument. But at least most trumpeters I have met have also been into other genres than just classical. Many trumpeters at our school play all different kind of gigs. They have to be able to play many styles, not just classical (even though the school's emphasis is on classical music). And why I'm talking about trumpeters is because I also play the trumpet.
Quote by AlanHB
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#11
I did a degree in a music department for a year, and we sometimes played with the classical musicians on an adjacent course. Most of them couldn't improvise even simple pentatonic melodies.

In this way i sometimes think of classical musicians as not musicians at all, and more like technical machines, or robots, as they are merely playing what they're instructed to.

Am i right? Who knows, but it's an interesting discussion.
#12
Thank you all for chipping in. You know, it'd be great to run a mega-survey on this sort of stuff, but that would also be like herding cats! I no longer know where the boundary lies between musician and non-musician. I used to think it was around technique initially, then around writing skill, then around performance ... but technology has made such a huge change so folk without the skills in their hands etc can still put together great music, even with cut-and-paste.

The innovation is still there.

I honestly believe that the human need to communicate by music is very strongly built into the vast majority of us, and that everyone should have a voice enabled in this global conversation ... this is where I think music theory should become separated from insanely complicated examples, jargon, and score ... so people can just dive into the bits they need easily, and improvise at what ever level pleases them. You shouldn't have to learn one new language to access the one you really want learn.

My analogy here is: if you just want to cook a Thai meal for a couple of friends, you going to bother to learn Thai language, grammar, semantics? Yet music theory presentation expects precisely the equivalent to occur to make progress in the thing it's teaching: music.

Thanks again, guys!
cheers, Jerry
#13
How is improvisation the definition of a musician? It's just another skill, just like composing is.

IMO the most important thing is to express yourself. You can express yourself by playing other people's music. You don't need to write your own music to do that (that's what singers like Frank Sinatra did - they always performed other people's songs). Music is not all about what notes you play. It is a lot about HOW you play the notes.

I do agree that improvisation could be taught a lot earlier. I think it could be one of the first things to be taught. But I don't think music is all about improvisation. Maybe for some people it is.

I also think many classical musicians are very self critical. Maybe they don't feel comfortable when improvising because they don't think what they play sounds good. And this is one of the reasons why improvisation should be taught in the beginning - they would learn that mistakes aren't that bad. I have heard many stories about people who played one wrong note and stopped playing immediately. Of course they grew out of it. But the problem is, they had to grow out of it. They had to realize that one wrong note is not the end of the world. I don't think those who have learned to improvise ever have this problem. They are more comfortable with mistakes and actually sometimes playing the wrong note can lead to great sounding stuff.

I don't think professional classical musicians are 100% dependent on sheet music though. If you asked them to play a simple song like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in any key, they could do it without notation.

Also, there's nothing wrong with using sheet music. It's a good and effective way to communicate musical ideas.

Yes, I think using your ears should be emphasized more. But that doesn't only apply to classical music.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
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Yamaha FG720S-12
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#14
I think the difference is creativity. There are some that have that something that makes them very suited at creating. Others don't have this. It is not something you can be taught.

You can train anyone to improvise, and anyone can write a song. But you can teach a computer to improvise. Just because you can create a song, that doesn't mean it is any good.

But some people have some kind of thing that causes creativity.

I think a musician can be graded in different ways. There are different sorts, and all of them are great for their own reasons filling their own purpose in the beautiful world of music.

But great improv and great composition is more rare. A large percentage of musicians can develop the technical skill and physical technique to create almost anything. But the designers are much more rare, in any field,and it is not a skill anyone can just go and learn.

But it's also not a linear thing. I mean, I think Michael Jackson wrote and created some cool music, and Coldplay did as well, but these are very different, and one would not create like the other.

What makes it that some people can create cool stuff like that, and some have trouble? Idk. Nobody knows. If someone did, that book would be a best seller, and we'd all be here preaching that method, as more and more of us start composing and create great works. But that's part of the beauty of it. That's what is so special to me. You know? Coldplay music exists. That's awesome, some creative person created it. There is no recipe or algorithm for it, but some group of people came along, and now that music exists. And we grow and grow as we see farther and farther from standing on the shoulders of the giants before us.

