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Sound Structures for Music Improvisation

by Renee Leech

Introduction: Did you say...Just play anything???

There is an art to playing an instrument. For technique, nothing beats the combination of a good teacher and an observant student. But practice is also necessary, and practice is basically self-teaching, in the absence of a teacher.

Music improvising is a form of practice (as well as performance) that can be intensely motivating. The feedback is instant and unique, compared to study of written music, exercises, and ear tunes. Improvising develops a player's knowledge of his/her instrument by drawing directly on the senses and musical intelligence of the player, totally involving the player.

The improvising musician is limited only by his/her depth of concentration, experimental nerve, and willingness to imagine the next sound. To be sure, technical skill can raise the technical level of an improvisation, but overreliance on technical knowledge could interfere with exploring basic concepts freely. To improvise, one need only have the confidence that one note, well listened to, will suggest another, and tonal patterns will develop which can be repeated, be varied, or provide a basis for contrasting material.

Because the keyboard provides a visual and tactile map, this ebook illustrates with the keyboard. However, the concepts relate to any instrument, and links pertaining to other instruments (particularly, the guitar) will be given, where relevant.

This ebook will cover many improvising structures. At times, one may wish to focus on using these structures within the limitations of a certain style. (See Lesson 1, "Work with a Style Model"). At other times, one may wish to transcend style and work directly with a rhythmic, tonal, and harmonic skeleton (See Lesson 2, "Work with a Sound Skeleton"). The simpler the skeleton, the more manageable the improvisation will be.

The lessons in this ebook do not need to be studied sequentially. Many can be used as randomly as the improvisation may be conceived, although some require more preparation than others.

To receive lessons as they are developed, please enter your email address at our Site Survey and select the "yes" option to receive email. Your additional comments to Renee Leech on these chapters, and what additions would be of interest to you, will be welcome.

Related Biographical Notes on Renee Leech

Throughout her youth, Renee Leech improvised music to expand on early piano lessons, school orchestra and church choir participation, and listening experiences. This website shares improvising ideas which Leech has found useful, presented here in light of her pedagogical studies.

While an undergraduate at California State University, San Jose, she worked as an improvising accompanist for creative dance and ballet classes. After receiving her teaching credential in English at CSU, San Francisco, she devoted eight years to raising her two young children, and teaching pre-piano and beginning piano, while earning Suzuki and Pace piano pedagogy certification. By testing, she later added Music to her California teaching credential.

Leech found the Robert Pace piano teaching method to encourage student creativity, and to profoundly organize concepts she had worked with as an improviser. Applying Pace concepts, she assisted her prepiano through intermediate students to compose music through structured improvisation. In a year of public grammar school music teaching (before budget cuts), she implemented lessons from major teaching series which utilized concepts taught by Pace, Orff, and other theorists.

Leech's amateur compositions have received some performances and include a string quartet, two symphonies which she considers studies, an opera, a children's operetta, two stand-alone choral movements (studies) from one symphony, and an (absurd) art song for voice and string quartet.


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