I can improvise
At sight but ants will still eat
Half of my cabbage.
Today's question was posted by Ugochukwu. He wants to learn how to improvise at sight or with some practice.
Listen to our full answer at #AskVidasAndAusra
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Vidas: Hi, guys. This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And we're starting Episode 27 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. Today's question was sent by Ugochukwu. He writes, "Hello, Vidas. I want to be able to play and improvise at sight or practice before performance what to improvise. I don't know how to go about it."
Basically, Ausra, he wants to be able to improvise, right?
Vidas: Either at sight, spontaneously, or practice beforehand and then be able to improvise, as I understand.
Ausra: Well, I think to be able to improvise spontaneously doesn't happen very often for beginners.
Vidas: But any person can improvise spontaneously, right?
Ausra: Well, yes, but the results might not be as you wish them to be.
Vidas: Yes, because our ideas, how we hear them in the head, are different from what we can play, right?
Vidas: We are fluent, perhaps more fluent with our thoughts than with our playing.
Ausra: That's true. In the beginning, I would suggest not to practice what you're going to improvise, not necessarily to know it by heart, but still maybe to have some sort of blueprint.
Vidas: Good idea, Ausra. About blueprint. Let's suggest for people to do it in step-by-step system. The first step would be to write everything down, the entire piece, for example.
Ausra: Maybe not entire piece.
Vidas: That would be later to omit something. Right now, it's very good to exercise writing down things. This way you don't have to think about what to play. Then step two would be to start omitting measures. The second step would be to write down, but not everything. Maybe the soprano line and the bass line. Or the themes only, themes with some contrapoints in it, so that you can improvise a little bit more this way. The next step would be just to write down the theme and add something else, right?
Vidas: And what the ultimate step would look like?
Ausra: Maybe just write down tonal plan.
Vidas: The blueprint, outline, without notes.
Vidas: I think that would be possible to achieve. Ausra, do you think that people could benefit from analyzing pieces that they already play?
Ausra: Of course.
Vidas: And use those pieces as models, right?
Ausra: Yes, especially we have to talk about musical form, because what I think some improvisers do wrong, in my opinion, they don't put exact form of musical piece into what we are improvising, and then it just sounds whatever, like no beginning, no end, no culmination. So you need to think about musical form.
Vidas: It's an advanced question, but you could think about the form in just one way. The way people understand beginning, middle and end is if you introduce repetitions.
Vidas: If you play something new every time, every measure, it's like a dish has all kinds of ingredients, you don't know what it is. It's a mix of all kinds of things, and you can't really discover the ingredients. But if you repeat something, start repeating maybe one, two, three times, maybe not necessarily note-by-note repetition but with variation, your listeners will start to recognize.
Ausra: I think for beginners variations is a very good genre to improvise, because you have a theme which repeats all the time, and then you just mix something a little bit.
Vidas: When I improvise, for example, free type of composition. I create as I go. It's not based on preexisting material. I still need to think about the form, right?
Vidas: Obviously. So the way I do this is I try to remember what I played before, and then I play something new, and then I gradually repeat, introduce the old material also. So you interchange new material into old material, new material and old material. This way you can basically create very long and advanced forms which last 10, 20 or even more minutes.
Ausra: Yes, because if you will think about classical forms, it's so common still nowadays, #1 would probably be the sonata form and it has all those repetitions, firm repetitions.
Vidas: Sonata form has to have at least two themes. But most of the time it has four, right?
Vidas: If we count those additional secondary themes, like closing theme and the theme which connects the main theme and the secondary theme. They all have to be repeated in one way or another.
Ausra: Of course, for beginner improviser this form would be definitely too complex, too difficult. So what you could do is you could just improvise an ABA form, just do eight bars A section, then middle section B, also eight bars, and then ending section eight bars. It could be an exact repetition of the A section, but it could be a little bit different.
Vidas: Right. That's all you need to play for the entire prelude, before the service, usually, or interlude, a nice 24 measure interlude.
Vidas: That's what we call verset, right?
Vidas: In reality, it's a ternary exposition. There is binary exposition, also, which only has 16 measures, about 16 measures, where you have one idea and then you have another idea, but the binary exposition can have a recapitulation, too, like one phrase, one sentence taking from theme A, and that completes the introduction exposition.
Ausra, do you think this is useful for people?
Ausra: I hope so.
Vidas: They could try this and practice, right?
Ausra: Yes, and tell us how it's went.
Vidas: Yes, give us your feedback. We are giving you all kinds of advice and ideas to try and practice, but they might work for us but they might not work for you. So please try them and practice them and let us know how it went.
Vidas: And send us more questions. The best way to connect with us is, of course, through email at www.organduo.lt. You can subscribe to our blog, and then you reply to any of our messages. Okay. Don't forget that right now we have a 30-day free trial of Total Organist program. If you want to advance, let's say, in improvisation, we have quite a few programs there, and you can take advantage for entire month. Try them out. If you like them, keep them. If you don't like, then cancel. It doesn't matter. The most important thing is that you really do something with this information and apply it in practice. People who do that say that it really helps. Okay. This was Vidas …
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Remember, when you practice ...
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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