Our traditional western music education system has the concept of improvisation backward.
Many of us have been led to believe that improv is something that happens only after we’ve learned a heap of scales and chords inside out and become Jedi masters of our instruments. But while we give all respect to our monster improv heroes, we at Musical U have come to believe that improvisation can be a faithful companion from the very first step of your musical journey.
In fact, you can begin your improvisation with just one, two, or three notes.
The most magical thing about learning three-note improv is that this exercise isn’t just for beginners – in fact, many competent shredders have found new meaning in their improv by breaking it down to just a few notes, and focusing intently on the rhythm, dynamics, articulation, and other musical dimensions that can be lost when trying to squeeze too many notes into too little space.
And for singers…
Singers, on the other hand, are often used to some extent of playing improvisationally with their voices. However, a musical topic that mystifies many singers is harmonies. Why do some singers seem to naturally sink right into those sweet sounds, while others are totally baffled?
So while in this month’s Instrument Packs the Guitar, Bass, and Piano Pros will show just how deep you can go with just three notes, Singing Pro Clare Wheeler shows how a little dose of music theory takes the mystery out of creating beautiful harmonies.
In this Resource Pack, Resident Singing Pro Clare Wheeler looks at one of the ways we can create our own harmony lines to a melody. There are several different ways we can do this, but this particular video is about using parallel harmony in thirds. This means that we need to understand which scale degree the melody is on, and go up a third from there:
- Recap on scale degrees
- Identify the scale degrees of a simple melody
- Learning about triads
- Working out a harmony using the parallel approach
- MP3s that illustrate the exercises
Clare demonstrates clearly that just a little music theory can be a singer’s best friend – especially when it comes to creating beautiful harmonies.
When learning to improvise, it’s alarmingly easy to put all of your focus onto note choice and scale work. While important, this sort of work is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other facets that need to be developed if you want to sound like a true master of the instrument. Resident Pro Dylan Welsh demonstrates how three little notes can open up a world of musicality for guitar players:
- The most important individual elements to develop outside of note choice.
- How to work on each element individually and in isolation, so nothing gets left out of your routine.
- How to combine all of the elements while still limiting note choice, thus allowing you to experience just how much freedom you have even when only using 1, 2, or 3 notes.
- MP3 backing tracks in two different keys and time signatures
This kind of practice is very, very structured and targeted. It may feel like work, but if you put the time in, it will make a massive difference in your improvising (as well as in all other aspects of your guitar playing).
Improvisation can be scary when we think about the 88 different options on the piano.
The truly scary thing is that there are even more options than that! When we improvise we’re not just thinking about which notes to play, but when we play them, how long we play them for, and how we play them. Too many options right?
In this resource pack, Guest Piano Pro for piano, Ruth Power, teaches how to simplify and expand into new musical dimensions:
- How to choose as little as 1, 2 or 3 pitches to create motifs and phrases.
- How to fluff around and solidify a basic rhythm for that pitch.
- How to create variation with articulation and dynamics.
- Extra three-note improv tips and tricks.
- MP3 backing tracks for you to practice hands separately before you put them together.
We can create something musically textured with just three notes or even less by focussing on how we can make each note special. This makes it interesting for the listener and expresses an idea or feeling rather than running up and down the requisite scale as fast as possible!
Why improvise with only 3 notes!? Because limiting your note choices will refocus your mind on many other aspects of your playing and creativity that make your playing sound much more musical. Steve Lawson, our Resident Pro for bass, takes us on a systematic tour of three-note improv that will bring a deeper sense of musicality to everything you play:
- learn how to improvise with three notes!
- learn all the possible combinations of those three notes as patterns for improv.
- begin thinking about the relationship between phrasing and implied harmony
- using rhythmic combinations to add variety and interest to a limited range of notes
- extending our phrases through repeated notes
- using a shifting bass note to completely change the feel of a melody
- repeating phrases for dramatic effect
- MP3 backing tracks to your new jam skills
Who says bassists have to sit in the corner while everyone else gets the glory? With just three notes you bring your improv out front.
Coming up next month…
Singers will continue to grow their harmony skills, while bass, piano, and guitar will learn to improvise with harmonic tension and release.
Interested in getting access to these resources and much more, with an Instrument Pack membership? Just choose that option during checkout when you join Musical U, or upgrade your existing membership to get instant access!
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