This post is based on a presentation that I gave at ‘Improvisation: Educational Perspectives’, a conference that we held at the University of Edinburgh in April, 2014.
It is very common for people to say to me on a gig or recording session: ‘play a sax solo…you know – like the the one on ‘Born to Run’ – or, ‘let’s do Baker Street’ (or even Careless Whisper, unfortunately). Similarly, I’ve had many occasions where my pupils have said things like – ‘show me how to do it like Maceo Parker‘ or ‘how can I make it sound more like [X, Y or Z player]?’. I am really interested by the idea that people, particularly in the realm of pop music, will not only learn to improvise by emulating those who they enjoy listening to and respect, but will in many cases also be asked in educational and professional contexts to do so and may be assessed or evaluated on the success of the emulation. So, in this post, I would like to explore the notion of improvisation in pop and rock music – clearly this is a huge topic but this is deliberate and I will try to write as generally as possible for the purposes of stimulating discussion. I should also note that, although a great deal of pop/rock music is improvised, (guitar strumming, keyboard fills, etc.) featured solos are inevitably of great interest. Continue reading ‘Just Like Clarence’
In response to Zack’s previous post, ‘Improvisation is a Parlour Trick: Anyone can do it…’ I’ve decided that I’m going to come clean, and do an autoethnographic analysis of my OWN soloing strategies; this means coming clean and I admitting to what I was really doing in the course of a so-called improvised solo for a paying session. Also, I just noticed that in Gareth Dylan Smith’s recent post he also used the autoethnographic tag, and I think it’s the best way to look at a musical situation from the viewpoint of the main protagonist-ME. No one else is better qualified to say what is really going on here…. Continue reading A Whole Bag of ‘Parlour Tricks’
I was sitting with my daughter last week watching Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (Warner Brothers, 2005) and was struck by a particular passage of dialogue. Just after the first of the bratty, selfish children (Augustus Gloop) gets eliminated from the tour of the chocolate factory, the Oompa-Loompas perform an elaborately choreographed song and dance routine which describes the events which led to this child’s early exit from the film. Shortly after the song finishes, the following dialogue occurs:
Charlie: Mr. Wonka, why would Augustus’ name already be in the Oompa-Loompa song unless they—
Willy Wonka: Improvisation is a parlour trick. Anyone can do it. [turns to Violet] You! Little girl – say something. Anything!
Violet: Chewing gum.
Willy Wonka: Chewing gum is really gross. Chewing gum I hate the most. See? Exactly the same.
Mike: No, it isn’t.
Continue reading ‘Improvisation is a Parlour Trick. Anyone Can Do It…’
This post will be used to show a short documentary that was made to outline an interesting project that I was involved with earlier this year. The project involved working with and mentoring a quartet of disabled musicians in the composition, production and dissemination of a 3-part piece of music, entitled ‘The Deep‘.
The documentary includes footage from the studio session and commentary from myself and other members of the team.
This project was funded by Creative Scotland’s via CP Productions and was a collaboration with Drake Music Scotland
Earlier this year, I was asked to run a workshop on ‘Communicative Improvisation’ for the University of Edinburgh as part of their ‘Innovative Learning Week‘. I have led many workshops on improvisation in the past, some focussed specifically on jazz, some on pop/rock, some on free-improv or improvisation for dance, for example, but never on ‘communicative improvisation’. To be honest, I wasn’t sure of exactly what this meant or how I would approach it. Also, when I agreed to do it, the only information about the participants was that they could could be from anywhere in the whole university (not specifically for music students) and that they may not even have any previous practical musical experience. As it turned out, the group comprised a range of people who had never played an instrument before , people who were professional musicians and everything in between.
Continue reading Learning to Improvise: Communicative Improvisation Workshop