IMPROVISATION IN THE VCE MUSIC PERFORMANCE STUDY DESIGN

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1 IMPROVISATION IN THE VCE MUSIC PERFORMANCE STUDY DESIGN Improvisation can form a significant component of a VCE music performance course over two years, as outlined in the Music Performance Study Design (MPSD). Material and repertoire covered in Units 1 and will ideally prepare students for the improvisation option in Unit 3 Outcome 2. Unit 1 (MPSD page 12) allows for improvisation-based music to form the core material for the ensemble component in this unit. Most areas of study outlined can be dealt with from an improvisation perspective, with specific practical improvisation options available in Outcomes 1 and 4. Unit 2 allows for improvisation-based music to form the core material for the ensemble component in this unit, and contains two improvisation options (Areas of Study 1 Performance skill development and Outcome 1 SDPM page ) Some of the work covered in this unit, especially chord and scale work, can be dealt with via improvisation study. Group Performance Unit 3 Outcome 2, Improvisation option is a specific improvisation-focussed study, and will ideally follow on from Units 1 and 2, although this is not a prerequisite. Group Performance 4 contains a small allowance for improvisation in Outcome 1. In both Solo Performance 3 and 4, Outcome 2 allows for spontaneous performance within a set style, which can be improvisation. Group Performance Unit 3 Outcome 2, Improvisation option This option consists of the preparation, performance, recording and analysis of an improvisation, with an end of year written task. School-assessment task: This assessment task should be completed in minutes of class time, although the amount of time spent working on this area prior to the assessment task is unspecified and can be much longer - should be much longer! Students with previous improvisation experience in ensembles and supportive principal instrument teachers will have distinct advantages with regard to the development of skills and preparation of material. The tune that is selected for the assessment task should be given to the students at the start of the task- it might be in a similar style to one they have worked through previously but they shouldn't know the actual tune. They then spend the suggested minutes developing, recording and writing the brief report - clearly the more experience they have, the further they will be able to go in minutes. Although the study design says "Works for study in this outcome should be drawn from mainstream styles such as blues, modal jazz, fusion and 32 bar standards", material can be drawn from any mainstream genre that utilises improvisation as a central aspect of musical expression. For example, Rock and related styles, North and South Indian classical music, Irish folk music, African drumming, Latin and South American

2 styles, freeform contemporary improvisation etc. The specific skills and experiences of teachers and students will determine the most appropriate area. The Key Skills (outlined on page 28) are easily applied to all mainstream structures, which will have their own repertoire, body of recorded material for listening, and rhythmic, harmonic and melodic systems for study and application as appropriate. Following are suggestions of approaches to the study and preparation of material in jazz-based styles. Several references and support materials are also listed. These suggestions form the basis of an approach to the development of improvisation skills, and can be applied over a number of years in instrumental lessons, classes and ensembles, or distilled to form a crash course in jazz improvisation. They can be applied to both simple and complex harmonic progressions and forms with equal benefit. For example 12 bar blues So What (Miles Davis) and complex for example Giant Steps (John Coltrane), Desafinado (Antonio Carlos Jobim) Preparation for an improvisation A number of specific areas must be addressed before fluent improvisations can be consistently achieved through predetermined harmonic progressions. These include: Memorisation of the melody (in severalor 12 keys if possible) Memorisation of the harmonic progressionand form Developing technical fluency and improvisational skills on each chord in the harmonic progression. Developing technical fluency and improvisational skills through the chord progression, with an understanding of tonalities and common sequences such as and blues progressions if appropriate. Developing rhythmic and melodic sense, and stylistic awareness Memorisation of Melody This essential starting point teaches the form and melodic content of the tune. Learning in 12 keys will engage the student for maybe 40 or 50 repetitions rather than four or five in one key, and is great for aural internalisation of the tune, and developing knowledge of keys and scales. It also allows the player to refer easily to the tune whenimprovising, and provides a resource of related melodic material. Exercises Work through one phrase at a time in all keys, until the whole tune can be played fluently in any key. Always relate the phrase to the key and chord progression. Analyse the phrase into a number formula (eg cdefg =12345 in c major)for easy transposition into other keys. Relate the melody to the chord progression, and analyse harmonically.

3 Memorisation of harmonic progression The following exercises are easier with either a midi accompaniment or play-along CD such as published by Jamey Aebersold. Play root notes through the chord progression, firstly with sustained notes, then with simple rhythmic riffs (taken from the melody or standard jazz language). The more the root progression is played, the stronger the aural understanding of the harmonic sequence will be. When comfortable with root notes, start adding other chord tones (3rds, 5ths, 7ths) to the riffs. Extract a riff or melodic shape from the melody, and transpose it into each chord in the progression. Or, transcribe a phrase from your favourite player, adapt it to each chord, and play it through the progression Now try a duet of melody and rootchord progression, one player plays melody and one the root progression. Analysis of melody related to chord progression will assist memorisation of both aspects Developing technical fluency and improvisational skills on each chord in a harmonic progression. Equal improvisational ability is required on each chord in a progression, so specific exercises are required to build technical skills, especially in unfamiliar keys. Improvisation practice is needed to build a working vocabulary on each chord. Learn the chords as arpeggios to the 9 th degree eg 13579, and practise in as many variations and inversions as possible. Invent patterns and borrow from transcribed solos and tunes, and apply to all chords in the progression Learn the appropriate scale(s) for each chord, practise scale patterns and melodic shapes in every key. For a jazz scale syllabus, refer to Jamey Aebersold play-alongs, Jazzworx "The Improv Book" vol 1,2,3, or any number of available jazz theory references. Improvise to a backing track which stays on one chord. Make up a midi track, or use a play-along Cd. The Jazzworx series is excellent for this work. While improvising, focus on a specific aspect of the scale or your instrument to develop new approaches and skills. For example; focus on developing low range phrases by limiting the range to the lowest octave, leave out certain scale degrees (eg no root note and 4th on a major scale), choose a particular rhythm to play with, exploring various placements within a bar or across beats. Developing technical fluency and improvisational skills through a chord progression Once each chord in the progression has been studied, try improvising through the entire progression. At first stick strictly to chord tones, perhaps even limiting to roots and thirds, and focus on developing rhythmic ideas. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL TO DEVELOP!!!! An effective improvisation can be created using only chord tones. It is a skill which seems simple but actually requires clear knowledge of chords, the progression, and stylistic nuances. The initial aim is to play only right notes, not to create an intricate harmonic masterpiece just yet! More complex improvisations will evolve as familiarity with the material develops.

