Saturday, October 9, 2010

Improvisation and Form Part 4

When a group of improvisers are aware of what is happening in the course of an improvisation, are able to remember it, and can reproduce and refer to it,  it greatly increases the possibility of spontaneous group improvisation of longer and more diverse forms.  

But even then, formal development and compositional improvising won’t happen unless the people in the group want to explore that aspect of group improvisation.  In order for an improvisational group to naturally and fluidly compose together in this way they must be willing to allow awareness of formal elements to become a part of their group improvisation. 

The group must also develop an individual and group awareness of the possibilities for improvising in this way.  Spontaneous group composition requires an constant awareness of the possibility of using the ideas and materials from earlier parts of the improvisation, and the willingness to choose to let go of any individual idea and embrace these possibilities when they occur.

There are many ways to think about and develop longer forms and each group will develop a different set of possibilities based on their interests.  Try as many different forms and approaches to musical form and development as you can imagine! The more possibilities your group has experienced, the more possibilities will be available to you in the course of an improvisation.  There are lots of ways to go about this, but the simplest is to say: “This improvisation will have (X) form.” and then try to do it.  See how it happens (or doesn’t happen), then try again.

All improvisation has form, whether you pay attention to that form or not.  If you do pay attention, it can open up a whole new world of group improvisational possibilities.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Improvisation and Form Part 3: Memory

The second important skill for creating form in improvisation is memory.  Except for through composed improvisation (ABCD, etc.), every form involves returning to something that was played previously in the improvisation.  But in order to return to something, you have to remember it.  You have to remember what you played, what the other people you are improvising with played, and the relation between the two.  Awareness exercises like those in Part 2 help you be more aware of what is going on while you are improvising.  Now how do you remember it, so you can use it again later?

Remembering what is played during an improvisation does not come naturally, because the kind of present moment consciousness so vital to improvising stores what we are doing in short term memory.  This memory is what allows us to create continuity in our moment to moment existence, to remember the beginning of a sentence by the time we get to the end.  But it only stores information for a short time.  Unless something happens to transfer the information to longer term memory it is quickly discarded to make room for new information.

Everyone has to figure out for themselves the best way to make that transfer, how best to tell the brain to mark a musical event for longer term memory storage.  This involves not only memory of the music that happened and how it sounded, but also muscle memory of what you were doing and how you were doing it.  It is a learned skill set, and the only way to learn it is by doing it. 

You can practice remembering with any simple improvisational exercise, as long as part of your intention is to remember what has been played.  Here’s a few, off the top of my head, to get you started.  Although you can do these exercises with melodies made up of notes, you can also use any group of sounds as the “melody”

Improvise a simple melody.  Stop.  Now play it again.

Once you can do that easily, try this:

Improvise a melody.
Continue improvising, using the material of the original melody as the source material for your improvisation.
Play the original melody again.

Once you can do that easily, try doing it with other people.

One person improvises a simple melody, while the others provide accompaniment.  Stop.  How many people in the group can remember and play the original melody?

One person improvises a simple melody, while the others provide accompaniment.  Pass the melody around the group.  Play it with all different kinds of accompaniment, in all kinds of variations. After improvising with it, play it again.  

The simpler and clearer the intentions of the group are, the easier it will be to remember.  The more the group has worked on understanding and naming the relationships that occur in improvised music (but that’s a different subject, for another day!) the easier it will be to remember.  The more you have practiced remembering, the easier it will be to remember.  After awhile, it will become a habit to recognize the parts of the improvisation that may be useful in creating longer forms, and to remember them.

Once you have gained some individual and group facility in remembering, then you can start applying that skill to spontaneous group composition, which will be the subject of Part 4.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Improvisation and Form Part 2: Awareness

An individual and group awareness of what is being improvised is critical to successful group improvisation. You have to be aware of what you are playing without interfering with the flow of it. You have to simultaneously be aware of what everyone else is playing, and it's relation to you, without having it interfere with your flow.

