Who knew?

Well, many people might have known, but I didn’t. If I don’t make a blog post for a month, my blog seems to vanish, replaced by a link to its archives, which is what some of you may have seen, if you’ve been to the blog recently. You might have thought my blog was defunct.

But it isn’t. I’ve only been on vacation. I’ve redated the last post I wrote before I left, to create some activity here. And in a couple of days, I’ll be back home, and posting again, full of vacation tales about renegade cows — and news about my long-delayed book. Some of you may have read the various online drafts I’ve posted in the past, but the final version has begun to take shape, and you’ll be reading lots more about it right here.

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  1. Janis says

    I just want to thank you for this blog. I’ve been falling headlong into the whole idea of classical improv lately after hearing Gabriela Montero on YouTube, and I can’t learn enough about it fast enough.

    I started studying classical piano when I was about ten and got pretty advanced, but dropped it. That was a long time ago, and I haven’t touched or even had a piano in about fifteen-twenty years or so. Academics intervened, but it wasn’t until recently that my fingers started itching again and I realized that I’d dropped it because it didn’t mean anything to me. And I always LOVED music, including classical and opera. I love voices. I was raised with that stuff. But I only ever loved it when I wasn’t making it, because when I was, it was just a mechanical thing that I could either do right or fail at. I HATED performing because it was just me on stage and a bunch of people waiting for me to make a mistake. I only ever liked playing for other musicians because we’d end up clustered around the piano and all poking out things, and that was fun.

    I guess I’m typical of someone who adores music but dropped an instrument because I just figured it was all paint-by-numbers and why bother. (And it is. I think that’s a big part of why even people who like classical music won’t go to concerts. Just because I like the Mona Lisa doesn’t mean I want to pay fifty bucks to go see someone do a paint-by-numbers of it for the seventeenth time.)

    But it seems like there’s an interest lately in classical improvisation and people making the music bleed and breathe again instead of treating it like some ancient and untouchable liturgy and calling anyone who’d change it a heretic. If you aren’t that fond of jazz, there isn’t much of an outlet for you in terms of making stuff up.

    Anyhow, I’m going to buy myself a digital piano once I save enough money up for it, and if I work out some Haendel arias one day and then swerve into Steve Perry or Def Leppard, then so be it. I’m not going to be a machine operator again. :-) I’ll go read the rest of your blog now.

  2. says

    Greg – looking forward to your full return.

    Janis – your comment made me think of Jeffrey Agrell, who recently on his blog described music training as aiming towards “immaculate recitation”. He’s a horn player, but his other specialty seems to be helping classically trained musicians learn to improvise and he has a book out on that subject. You might enjoy his blog.


  3. says


    I think what holds most traditionally trained players back (besides never having done it) from improvising is 1) never receiving any instruction or encouragement or having any classical models and 2) improvisation = jazz (and jazz = bebop). If you redefine improvisation as making your own decision and listening and reacting to others, you have a model that you can use right now with what you know, regardless of your level. You’re already doing this kind of improvisation every day. It’s called: conversation. You are using something you know to have an interesting interchange with a friend. You haven’t predetermined what you’re going to say. You put it together on the fly, and you react and respond to what your partner says and come up with something new. It’s both comfortable, easy, and fun. Musical improv can be the same, if you let it. Check out my book if you like for a lot of ideas and resource material, but in any case, just start playing, alone or with someone. Play one note. Listen intently. Add a rhythm to the note and repeat it. It starts taking on a life of its own, leading who knows where. Follow it. And welcome a whole new side of your musical life, which will never be the same after you start “thinking in music”, and alleluia for that.

    Very glad to see you here, Jeffrey. As I think we all can tell from what Jeffrey has written here, his book — Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians — is a treasure. One of the most imaginative, helpful, friendly, liberating books about being a musician that I’ve ever seen.

  4. Janis says


    The improv = jazz = bebop is exactly it, now that I think about it. And … well, I know people who love bebop, but to me it sounds like someone had a mouthful of 32nd notes and sneezed into a trumpet. >-P I’m very happy to learn that my first love and improv are actually old-tyme buddies.

    I’m looking forward to buying a clavinova when I have the money saved up, and I figure that most things give way when I bash myself against them hard enough. As long as I’m enjoying myself, this shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle. :-)