4 Should problems emerge in any specific part of a progression, isolate the problem chords, and revise all the above exercises, including practising back and forth between the two problem chords. Wrong notes are generally due to either insufficient knowledge of a specific chordscale or part of the chord progression, and either weakness is easily remedied. Developing technical fluency and improvisational skills through chord progressions in general Most progressions are made up of combinations of common sequences such as 251, key circle movements, blues progressions etc. Knowledge of and the ability to improvise on these basic progressions allows song forms and structures to be understood and learned quickly (Important for this assessment task!!) Play-along CDs by Jamey Aebersold (especially covering the 251 progression, turnarounds, and cycles)and the Jazz Worx series cover this material, and many other references are available with exercises and suggestions. Rhythmic and Melodic Development Melodic and rhythmic material from the melody being studied can provides a starting point for exercises in this area. Exercises: These exercises would initially be practised on each chord and scale separately, applied to the chord progression, then used as the basis for improvisation practice through the chord progression. For the purpose of these examples, the basic thematic material is the first three notes of "All of Me'. These notes (CGE) form a C major arpeggio descending with a specific rhythmn, which can be analysed in to the number formula 153 Melodic exercises Practise this motive formula on each chord in the progression, then apply to the whole progression in sequence. For example cge on C major, ebg# on E7 etc Now, practise the same exercises using other inversions of the arpeggio (eg 315) Try inverting the arpeggio 135 Use other chord tones 753,375 Turn it into a scale pattern (153,264,375,416 etc) Rhythmic Exercises Take the same motive (as above) and displace it onto the second, third or fourth beat of each bar Try making it a three beat motive by taking out the fourth beat, and play it through the chords so that the bars and phrases cross. Be inventive!!!! Create your own approach. Motivic Development exercises Practise using the same motive at the beginning, middle or end of phrases. Try using it at the start of each four bar section of the progression.

5 Try quoting the melody at the start of each four bar section, then improvising in between. Try improvising through the chords using a particular rhythm as much as possible Try improvising emphasising a particular chord degree, eg 3rd, at the start of each bar. Try starting each phrase with the same notes used to end the previous phrase. Identification and analysis of chords and chord extensions All the above exercises focus on developing a practical working knowledge of chords, scales, and melodic and rhythmic devices as applied to improvisation. Coupled with chord and scale theory covered in other Group performance areas (For example, Unit 2 and 3 Outcome 3) analytical skills dealing with identification and analysis of chords and chord extensions will develop parallel to the players chord and scale knowledge. Analyse transcriptions of master improvisers for insights into the construction of their melodic and harmonic concepts. Try the Charlie Parker Omnibook as a resource for seeing how one of the greatest jazz musicians constructed his lines and style. This book is an invaluable resource of licks and ideas. See how he constructs lines over 251 progressions. Analyse his tune Donna Lee, and notice the predominance of thirds of chords at the start of each bar! Study the variety of chord extensions used on dominant chords. Developing stylistic awareness Listen as much as possible! These days jazz is rarely part of the home environment, so we cannot be expected to have a natural understanding of the music to the level needed to improvise fluently and with stylistic accuracy unless a long term program of listening is embarked upon. Surf the internet for web-radio, home pages of musicians, downloadable recordings etc. Radio is also a good initial source for exposure to a wide variety of styles and players. Some programs include: o Jazztrack ABC-FM Saturdays and Sundays 5-7pm o Jazz on Saturday 9-11am and the Fusion Show 11-1pm 3PBS-FM Saturdays o Check programming guides (especially 3PBS-FM and 3MBS-FM)for more information on jazz, blues, and world music programs Transciption is an intensive form of listening, and recommended for developing an understanding of stylistic nuances, and as a vast resource of material to use while practising preparatory exercises and in performance. An easily achievable exercise is to transcribe a phrase or bar from a favourite solo, if possible from a tune being studied (as little as two or three notes is OK), and use the transcribed material as the basis for practising the exercises above. When improvising on the tune, the transcribed material can be used to add interest and stylistic authenticity to the solo. The fundamental differences between the various jazz styles lie in the combinations of various rhythmic approaches, chords, voicings and extensions, scales choices, melodic shapes and note selections. In order to develop in any particular stylistic direction, extensive listening needs to be undertaken to allow internalisation of the nuances of a particular style. Only then will these stylistic characteristics become a natural part of a player s style. A player s natural style will become obvious, and should be considered when selecting listening material, practice exercises and repertoire. Improvisation is most effective when it

6 flows naturally, so care needs to be taken to ensure that students are not placed in situations where their style is inappropriate for example, a bebop alto player in a heavy metal band, or a blues guitarist playing John Coltrane s Giant Steps.

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