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Thread: What's your definition of 'Improvisation'?

  1. #1

    What's your definition of 'Improvisation'?

    I visit many guitar forums and I've never actually seen this question posted before: how do you define 'improvisation'? To me, it's always been something like 'creating a new guitar part on the fly'. That can mean a chordal rhythm part, or a melodic solo, or adding splashes of appropriate color to a piece of music ... it has always meant 'invention'; it has always implied to me that the player is assembling the part for the first and last time ever.

    What's yours?

    Kirk

  2. #2
    Latin Wedding Band Los Boleros's Avatar
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    One thing that I try to do is to ultimately come up with a well written solo. This is like reaching utopia, you never really get there. You keep getting closer but your never really there. As much as I try to learn from my past experiences, I still have a hard time playing something with the same emotion twice. It's like every take has a life of its own. All my entries on Russes Strickly series were all my first and last attemps. Even though I can hear the parts that could have beend done better, I can't help but be afraid that the next take will lose some of the stuff that you can't write down.

    When I want to improvise, I usually start out with something I know. get the listener used to it kinda like a hook. then I repeat it but slightly out of context. maybe half a beat late or over a different chord. It then forces me to come up with a new resolution.

    With that, I guese I should some up that for me improve is a mixture of what you know will work with a bit of mischief added and new and interesting conflicts and relolutions.

  3. #3
    Registered User SkinnyDevil's Avatar
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    I like your definition, Kirk.

    Improv, to me, covers anything on the fly...from soloing to comping to all that grey area in between.
    --
    David M. McLean
    Skinny Devil Music Lab
    www.skinnydevil.com

    "...embrace your fear..."

  4. #4
    Registered Crutmauler
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    Bassically, it's anything you play extemporaneously. Anything unplanned that you play, be it a missed part or just a part that is just made up because there is no part to miss.

  5. #5
    Groovy Bastard Maarten's Avatar
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    How about "interacting with the context" ?
    Stop talking about modes and start working on your groove.

  6. #6
    Registered User ashc's Avatar
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    Isn't it really all about how well you can speak the language and who you use it?

    Making some comparisons with oral languages, if you don't know the words, phrases and methods of elegant construction (aka grammar) you can't express yourself very well. Knowing lots of big words and just using them to show off makes you look a fool as does repeating lots of small phrases really quickly (partly kidding shred folks ).

    So improvisation is being creative with the language you know and putting it together to form something coherent - if you don't know anything you can't do anything. So when people say I can't improvise - the question is, did you learn enough of the language before you tried or are you still using the phrase book?
    Last edited by ashc; 06-22-2005 at 10:49 AM.

  7. #7
    Registered User Mateo150's Avatar
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    won't go into it again, believe there was a 10 page long thread on this very topic not long ago.

    Anyway, I think its easy to tell when you really do improvise, cuz you can go back and listen to what you did, and not know what you did. If you remember what you did and can recreate it easily, chances are its more akin to lick flashing rather than improv.
    They call them fingers, but I never see them fing.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Mateo150
    ... its easy to tell when you really do improvise, cuz you can go back and listen to what you did, and not know what you did ...
    That's great Mateo ...

  9. #9
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    "Making up melodies there and then that fits with the backing" has been my way of thinking about impro. I like Kirks definition, though. It doesn't have to be melodies. Drummers also improvise.I'll think about it as "making up musical elements there and then that fits with the other musical elements played simultanious". Well, it sounds awfull, so maybe it's not so bad

  10. #10
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    I agree with a lot of the definitions here.

    Anyone ever have an idea in your head..like you know the very general shape (rhythmically and melodically) of the line, but not so solidly as to be able to articulate each note? This happens to me a bunch..and I have to stop and think the notes through.

    I think improvisation is playing without that gap..going from those musical forms straight to the instrument.

  11. #11
    Groovy Bastard Maarten's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mateo150
    ...I think its easy to tell when you really do improvise, cuz you can go back and listen to what you did, and not know what you did. If you remember what you did and can recreate it easily, chances are its more akin to lick flashing rather than improv.
    Sorry, but I think this is nonsense. I think a good improvisor should be hearing everything he's playing very clearly. Being able to play what you hear is a major skill in improvising.
    So if you can't listen back and play something you played before, it probably means you didn't hear it in the first place and it was more of a case of wiggling your fingers with some good luck.

    So if you can reacreate the stuff it shouldn't be a matter of lick flashing but a matter of good ears.

    BTW. Playing a cliché when the music asks for it is an example of very good improvisation I think, originality is overrated, expression should come first and recogniscion is a very strong expressive tool.
    Stop talking about modes and start working on your groove.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Maarten
    Sorry, but I think this is nonsense. I think a good improvisor should be hearing everything he's playing very clearly. Being able to play what you hear is a major skill in improvising.
    I know what Mateo is saying. I often listen back to lines I've played that I don't instantly recognize as mine ... that I'd have to puposefully and deliberately recreate if I wanted to ... but I rarely want to ... something I was totally aware of and hearing at the time of playing, but out of that context not readily recognizable. I think I'd lose interest in the art if that kind of thing didn't happen.

    I never wiggle my fingers hoping for good luck.

    Kirk

  13. #13
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    In defence of Mateo, I guess he is differentiating between a well planed and pre-written solo that is practised prior to the performance and improvisation where you develop the impro on the spot. If you then have a bad memory like I have, you don't neccesarily remember exactly what you played. That does not mean that I was not hearing it before I played it. And it does not mean that your just wiggling your fingers in hope of good luck.
    No big deal. Just my understanding of Mateo's posting.

  14. #14
    Latin Wedding Band Los Boleros's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Mateo150
    ... its easy to tell when you really do improvise, cuz you can go back and listen to what you did, and not know what you did ...


    I agree with Maarten on this one. This only proves that your ear is not that developed. Just because I can listen to a recording of myself improvise and be able to mimic it does not constitute that the original idea was predetermined. It just indicated a good ear. I can listen to may guitarist solos and know what they did. So how does that enter into the equation?

  15. #15
    Registered User Mateo150's Avatar
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    well, to clarify, sorry to disappoint ya Los, but my ears are pretty good, my transcriptions are usually spot on (besides piano chords). You may be able to mimic your own spanish lines, but how are you at transcribing new stuff?

    Chances are you can't remember everything you played in a solo, and exactly in what position you played it in. The matter of reproducing what was played is how good you are at transcribing. But really, if I honestly improvised, I'm transcribing my own stuff, not remembering what I played. I didn't say not playing what you hear, but remembering what you played. Theres a difference, if you remember easily and can reproduce what you did based off memory, I'm willing to bet that That particular phrase was a lick or pattern or something you've done over and over. Of course this can happen often, but then the continuity of how these practiced lines mesh can't be remembered well...

    The thing about knowing every note you hit I think thats a bit extreme, to what extent do you mean "know"? When you hear a texture in your mind, a quicker series of notes, chances are you'll recognize it as an arppeggio or scale sequence or something, not name every note. I know many people on the board here say they can do this, but I think its a bit of fantasy there.

    As a more finite example, Stevie Ray Vaughan could of course listen to his live recordings and try to recreate what he did, but if you ask him what he played, he'll probably not remember. If he were a more cerebral player, maybe, ya know, knowing he played this arp over that chord or this mode in that situation. But if you truly are following your ear, you won't have time to do all this IMO.
    Last edited by Mateo150; 06-24-2005 at 05:08 PM.
    They call them fingers, but I never see them fing.

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