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MikkoKarhula

Improvisation can touch every part of playing

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Hi!

This improvisation section is to me "the source of life" in music. I have written a lot about creative playing, creativity that touches not only playing solos but the whole playing. Making practicing as creative that is possible you can get out of manners that rule your inner musical language. Also to get the personal way of sounding is to be honest to your self and improvise just to find right notes not to find right licks or theory-based thinking.

I think that this huge and important topic that can be talked days and days. I hope we get some discuss about it. Feel free to comment and contact. Here is video clip I made last summer at my parents summer cottage's veranda. It was something about 20 min long "song" and it started from one chord or a key and then I tried to make music for that rainy outside situation as freely I could.

Kindest, Mikko

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JanVigne    27

Mikko, If you would please, expand on and further explain this sentence, "Making practicing as creative that is possible you can get out of manners that rule your inner musical language."

You downplay the value of "theory based thinking" in your next sentence, " ... to get the personal way of sounding is to be honest to your self and improvise just to find right notes not to find right licks or theory-based thinking."

Yet, the only way I have found which leads to creative thinking is to learn, understand and follow theory. Knowing what has come before is, IMO, the map for breaking out of landing where everyone before you has gone.

I will grant you there are players who sound more like a theory based exercise than a musician creating music. And I also will grant you theory is there to be a series of guide posts where each player finds their own danger zone before their tires leave the pavement.

Not so much that rules are there only to be broken but that rules are there to be challenged. I see music as contextual and full of offerings for whatever and where ever a performer wishes to head.

However, IMO, the function of improvisation is largely restrained in the arts. It has a very small place in other performance style art pieces. For the most part, actors and dancers do not rely on improvisation for their finished work. Improvisation is not much more than a preparatory tool they might use in the development of the finished work.

In the static arts; photography, sculpture, painting, etc there are no "improvisational artists" I can bring to mind. There are those who broke with "tradition" but not, to my mind, those who did it on the fly without knowing how and why they created. In my experience, those who broke traditions where reacting to the well known constraints of tradition.

A classical musician who suddenly and unexpectedly breaks from the notation of the score might soon face unemployment. I think that would be true of most music genres.

There is so little emphasis placed on improvisation in the whole of the arts that I find a prioritization of improvisational freedom for the guitarist to be misguided and possibly even damaging to the youngest players. They are often seeking a path to play like their guitar heroes. Nothing more.

"How do I improvise" is one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to new students of guitar. When they realize the fact that effective and interesting improvisation is a matter of first learning rules and theory, they lose interest.

IMO these students are being somewhat misled into thinking rules are non-existent as long as you can "create" an improvised solo. Far too many students wish only to play the "improvs" they hear on recordings, note for note copies of what another player has already created. They aren't that interested in developing as musicians with a musician's knowledge of music theory. They want to play like their heroes, exactly like their heroes.

What I am not saying is that art and creativity should remain stagnant.

Art should constantly challenge the times IMO.

To be contrary to a recent flap over art here in the US, I strongly disagree with the dumbed down thinking that the theatre should be a safe place. While many uneducated listeners may prefer the pablum of mediocrity which regularly infects the arts here in the US, I feel the role of art should be to push forward ideas that are at times uncomfortable and unsettling.

Picasso, Brecht and Shostakovich are a few of my personal examples of breaking rules to create this sort of discomfort. Each sought first and foremost to create thoughtfulness in their audience. Each first existed as an accomplished artist within the rules which guided their early works. They did not seek merely to be free of rules but to challenge, and permanently change, those rules they felt were a hindrance to their art.

Yet, with statements such as your own, I feel there is the unintended permission slip being given to those young students who do not wish to be bothered by the sometimes difficult work of learning how to play well before they try to break rules they do not comprehend.

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Hi JanVigne!

Thank you for your comment. It had excellent perspectives and I agree with you.