But it is so precious. And you might think that popular music is worthless, but it is not. Sure, maybe the artist did not write it, but someone did.

Like Max Martin. He wrote a shitload of popular tunes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzRup5YFf8Y

Creating good music is not easy. We could talk about what good music is all day, just like good food, but music lots of other people like.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Dec 7, 2014,
#15
I'm also more of a ear/transcriber kind of guy. Not that i dont appreciate guys who can play from the sheet. The music a listen to is not notated that's why i had to learn to listen and play and never really took time to learn how to read on the guitar.
#16
It's not that getting taught how to be a great classical musician makes you a mediocre improviser.

It's that not practicing improvisation means you don't develop as an improviser.

Improvisation is a skill that, like most other musical skills, you need to practice if you want to get good at it. If you do some digging online, you'll find some quotes from Trey Anastasio talking about how Phish practices to improve their improv - they do drills, they do a lot of work to make it look like they're all just jamming together.

And that's Phish, who you could make an argument are the most dynamic rock improvisers ever.

It doesn't just happen. So yeah, people who haven't worked at it aren't going to be real good at it. That's not very surprising.
#17
You can be great at both with some practice. Especially reading sheet music is a skill that literally anyone can learn.
#18
I thought that it was common knowledge that this was the case.
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#19
Quote by Elintasokas
You can be great at both with some practice. Especially reading sheet music is a skill that literally anyone can learn.


Don't you find that if all it took was practice there would be much more greatness? Maybe your definition of greatness differs from mine, but for me, greatness is rare. Like, there are many that practice this or that a lot, but to me, there are few greats.
#20
Quote by fingrpikingood
Don't you find that if all it took was practice there would be much more greatness? Maybe your definition of greatness differs from mine, but for me, greatness is rare. Like, there are many that practice this or that a lot, but to me, there are few greats.

Yeah, I guess I agree. Not everyone has the same level of creativity/talent when it comes to music ( or anything, for that matter)
#21
Quote by fingrpikingood
Don't you find that if all it took was practice there would be much more greatness? Maybe your definition of greatness differs from mine, but for me, greatness is rare. Like, there are many that practice this or that a lot, but to me, there are few greats.


+1.
#22
Quote by fingrpikingood
Don't you find that if all it took was practice there would be much more greatness? Maybe your definition of greatness differs from mine, but for me, greatness is rare. Like, there are many that practice this or that a lot, but to me, there are few greats.

Maybe... But it's also true that not everybody is willing to put so much work on it. And all the greats have worked really hard.

But yeah, I agree with HotspurJr. If you have never improvised, of course you are not a good improviser. But you can get better at it if you start doing it. Classical musicians don't necessarily do it a lot because they don't need to. Though this doesn't mean you couldn't do it. For example this piece is played really freely:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkcprNhh1eY

Here's another version for comparison: (I don't really like his excessive trills, though.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpse1QXzvpQ

People also need to remember that being able to improvise is not the same as being able to play by ear.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
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Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#23
MM, I agree with you as well. The work has to be put in.

Separatelly, even if poor at recognising stuff by ear (including exactly what is being imagined for a solo), really good improvisation is still achievable. Ditto for composition.

I used to jam with a guy with perfect pitch, and he'd play back anything I played to him, any style, perfectly. But he just could not improvise.

cheers, Jerry
#24
MM, please don't post more classical tracks ... you're in danger of corrupting my ingrained avoidance of classical music due to it being rammed down my ears at a very young age ... I'm now tempted to log in to Amazon. You're a bad man :-)

(That said, thanks for the insight! Big difference in performance approach between the two above)

cheers, Jerry
#25
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Maybe... But it's also true that not everybody is willing to put so much work on it. And all the greats have worked really hard.

But yeah, I agree with HotspurJr. If you have never improvised, of course you are not a good improviser. But you can get better at it if you start doing it. Classical musicians don't necessarily do it a lot because they don't need to. Though this doesn't mean you couldn't do it. For example this piece is played really freely:

People also need to remember that being able to improvise is not the same as being able to play by ear.


Playing by ear and improvising I think are very closely related. Improvising is, to me, a lot like playing by ear, the sounds in my mind. It is easy to slip away from that, and play patterns and things from muscle memory, but I think the goal of improv is to me, to play by ear the song in my mind.