This awareness is an ongoing understanding, a recognition of what the music is at any moment, and the only way to do this fully is to let go of any judgment, self-consciousness or preconception.  All three of these mental processes have their place in evaluating, understanding, and creating music, but they all slow down or stop the flow of creation in the moment it is happening.

Here are several improvisational exercises from Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide that will aid you in various aspects of developing awareness.

Exercise 14: Awareness 1
This exercise gives practice in simultaneous awareness of what you are playing and what else is going on around you.  You can do it with any number of players, or even solo, using awareness of environmental sounds instead of other players.  This exercise works well with long held out notes or sounds, changing slowly.

Step 1: Two players hold out a note or sound.

Step 2: Focus your attention on each sound separately, then hold both sounds in your awareness simultaneously, and with equal importance.  Hear both of the sounds, and the relationship between them.

Step 3: Observe this relationship, and your reaction to it.  Don't do anything, just watch as the sounds slightly change and subtle reactions occur.  Are you happy with the sounds?  Do you want to change them?

Step 4: If you feel the need to change, wait until the wanting to change becomes overwhelming, then allow this desire create the change.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you want to end.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5 with more players.  Take enough time in Step 2 to direct your awareness to each players individual sound, and to all sounds together.

Exercise 15: Hearing Relationship
A great tool for recognition and awareness is to practice hearing and naming the relationships that occur during an improvisation.

Step 1: Two people play a short duet improvisation.

Step 2: Discuss the relationship between the two players.  How would you describe it?  Did it change over the course of the duet?  If the players were not aware of their relationship have them play another duet, this time focusing awareness on what the other person is playing.  Pay particular attention to the choices made at each "ending point" (the point where one thing ends and something else begins). 

Exercise 50: Coming Together 1
This exercise is good practice in being strong, yet flexible.  In order for it to work, you must come in with your strongest idea, yet be willing to go to whatever becomes the consensus.  Don't focus on playing the same thing, focus on moving to the same place.  This can be done with a group texture as well as a group groove.

Step 1: Improvise a group groove.

Step 2: Everyone gradually gravitate to playing one thing together.

There are many improvisational exercises that can help give you tools for greater awareness when improvising.  The key to all of them is to freely and equally accept into your sphere of awareness what you are doing and what others are doing.  Allow this to create a third awareness: an awareness of the relationship between the two.  

Remembering this relationship allows the possibility of spontaneous group composition over longer forms, so next week I will talk about memory and improvisation.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Form in Improvisation: Part 1

One of my readers asked:  " I wonder if you could say something on your blog about improvisational form. How it emerges either consciously or unconsciously, and different exercises one might practice for developing form in improvisation."

Great topic!  Unless you are only going to improvise in a completely stream of (un)consciousness manner,  you will eventually confront the idea of form, because humans are form creators and sense makers.  It's just what we do.  Give us a mess of stuff, and we will make sense out of it.  Give us a series of random sounds and our minds create a pattern.  Give us chaos, and we will find the form inside it.  

In this universal sense, we are naturally and unconsciously always trying to create sense and form, and it is extremely satisfying when we succeed.  There are three basic skills that give us a better chance of succeeding in the creation of sense and form, both individually and as a group. 

The first is awareness.  You have to be aware of what you are playing without interfering with the flow of it. You have to simultaneously be aware of what everyone else is playing, and it's relation to you, without having it interfere with your flow.  Unless there is an individual and group awareness of what is being improvised, you can't spontaneously compose with it.

The second is memory. Every form besides ABCD etc. involves returning to something that was played previously in the improvisation.  In order to return to something, you have to remember it.

The third is a group willingness and ability to spontaneously compose together, to allow formal elements to occur naturally and fluidly in the course of an improvisation.

