In what we do best, we are all self-taught

Sound Structures for Music Improvisation

by Renee Leech

Lesson 1: Work with a Style Map

Often, we have something specific in mind when we wish to play music. We are not thinking of "pure sound," but are actually referring back to a piece of a certain type, or style. This is natural, because music doesn't really start in a vacuum. Music derives from an environment or culture, and is intended to fit into that milieu.

While, in the end, one is most free working with concepts of music, it can be satisfying to improvise with a model in mind. Let your model guide you as to form and structure, in the beginning. Your model might be as structured as a blues record, or as unstructured as a mental image of the mythical Pan sitting on a stone by a small waterfall, with his pipes. Listen carefully to your real or mind's eye model (visualize first). Then, try to imitate a few sounds. You will be working at whatever your current playing level may be. Start with small patterns. Let one experiment lead to another, and see how far you can go.

You might focus on making the following types of choices.

The type of improvisation I choose is:

The mood I choose is:

The accompaniment I choose is:

In making these choices, you are choosing the ingredients of an improvisation, in the order you would often naturally choose them, starting with a rhythmic idea, adding tonality, then adding some sort of harmonic and/or melodic material in that tonality. Mapping choices by style in this way is ideal for a person who has an idea of the type of improvisation wanted, and maybe even has a poem or tone row or accompaniment style in mind.

For the intermediate or advanced musician, this style map is adaptable to looking at a score and making up patterns to substitute for patterns already there, or, alternatively, to playing along with a favorite recording and discovering the structure and tone row.

But even for the beginner, a style map is a useful visualization from which one can derive a thoughtful first improvisation, however brief or tentative.

Example Library: Your Style Map Choices

Example tone rows for your mood selections appear at left. A section on example sound structures for each of the above choices is under development. If you wish to be receive that section by email, and have not previously filled out our site survey, click here to mark your preferences and leave your email address. Adding "" to your email address book will enable the FREE echapter to bypass your spam blocker.

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