Improv – A classical musician’s advice to learning creative flow

Improv.jpgI’m a classically-trained musician.

Didn’t spend lots of time playing pop numbers growing up.

A bit here and there.

I learned music by reading.

And so I became used to reading by the book.

The issue?

I became so used to learning by the book, that I couldn’t dive in and improvise something to save my life.

The book was all I knew.

But music isn’t black dots on a white page. That’s only notation. And notation is so helpful for writing ideas down. But music is sound.

I’ve always loved that I-vi-IV-V progression – non-musicians, think Heart and Soul – sung by Bea Wain.

So I spent some time away from classical music. Listened to pop and other contemporary stuff – rock, musical theatre, easy listening.

I always loved those genres. But classical piano was such a big focus that I didn’t give myself space for other genres.

I’m not saying classical music is bad – it’s beautiful.

It’s a fantastic foundation for other genres of music because it teaches musicians about structure.

Structure is important – structure is the glue that holds something together.

But if all you know is structure, creatively, and all you think about is structure, it could stifle creativity.

And learning by the book teaches technique.

And good technique helps you play music well.

I studied music composition in school.

It forced me to take an idea and go with it. Sit at the piano, plunk a chord.

Play the chord.

Writing in G Major?

Start with G Major chord.

Okay, G Major is your focus – and you build everything around that chord – it all goes back to G Major.

Play another chord – this is where music theory is quite helpful – theory provides guidelines as to what works for your art. In music, theory provides guidelines as to what chords work in what keys and how to create a smooth chord progression.

The lesson from improv?

Take something and go with it.

If you’re more of a planner, and not-so-spontaneous, dive in and give improv a try.

If you’re a writer or artist, improve could look like stream-of-consciousness – just letting the ideas flow from your head onto the page.

You could create something that sounds bad.

You could create something that doesn’t sound half-bad.

You could create something that sounds good.

You could create something special.

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