I will deal with each of these in the following weeks, and include some exercises to use in practicing them.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Free vs. Traditional Jazz Teaching

 A common concern of many of my colleagues who are engaged in teaching improvisation is the resistance of the more traditional jazz education community to non-jazz improvisation pedagogy.  I find this kind of in-fighting between improvisers to be distressingly short-sighted and self destructive.

Jazz pedagogy has performed an admirable role.  It has made it possible for millions of  people to study and delight in one of the predominant forms of improvised music.  It has painstakingly carved a place for the study of improvisation in conservatories and music departments of schools and colleges throughout the world. 

But it really is time to acknowledge that the study and teaching of improvised music, (and of improvisation itself), has moved far beyond the confines of any particular genre.  There is a growing understanding of the fundamental role that improvisation plays in music, the arts, creativity, learning, therapy - in all parts of life.  There are classes that teach improvisational comedy, theater, dance, art, and therapy.  There are people studying the influence and possibilities of improvisation in education, in the workplace, and in society in general.  Learning about improvisation is no longer limited to learning about improvising jazz. 

In this larger context, the benefits of teaching and practicing free improvisation are undeniable. 

• It benefits everyone.
Teaching free improvisation directly explores the process of improvisation.  Since this process is integral to pretty much everything we do, free improvisation is useful for everyone.  

• It can be done with anyone. 
It can be taught to people with any amount of experience, musical knowledge or instrumental skill.  It can be done with any instrumentation or size of the group.  It can be done with anyone, from any musical genre. 

• It is capable of many kinds of cross fertilization.
The process of improvisation is the same, no matter what product we are creating with it.  This means there is vast potential for cooperation and cross training throughout all areas that have improvisational curriculum.

Free improvisational pedagogy is not a replacement for traditional jazz pedagogy, it is a supplement to it, and having it available benefits even the most traditional jazz teachers and students. 

• It helps players be better improvisers. 
A better improviser is better at improvising, no matter what their chosen genre.  I would even say a better improviser is a better musician (and a better person) - but that's a post for another day!

• It creates greater interest in improvisation.
When people get a taste of what it's like, many of them develop a strong interest in creativity and improvisation.  This exploration often leads to greater interest and understanding of jazz.

•  It attracts more people to the music department.  
Jam band, folk, rock, and other players who aren’t involved in the typical music department all enjoy and benefit from this training.  Having more people involved creates more publicity and possibilities.

These are just a few of the potential benefits.  The possibilites are just beginning to be explored.  The fact is, any forward looking music department should welcome and embrace a strong non-stylistic improvisation pedagogy as a highly desirable facet of any music program. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Improvisation Is For Everyone

Tom Hall and Lennie Peterson • ARTsWorcester  2010

I improvised an event called “Improvisation in Life and Art(s)” last week with Lennie Peterson and Mark Campbell. Lennie talked about improvising and improvised a drawing of Duke Ellington, while Mark improvised some looped guitar and I talked about improvisation, played sax with Mark, and facilitated some improvised audience participation. At the end, Lennie joined us on trombone for a trio version of Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”.

The people there, ranging from ages 12 to 85, loved it. More than one person told me that they came out of some kind of obligation, but ended up absolutely enjoying themselves. More than one person came to me and said they had never thought of themselves as an improviser, but now realized how much they improvise in their life and work.

Despite my own evangelical confidence in the importance of improvisation, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by how easily and gratefully all these different kinds of people embraced the ideas we presented. Once their awareness was pointed in that direction, improvisation just naturally made sense to them as a way of understanding themselves and the world.

More affirmation - it really is true. Improvisation is for everyone.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Art of the Obvious

Don’t be afraid to be obvious. Don’t be afraid to let your intentions be known.

Improvisers often become so caught up with being free, being new, being unexpected, being bold, being avant-garde, being different; that they avoid (and may even disdain) the obvious, the expected, the inevitable. But the ability to be clear and obvious about your intentions is an essential part of group improvisation, one that is often ignored.