Everybody who is exceptional at anything has put a lot of work into becoming that way. But that is not to say that others have not as much, or sometimes more effort into the same thing, and have not succeeded as much.

Imagine a blind man and a seeing man that want to become the world's greatest dart player. They could both do it, and both need to practice a lot, but the blind person will have more work to put in, and will have to practice differently, using different things, and will have to practice extra stuff the seeing man won't. If most of the world were blind, and nobody would be aware that vision exists, it would just appear as though playing darts comes easier to some people.
#26
Quote by fingrpikingood

Imagine a blind man and a seeing man that want to become the world's greatest dart player. They could both do it

Lol. I don't think a blind man could ever become the world's GREATEST (#1) darts player. No matter how much effort is put in.
#28
Quote by fingrpikingood
Playing by ear and improvising I think are very closely related.

Yes, I'm not saying improvisation doesn't benefit from a good ear. Because it definitely does. But having a good ear doesn't mean you can improvise. Of course if you have a good ear, it will be easier to improvise. But to improvise you need to have some ideas in your head first. And you don't even need any ideas. Some people just let their muscle memory control them and it may sound great.

Some people can mimic other people's playing really easily. But they just haven't practiced improvisation. Jerry gave a good example of this. Somebody with a perfect pitch can mimic any musician without a problem. But improvisation is about more than just repeating what other people played. It's about adding your own stuff to it.

Being able to mimic other people is not the same as being able to come up with own stuff. They are different skills while pretty closely related. But just by training your ear you won't become good at improvisation. You learn to improvise by improvising.

I think improvisation is a lot about confidence. If you think your improvisation sucks, it does because you are afraid of playing what you feel. And that is also limiting you from hearing stuff in your head. But if you think what you hear in your head sounds good, you are not afraid to play it.

Improvising is, to me, a lot like playing by ear, the sounds in my mind. It is easy to slip away from that, and play patterns and things from muscle memory

As you said, you think it's easy. But some people may be afraid of making mistakes. They may think that if they play it differently, they are playing it wrong. As I said, I think improvising is a lot about confidence. You are not afraid to put your own twist to the song and it doesn't matter if you didn't replicate the melody somebody played note for note. But some people are more strict when it comes to this kind of stuff. They want to play it note for note because they think it's the "right way" to play it.

I usually want to learn to play songs the way they were originally played. I want to be able to mimic the original recording so I usually learn songs note for note. For example I spent a lot of time listening to the original guitar track of "Welcome to the Jungle". I wanted my version to be accurate. I didn't want to guess.

But it depends on the song. Sometimes a song just comes to my mind and I start playing it the way I remember it.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#29
Quote by Elintasokas
Lol. I don't think a blind man could ever become the world's GREATEST (#1) darts player. No matter how much effort is put in.


You're right, I worded that badly, but that was actually my point.
#30
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
I'm nominating fingr for the 2014 worst analogies of the year award. Like every one is just awful. A blind darts player even.

ok, cool. I'll nominate you as "2014 worst judge at how good analogies are." award then lol.

I didn't say everyone was as awful as a blind darts player though. It was an analogy to get a specific concept across. A blind person might be able to get pretty good at darts anyway.

EDIT: The point was, "all you need to do is practice and you will be great." is not necessarily true. With an exaggerated example, you can see that one individual might have a decided advantage over another. In the music world such advantages exist to some degree, and manifest in different ways. Some people possess some advantages and others others. Some have more such advantages than others. Some are more suited to some things than others. Some need to practice in some ways and others need to practice in others.

Greatness, to me, is rare, because those are the individuals that have a lot going their way and also put a lot of effort into it.

The point was not to say that the majority of people learning music are like blind people trying to play darts. If that's what I meant, that's what I would have said. I made no allusion to the ways people are different, how significant those things are, nor what percentage of the population possesses what affinities, and to what degree.

I just said, in the case of the blind man, and the seeing man, the blind man has a lot more work to do in order to get to the same level as the seeing man, other things being equal, and may never be able to reach the same level. This is the same as might be comparing 2 different people learning music. One might be at a disadvantage they have to work harder to overcome, and if the other works just as hard, they may never be able to catch up. This might be a big difference, or it might be a small one. It might only apply to improvisation, or dexterity, or something else, or everything. All people are different. All shades.

