Although classical musicians are taught from an early age to develop a balanced practice regimen, they often feel lost when it comes to practicing contemporary styles, improvisation, and related subjects.
Mastering improvisation requires a balanced practice regimen, just like mastering a concerto, which is why I’m laying out a common sense approach to practicing improvisation in a new 18-video playlist entitled “Anatomy of a Groove“. Watch it, save it to watch later, or share it here:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the playlist. Feel free to comment below this post.
Before I go through the contents, let’s rewind and think about the overview from which it stems.
The conversation within the classical community around improvisation and contemporary styles is convoluted, and the main reason for this is that classical musicians and educators, most of whom have only had cursory introductions to improvisation and contemporary styles, are unable to see the forest for the trees.
Rather than glazing over the subject, I’d like to see consensus develop around a curriculum, i.e., an extensive collection of lessons/skills/knowledge.
Jazz teachers around the world have developed a type of curriculum, but it can be alienating for classically trained musicians who aren’t looking to go “all in” and become outright jazzers. Classical musicians need a curriculum which makes room for jazz but doesn’t depend on it. They should be open to new realms of musicianship in which the pursuit of jazz is not requisite.
“Creative Strings” podcasts, online courses, summer conference, and outreach activities are based around presenting the body of information corresponding to these three pillars. Here is a break down of various modules which apply:
The video playlist above hits many of these subjects from the standpoint of a case study – an approach to learning a new tune. The tune itself is based on a simple two chord vamp. Hence, an “Anatomy of a Groove”:
The funky two-chord vamp is reminiscent of Grover Washington’s “Mr. Magic” or Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon”, and the backing track was made using my Yamaha Electric Violin with simple effects and a loop pedal.
How to practice arpeggios
The harmonic structure of the vamp is outlined as a recurring progression of two chords. How to practice the arpeggios is covered as one of many steps to internalizing the structure of this improvisational vehicle.
How to create a bass line
The process of creating a bass line is covered as well as some of the right hand techniques available to play a bass line on violin, viola, or cello
How to voice chords (aka play the inner voices)
2) Find the closest “voicing” on violin, viola, or cello so that you move the smallest possible distance between both double stops
How to create comping patterns (from a rhythmic and technical standpoint)
1) Ghosting arco at the tip of the bow
2) Chopping at the frog of the bow
3) Strumming guitar style striking the strings on all subdivisions
4) Strumming guitar style without striking the strings on all the subdivisions
How to practice pentatonic scales
Efficient ways to practice and internalize pentatonic scales on violin, viola, or cello
How to practice blues scales
Efficient ways to practice and internalize blues scales on violin, viola, or cello. The blues scale is just one workable strategy (of many) for creating effective improvisations on violin, viola, or cello.
How to identify the components of a good solo
This introduces the second half of our playlist and explains that, beyond being informed by a knowledge of the bass line, inner voices, and rhythmic structure, a good solo is comprised of diversity, repetition, and made more feasible when you have a “deep bag of tricks”, based on a series of criterion.
How to groove on violin, viola, and cello
One of the elements of any good solo or musical performance has to do with how to groove. Whether on violin, viola, or cello, or any other instrument really makes no difference! By monitoring your groove factor when you practice improvising, you can play concise or restrained ideas that are still compelling.