Last Sunday, I had the immense pleasure of hosting Session X, with myself on saxes, Kevin Barry on guitar, Marty Ballou on bass, Dean Johnston on drums, and April Hall on vocals. All master musicians (in many different styles), and I had brought them together to improvise with me. I had framed the evening’s improvisations to be about the groove, but that’s about all I said. When listening back to the music it sounds like a killer band playing some loose, funky, grooving tunes. It doesn’t sound particularly weird, or different, or avant-garde. But it’s completely improvised.

And believe me when I tell you, it is incredibly difficult to improvise music this clear, music that people can hear and understand, music that grooves and has beats, and bass lines and melodies and lyrics – all the things you would expect to hear from a funk band, but not necessarily from an improvisational quintet. It takes an immense amount of patience, and commitment, and deep, deep listening. And a willingness to let your intentions be known, to be obvious, to commit to a focus and to share it freely.

There is an art to being obvious. There is joy in understanding and being understood. And sometimes the hardest thing to improvise is a (seemingly) simple and beautiful group composition that just flat out feels good and makes sense.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Exerpt from Chapter Two of Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide

When people get together to do something there is usually an established set of social agreements about what they will be doing and how they are expected to go about doing it. There is a different set of agreements for attending school and attending a sporting event, or for playing in a blues band as opposed to playing in an orchestra.

Freely improvised music doesn't necessarily rely on established musical styles or structures, so many of the common agreements people have about improvising and playing music together simply don't apply. But eventually, every group comes to some kind of mutual agreement about how to improvise together. Whether conscious or unconscious, implicit or explicit, these agreements always exist.

For the purposes of practicing free improvisation, I find it useful to begin with a set of agreements that creates maximum openness and room for exploration. The specific agreements of any group will evolve over time, depending on the interests and focus of that particular group, but the following ideas are a good starting point for exploration...

The pot drips... Part III

One of the reasons I detest the genre-ization of free improvisation is that I am a passionate advocate of the most open, the freest definition of it.

Reaching a mutual understanding about “improvisation” seems to get easier and easier. Although there are lots of ideas about how to improvise, and lots of potential for quibbling about what’s truly improvisational and what isn’t, everybody knows what it is and can easily understand it. It’s kinda like breathing. We all do it. It’s an unconscious and omnipresent part of being alive. We barely notice it most of the time, but if it’s brought to our consciousness we can easily become aware of it, and can learn to use it in all different kinds of ways to make us stronger and make our life better.

But lots of people seem to want to attach a limiting definition to the “free” part. I know there’s a historical and political journey that leads to a sense that it refers to freedom from something... freedom from traditional forms, ideas, etc. I understand why this is so, but I feel no need to be constrained by those ideas, any more than the free pioneers felt the need to be constrained by the ideas and boundaries of bebop.

To me, the “free” in free improvisation means I am free to do whatever I want to do.

Of course, as soon as I say that, I start bumping up against all the real (and imagined) limitations of freely improvised music.

I know some things (like grooves, melodies, and music that sounds more traditional) are not conventionally considered a part of the “free improvisers” palette. So what? I am not practicing free improvisation to be conventional – even if it’s the convention of being unconventional. I consider ALL my entire personal universe of sound to be available to me as a part of my improvised communication.

I know some things (like complicated unison melodies and chord changes) are virtually impossible to freely improvise as a group. Well, that’s what composition is for...

I know some things are relatively easy to do when you are freely improvising. (These are often the same things people talk about when they say free improvisation is a genre.)

I know there are other things that are more difficult to do (and that doesn’t particularly mean more out, or even more complex). These are the things you have to PRACTICE, whether by years of playing stuff together, or by actually practicing improvisation together as a group. These are the things I’m most interested in exploring – which means working out with the same group of folks, because the only way to gain that kind of individual and group awareness of musical and improvisational possibilities is to practice doing it together.