But music is also subjective, which brings a whole other aspect to it.

The point of the analogy was to isolate one aspect of what was being discussed, and exaggerate it so that the original point I was making could more easily be understood. It was not to make a new statement.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Dec 8, 2014,
#31
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Yes, I'm not saying improvisation doesn't benefit from a good ear. Because it definitely does. But having a good ear doesn't mean you can improvise. Of course if you have a good ear, it will be easier to improvise. But to improvise you need to have some ideas in your head first. And you don't even need any ideas. Some people just let their muscle memory control them and it may sound great.
Muscle memory, to me, is not good improvisation. It might not sound "bad" , and could be referred to as sounding "good" but it won't, to me, be able to possess the intangible magic that a good improvisation has. To me, it's not a right or wrong thing. Not like "that sentence makes sense." or doesn't. But specifically the content of what is said. The message itself.

Some people can mimic other people's playing really easily. But they just haven't practiced improvisation. Jerry gave a good example of this. Somebody with a perfect pitch can mimic any musician without a problem. But improvisation is about more than just repeating what other people played. It's about adding your own stuff to it.

Being able to mimic other people is not the same as being able to come up with own stuff. They are different skills while pretty closely related. But just by training your ear you won't become good at improvisation. You learn to improvise by improvising.
Right, if improvisation is playing what's in your mind, and your mind doesn't come up with much, then you'd be in a tight spot.


I think improvisation is a lot about confidence. If you think your improvisation sucks, it does because you are afraid of playing what you feel. And that is also limiting you from hearing stuff in your head. But if you think what you hear in your head sounds good, you are not afraid to play it.
Well that's a matter of opinion I guess. Certainly confidence is necessary, but one could play a load of garbage with confidence also. The music universe is full of people that think they are awesome, and are so confident of it, and want to show the world how great they are, but just aren't really that good. I had one guy on soundcloud sing so terribly, waaay off key. He was going around adding people, and I figured I'd do him a favour and save him some embarrassment by letting him know he was way off key. He said he knew that, people hasd told him, but he didn't care, he wanted to show the world his music, and maybe recording techniques could improve it. Full of confidence, but it is not sufficient, though I agree it is necessary. To improvise well I think you need full honesty.


As you said, you think it's easy. But some people may be afraid of making mistakes. They may think that if they play it differently, they are playing it wrong. As I said, I think improvising is a lot about confidence. You are not afraid to put your own twist to the song and it doesn't matter if you didn't replicate the melody somebody played note for note. But some people are more strict when it comes to this kind of stuff. They want to play it note for note because they think it's the "right way" to play it.
I think you misunderstood what I was saying there. I wasn't saying improvisation is easy. I was saying that one can improvise by following what they are imagining, or muscle memory, or patterns and theory. It is easy, I find, to just get into a muscle memory/pattern sort of thing, instead of following ideas you are coming up with.

I know what you're talking about though. It's like that at shows also. People want it like it is on the record. I think they often don't realise how often enough, the way it is on the record was just one "random" take, that happened to be performed while the red light was on.

I usually want to learn to play songs the way they were originally played. I want to be able to mimic the original recording so I usually learn songs note for note. For example I spent a lot of time listening to the original guitar track of "Welcome to the Jungle". I wanted my version to be accurate. I didn't want to guess.

But it depends on the song. Sometimes a song just comes to my mind and I start playing it the way I remember it.


That's cool. I think everyone should learn music the way they enjoy to learn it, and play it the way they enjoy to play it, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I've done that also, and that can be a great way to learn new stuff and approach things from a perspective you might not be accustomed to.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Dec 8, 2014,
#32
Quote by fingrpikingood
ok, cool. I'll nominate you as "2014 worst judge at how good analogies are." award then lol.

I agree with him, though. Your analogy was so bad it was almost good. Like one of those kind of movies.
#33
Quote by Elintasokas
I agree with him, though. Your analogy was so bad it was almost good. Like one of those kind of movies.


Ok. You are entitled to think so. I disagree.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Dec 8, 2014,
#34
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
I'm nominating fingr for the 2014 worst analogies of the year award. Like every one is just awful. A blind darts player even.


It could be the worse analogy I have ever heard.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.