For young students I recommend practicing all the theory and techniques that are needed for the music they are involved with. But when I teach for example something very basic thing for beginner player, after he/she has understood and reached sufficient level in it I will try to find ways that student can use the learned subject creatively. We might connect the subject to a song or some kind of form and usually I encourage student to improvise with learned subject. That way the subjects will have different meaning and contact to actual music.

For more developed players I try to give inspiration with encouraging to improvisation with all the theory-knowledge and technique that already have. For example you can spend whole life in practicing scales in different modes, positions, fingerings, patterns etc. But if player doesn't know what is the character of the scale all practicing is waste of time. To me after player knows the theory behind the subject in this case scale the best way to get to know with scale is to improvise with it. Finding harmonies, intervals etc. and making little motifs or even songs with it. That way player get the way how scale is included to music. Also in that way you might choose harmonies, intervals etc. that really excite and inspire you and those feelings come from inside you. Then it's likely to say that you create your own.

When we think what is the music that guitar players hear the most? Ok, it's actually our own playing in most of the cases. And if player plays a lot of theory based or technique based practices his/her inner musical language might start to sound like that. Because our ears and fingers are used to it. When you include creativity, improvisation, exploration to your practicing routines your way of hearing things get more creative.

This is completely my own opinion and I don't courage people to leave their theory and technique practices at all. I have done them too a lot. I just hope that theory and technique isn't the most important thing to rely when making music when player is reached certain level.

In my case most of playing jobs include improvisation. The music that I play couldn't be played without improvisation. Of course for example classical or pop music is different thing. But you need creativity to make those styles of music too.

Kindest, Mikko

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Rockerbob    47

Hello Mikko:

Great guitar playing and a great sounding guitar. All I do is improvise because I never learned to read music. I copy other players as often as I can, but it still comes out sounding like me. I learn by listening and simulating what I've heard. I can't read or write musical notation. I only know the barest of bones of "Music Theory." I just play.

That's usually OK with me. For the past few years I've had major hearing loss. I still hear, but poorly. $5000 hearing aids just barely get me through the day. If I try to record I have to use a kludged together EQ'd headphones system. that buzzes and distorts a bit, but allows me 31 bands of EQ per ear.

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JanVigne    27

"For young students I recommend practicing all the theory and techniques that are needed for the music they are involved with. But when I teach for example something very basic thing for beginner player, after he/she has understood and reached sufficient level in it I will try to find ways that student can use the learned subject creatively. We might connect the subject to a song or some kind of form and usually I encourage student to improvise with learned subject. That way the subjects will have different meaning and contact to actual music."


Thanks for the response, Mikko.

You have an interesting approach to teaching. For my work with students, once they have mastered a piece, I generally will suggest the student work on techniques which add variety to the selection; slides and slurs, hammer ons and pull offs, changing timing somewhat to emphasize syncopation. I will have them work with alternating bass lines and palm muted lines or even single note static lines hoping to encourage listening to what they are playing and how the context of music is guiding each note the audience perceives.

In other words, I ask them to think about how many ways they can play, say, Mary Had a Little Lamb while still playing a recognizable Mary Had a Little Lamb.

IMO listening is a skill many performers lack. Listening will then dictate their skills advancement.

One of the more interesting ideas I have come across regarding music came from another musician reviewing another musician. He said of the performer and her performance "It's not that I can't play those notes, it's that I can't conceive of playing those notes."

Not saying one approach, yours or mine, is superior but rather just unique from each other. I can see many students might prefer your approach.

And, yes, your playing is exceptional and the guitar sound is a rare beauty. Thanks.

"If I try to record I have to use a kludged together EQ'd headphones system. that buzzes and distorts a bit, but allows me 31 bands of EQ per ear."

Yikes! I fully understand the need but that also brings with it 31 bands of comb filtering. I would think even just listening can be quickly fatiguing when you ask your brain to deal with that much reconstruction.

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Thanks JanVigne!