You play what you know. The pot drips what is in it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Pot drips... Part II

Not long after my last blog post, while I was still contemplating how to proceed with Part II, I opened up Facebook, to see that Samm Bennett (who shared my first free improv experiences in Ensemble Garuda) had written "Free Improvisation is a genre."

I think it's a telling sign that, out of nowhere, this person with whom I have shared countless hours of improvising writes a thought that neatly encapsulates the dilemma I am writing and thinking about. My first reaction was one of horror (Noooooooo!!!!) then of childish petulance (Is NOT!), then my public persona got the upper hand, and I wrote a more measured response: "Oh well, back to the drawing board. Can I be a genre too?" To which he replied "Yes, Tom! We can ALL be genres!"

But I don't want to be a genre, and I don't want free improvisation to be a genre, and despite my last post's hinting towards a Part II about the inherent limitations of free improvisation as a musical process, I believe that the limits of the process of free improvisation have barely been explored. I believe that many of the perceived limitations of "free improvisers" are as much the result of a lack of disciplined group improvising practice, and an acceptance of self imposed stylistic boundaries, as they are a limitation of the process itself.

The pot drips what is in it.

(to be continued)

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Pot Drips What Is In It

I've been thinking of this as You play what you know, but today, in a Rumi poem, I found a more evocative way to put it:

The pot drips what is in it.

This is true for each of us as individuals, and equally true when we're improvising together.

The pot drips what is in it.

I love doing The Sessions. I love improvising with other people who love improvising. But throughout all the wonder and surprise of playing spontaneous music, with all different kinds of improvisers, one thing is always true.

The pot drips what is in it.

This is one reason why free improvisation is simultaneously so compelling and so frustrating to me. Compelling because it is a gift and a privilege to share creation with other people so openly and intimately - to taste what is in their pot. The act of sharing in this way overflows with creative joy, and power, and boundless energy.

Frustrating because we are sharing this through the act of creating sound together, and sound is physical and finite, contained and created through boundaries and limits. We embody even our most free and open creative intention through the physical act of creating sonic spaces and boundaries...

More on this later. For now here's the poem I read today

The Phrasing Must Change

Learn about your inner self from those who know such things,
but don't repeat verbatim what they say.
Zuleikha let everything be the name of Joseph, from celery seed
to aloes wood. She loved him so much she concealed his name
in many different phrases, the inner meanings
known only to her. When she said, The wax is softening
near the fire, she meant, My love is wanting me.
Or if she said, Look, the moon is up or The willow has new leaves
or The branches are trembling or The coriander seeds
have caught fire or The roses are opening
or The king is in a good mood today or Isn't that lucky?
Or the furniture needs dusting or
The water carrier is here or It's almost daylight or
These vegetables are perfect or The bread needs more salt
or The clouds seem to be moving against the wind
or My head hurts or My headache's better,
anything she praises, it's Joseph's touch she means,
any complaint, it's his being away.
When she's hungry, it's for him. Thirsty, his name is a sherbet.
Cold, he's a fur. This is what the Friend can do
when one is in such love. Sensual people use the holy names
often, but they don't work for them.
The miracle Jesus did by being the name of God,
Zuleikha felt in the name of Joseph.

When one is united to the core of another, to speak of that
is to breathe the name Hu, empty of self and filled
with love. As the saying goes, The pot drips what is in it.
The saffron spice of connecting, laughter.
The onion smell of separation, crying.
Others have many things and people they love.
This is not the way of Friend and friend.

-- Mathnawi VI: 4020-43
Version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
HarperSanFrancisco, 1995

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Improvisation: More Important Than Ever

Now, more than ever, being a competent and aware improviser is the best grounding I can think of for a joyful and fulfilling life.

The ability to freely improvise is more important now than at any time since the invention of the movable type printing press. The primary issue is no longer how to find information, but what to do with it. Our ability to creatively interact (to improvise) with the information around us is becoming more and more important relative to the ability to store and reproduce that information. Cultural structures (like schools and arts institutions) that once placed the highest value on acquisition (of knowledge, music, media, information, etc.) are being overwhelmed by the new paradigm of nearly instantaneous access to a continual flow of information, a constant barrage of creative input and output.

