music with the flute is a joyful, healing experience. When we process
our feelings and emotions through music, it becomes a sacred art
form. We bring unconscious things to light, and more depth and
understanding to ourselves. It is also a sacred form of play, known
as "Lila" in Sanskrit. Many of us hear the word "improv" and get
nervous. Interestingly, and what we often don't realize is that we
improvise in daily life every day with our speech, our movements, and
our general way of being in the world. Remember, improvisation does
not mean "off the cuff" or even necessarily the first time you have
experimented with a particular piece of music. It is the culmination
of all of your knowledge, experience, and practical experimentation.
To do good improvisation, one must know their instrument and be
solidly grounded in their technique. Often we are astounded by the
flow that jazz musicians are able to achieve in their improvisations.
Keep in mind that jazz musicians (as well as other musicians) practice
and play together sometimes upwards of twelve to sixteen hours a day.
Here are some strategies for beginning to develop your improv skills,
while grounding the music in your own experience.
1. Close your
your eyes shuts off one sense and allows more energy to flow to the
other senses. With our eyes closed, we are able to hear and shape our
notes better. Closing the eyes allows us to sink deeper into our
emotions, and thus more feeling is expressed through the breath. Our
tactile skills and coordination also develop more quickly and are more
responsive when we keep our eyes closed while playing.
Identify/choose a mood:
eyes and go within. Immerse yourself in your feelings. Your music
will express the tone of the mood you choose. Let your authentic
voice come through your breath and your fingers. This gives your
music depth, roundness and authenticity. Trust the music that resides
Start with a short riff or phrase and repeat it several times.
Let anything and everything in the world be your inspiration: the
natural world, the weather, bumper stickers, feelings and emotions,
qualities, poetry, prose, birds, animals, insects, reptiles, people,
places, and things. If it had a voice, what would it sound like?
Open up your awareness. Change your perspective and look at
everything around you with new eyes. Play with images. What would
sweet honey dreaming sound like? The tickle of trickling water? Wild
Mountain Thyme? Your first kiss? The Cloud People's faces. A persistent
trickster itch? If a colour could talk or sing, what would it say and
how would it sound? Look through a magazine or photography book (Life
Magazine is good). Play the images and weathered faces you see.
Imagine a story behind the image. The above can inspire many
different themes, rhythms and motifs. Go up (or down) the scale with
the same riff or phrase. As you continue to play your riff, it will
expand and change. Keep your inspiration in mind as you play and let
the rhythm and mood you establish throughout as you take off and
improvise with variations on your basic theme. Continue to return to
your riff and then wander off again, always maintaining the basic
pulse and tone you have set.
embellishments that match your mood:
embellishment can be associated with a certain mood, feeling, or
texture. With each successive repetition of your riff or melody,
choose different embellishments, or combinations thereof, that match
your mood, and remember to vary the order in which you play them. To
add continuity, try to have one embellishment that you use throughout
to convey the desired information about your song.
6. Start in a
place where you usually start (i.e., at the top of the flute, in the
middle, or at the bottom).
inverting your riff with different embellishments or minor variations
in the phrase each time you play it.
popular music: Songs usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
They also have a melody, a chorus, and a bridge. Use your beginning
to introduce your riff, or theme. Go off and vary, or improvise on,
your riff more in the middle. You can use a short bridge to move
between different parts, such as moving from melody to chorus and back
again. The end tends to be similar to the beginning, with slight
variations that move the entire piece to an obvious conclusion.
keeping in time with the basic pulse, vary the rhythm you play with
your fingers and/or your breath several times. Go from slower, longer
legato notes, to short staccato notes, and vice-versa. Or play
directly on the pulse. Move from a gentle breath to a more forceful
attention to your breath control, shading, phrasing, accents and your
use of space. Try accenting a different note, rather than the first
one on the beat. Or try playing with syncopation. The space you
utilize in the music is every bit as important as the notes you play.
Some notes you will want to accent by tonguing or embellishment,
others you will not. Add colour, richness and depth to your music by
shading. Get the most you can out of each note. All of the above
constitutes and contributes to texture in your music.
11. Use a
an inexpensive tape recorder. Remember, your tape recorder is your
best friend! Get in the habit of turning it on whenever
you play. You can always tape over something you don't want to save.
One of the greatest gifts of the flute, as well as one of its greatest
frustrations, is how ephemeral flute music is. Most of us have
experienced those moments when we have played something beautiful and
wished we have had the tape recorder on because, being caught up in
the music, we can't quite remember how we just did that thing. Most
importantly, the tape recorder will give you feedback that's
nonjudgmental. Use it to record your improv sessions, and then listen
for those elements of breath control, technique and style you want to
work further on. The tape recorder will save those ephemeral riffs
and melodic bits that are so fleeting, new embellishments and
embellishment combinations, songs, verbal notes and ideas on
compositions, rhythms, etc. Be sure to record, date, and add any
other pertinent information (e.g., key of flute, name of song, etc.)
to your cassette jacket (or other recording device).
Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal
c Stephanie Baldridge 2004