Your approach is also interesting. I feel that these forums can be very fertile. For example this was very insightfully said:

One of the more interesting ideas I have come across regarding music came from another musician reviewing another musician. He said of the performer and her performance "It's not that I can't play those notes, it's that I can't conceive of playing those notes."

Listening and imagination is truly necessities for awesome experience in music. Thank you for your wise words.

Regars,

Mikko

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JanVigne    27

It's an interesting statement , isn't it? I think every musician has other performers who they look up to and consider inspirational. That one sentence seems to succintly sum up the life and struggles of a would be musician.

What's very odd to me about that statement is the writer and I share only two things. We are both engaged in "high fidelity" music reproduction and we are both, now, non-working musicians. We seldom, however, agree on either topic. The politics of one field led us both to the politics of the other.

Yet, when I read that sentence I felt a great affinity with him because he had encapsulated the distinction between those who play and those who perform. The difference between those who support and those who lead. I immediately understood just what had been said. The journey never ends. Hearing what you cannot conceive of being played should inspire you to seek out and to further your studies of how to play and to think that well.

I do not,however, know how to teach that distinction. Possibly, that's a fault of my own making but I think it goes much deeper than that.

Just as we all have our own ways of seeing and learning we all also have individual talents which exist within us. It is our own responsibility to explore those talents or not. We all decide just how far we wish to go in that pursuit.

I have taken lessons from more advanced musicians who I had hoped would have something to teach me. As it turned out, great musicians are not always good teachers.

I would add to the sentiment expressed in that sentence that truly great musicians approach their work with great confidence and that too sets them apart from the mere mortals who try hard.

That is something I try to teach but, ultimately, it is up to the student to find that confidence within themself. It is not something I feel I can give, I can only point the direction for them to follow.

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Rockerbob    47

Not saying one approach, yours or mine, is superior but rather just unique from each other. I can see many students might prefer your approach.

And, yes, your playing is exceptional and the guitar sound is a rare beauty. Thanks.

"If I try to record I have to use a kludged together EQ'd headphones system. that buzzes and distorts a bit, but allows me 31 bands of EQ per ear."

Yikes! I fully understand the need but that also brings with it 31 bands of comb filtering. I would think even just listening can be quickly fatiguing when you ask your brain to deal with that much reconstruction.

I certainly understand all the phase and filtering issues, but I must do something and it must be realtime. I have linear phase coherent EQ plug-ins, and I can get what most would call "realtime" but its not. The actual final mix will not go thought any of that crap except 1 set of headphones.

I don't need it when I record many guitar parts, but if I want to hear lower than 500Hz I must use some technology.

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"That is something I try to teach but, ultimately, it is up to the student to find that confidence within themself. It is not something I feel I can give, I can only point the direction for them to follow. "

I agree with you. Learning from others is must thing but student should not get stuck with anything. Some times ago I believed that I could copy some great masters and be like them. Happily I understood that we are here not be like some one else but to make our own way. After understanding that everything was easier. I believe my self, forgive my mistakes, have peaceful mind about being guitar player. That's all because I have found my inner-self and I know that I cannot 100% copy anyone and anyone cannot 100% copy me. By that understanding you can dig into your mind and find memories, feelings etc. that come from your lived life. And they control even the note choses you make.

It's big topic but that's how I feel for now and I hope that everyone would find this in their own being.

Kindest,

Mikko

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Hi!

Guitar is Cordoba C7 CE with colpeadors installed and action lowered just little bit. I don't know about strings because I change brand nearly every time.:)

Recording was made easily with Zoom h2 with mac's Garageband. Very cheap setup. Tuning is standard.

Cheers,

Mikko

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JanVigne    27

Very nice sound. The Zoom is a nice piece that gets the job done and doesn't cost and arm and a leg.

I am, though, totally unfamiliar with the term "colpeadors" and a search turns up nothing helpful.

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