But the people growing up in this environment are not overwhelmed. There is spontaneous creation and improvisation happening all over the place, and I'm finding that many of my current improvisation students have an intuitive knowledge and understanding of free improvisation that was rare in students of 15 years ago. Improvisation is a bigger part of their life, so they understand improvisational concepts more easily and use them more fluidly.

It really is time for the teaching and practicing of improvisation to come to the forefront of education of all kinds.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Finding the Way In: Part II

The second part of my conversation with Carl Bergstrom-Nielson (

Tom: I have found that for others, being silent is not the best initial method. These people may respond better to other instructions.

Carl: Oh! Like what, for instance? (One thing coming to my mind is John Stevens exercise of making "flurries", anything easy-to-make-up-and-down - I do something a bit similar with students, "Exploring Instruments" - stressing that the sounding outcome is completely unimportant. Only later they are required to listen and do something about the sound...)

Tom: Yes, I use similar kinds of exercises too. Particularly with people who are blocked because they have strong ingrained ideas of what their instrument "should" sound like, or are afraid to make a "wrong" sound. I ask them to allow an impulse to movement to control them, or that they think of it as making a gesture instead of as making a sound (similar to "flurries") , or I impose some physical restriction on them or their instrument so they can't play it in their habitual way (turn the hands wrong way around, play with fists or a smaller number of fingers, play with only some parts of their instrument, etc.). Sometimes just telling them not to play any notes breaks the ice.

I've found some people respond to playing while moving - somehow being in motion unsticks them. Some people I use surprise - playing a game where I dramatically and suddenly cue different people to play and stop (putting the focus on me and not on what they are going to do). That sometimes helps them learn they can play from impulse, without thinking about it, and that it's fun. Some people will "get it" if I first do a fun theatre exercise that allows them to improvise with movement and/or vocalization, then pick up their instruments and do a simple exercise, with the instruction to be as playful and have as much fun playing on their instrumensts as they did without instruments. Sometimes I have to go back and forth between the two to get the point across.

At the beginning of the semester I will often participate in an exercise and do something very dramatic, overexaggerated, silly, and fun, (either as part of a theatre warmup, or on my instrument). This often seems to relax those who may be worried about appearing silly - no matter what they do after that, they could not possibly appear any sillier than me!

Some people seem to respond best as part of the group - they will do things while other people are playing that they would not do by themselves. As they get comfortable responding freely as part of the group, I gradually put them more in the spotlight, until they feel as comfortable with the attention focused on them...

Some people respond to emotion. If I can get them focused on intensely feeling a particular emotion (either one that seems very familiar to them, or whatever emotion it is they are feeling that moment), then say "Now - play that!", they will make spontaneous sounds.

Some people respond to the idea that no matter how hard they try, they cannot disguise themselves - that how they really feel will come through one way or another. This approach works best when someone makes an accidental or unintended sound that is obviously expressive of how they actually are feeling - I bring it to their attention, and use it as a "way in" - by having them repeat and exaggerate the thing they just did. Sometimes, just the knowledge that that little weird accidental thing they did was totally expressive and made sense is enough to help them relax and begin to play more freely.

Some people I can unblock by unblocking their bodies. Sometimes you can see how the way they are holding themselves physically is a way of blocking themselves. I point this out, talking about how we improvise music with our whole selves, not just with our mouths and hands and instruments. Then I demonstrate it on them in various ways - sometimes having them exaggerate their habitual pose and play from that place, sometimes encouraging a different pose, sometimes directing their attention to various things with actual touch (making sure to get permission before doing this!!) while they are playing.

Mostly though, all it takes is my sincere and dramatic attention to them, what they are doing, and what it feels like when they do it, along with a heartfelt understanding that we are all here, doing it together. This is a chance to really, truly be ourselves, with no filters, and what we all want is to experience is an revelation of real self, expressed in sound. I can feel and hear the difference between when they are improvising something that's real to them, and when they are just playing stuff on their instrument, and with a little attention those that have difficulty with the concept learn to understand and appreciate the difference as well.

Finding the Way In: Part I

Here are some excerpts from an e-mail conversation with an esteemed colleague of mine, Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen, about some of the ideas and exercises in my book. Carl is a composer, music coach, musicologist, and music therapist based in Denmark. His wonderful website, chock full of insights and information about improvisation, can be found at:

Carl: It's interesting how you describe your basic point of departure as being silent first and listen both outwards and inwards. Very close to what I do, but interesting to see this formulated as a general advice. Did any of your students etc. ever comment on this instruction?

Tom: As you say, it is a basic point of departure, and it is a good way to start for most people. Being silent and directing their awareness inwards allows them the opportunity to experience their initial creative impulse, and the improvisation exercises give them a safe framework in which to express it. I have found people experience this impulse in many different ways, some can "listen" and hear it, some "see" it, some experience it as a feeling, or as a impulse to movement.

For others, being silent is not the best initial method. These people may respond better to other instructions. Almost always, once they have experienced even one conscious moment of freely expressing a creative impulse, they are able and willing to duplicate and build on that experience. Establishing a safe group environment is essential. Having an experienced teacher (who understands when they are blocking their free expression, and who knows different methods they can use try to get around that blocking) is very useful.

In my theory, everyone already knows how to improvise. For some, it may feel like a huge step to connect that understanding to improvising sounds together, but creating sound is actually a very natural way to express oneself, and everyone already does it, to some degree, every day. For people that have difficulty making that step, I spend time with them one on one, trying different things to guide them to a recognition of what that experience feels like to them. Once they have that ""Aha" moment of recognition, it becomes much easier.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Life is one Big Improvisation

It's my motto, because I believe this is the most important point that any advocate of improvisation can make. It directly contradicts the predominant cultural meme that says improvisation is some mysterious, abstract, and hopelessly complicated act, most often committed by an elitist group of weirdos. Oddly, this meme is not just held by people who have never thought much about improvising, it is also accepted by many improvisers, and for some it is even a point of pride.

Life is one big improvisation, and every human is a master improviser. It’s simple and it’s true, and like any simple truth about our basic nature, it extends into every part of our lives. Everything we do, everything we learn, and everything we create is a part of our ongoing improvisation with the world. Like thinking, or remembering, or feeling, it’s both the most incredible magic, and the most pedestrian exercise of a basic human faculty.

It’s a simple truth. Improvisation is a basic part of human existence, something that everyone does all the time, and intuitively understands. I want everyone to know that they are improvisers. I want everyone to feel free to have fun improvising whatever it is they enjoy doing. I want everyone to assume they will enjoy the experience of other people improvising. After a recent show, the father of one of students said “I didn’t think I would like this, but I was really surprised. I could understand what you were doing!”

I consider that to be a great compliment.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Out With the In, Old With the New

A new decade, and the pendulum is swinging. After a time of much ingoing learning (having a child and all that goes with it; thinking, and talking, and thinking, and writing, and playing, and writing about improvising; playing with all the wonderful groups that I so enjoy) this new decade opens with a flurry of going out and outgoing. A new website, a new book, a new CD, an ongoing improvisation series, all this stuff that puts me out there, in front of all of you, doing what it is I do. It's exciting and fun, and often feels a bit daring.

I don't what this blog will be exactly. I do know I will speak my own thoughts, in my own voice, just as I do when I am improvising music. And just like playing music, I hope that someone may find it interesting, or amusing, or even illuminating.

Please feel free to engage me in dialogue of any kind. It would be nice to know that my thoughts don't stop at the end of this sentence...