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Author Topic: Am phrygian improv  (Read 180 times)
caustik
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« on: September 23, 2017, 05:21:25 AM »

Hi -- it's my first post to this new scary forum..

I'm a random computer programmer who occasionally messes around on piano. Never had any musical training, just spent enormous amounts of time reading about music theory and listening to music. Also have spent lots of time mucking around with music production (Ableton mostly) but have found myself pulled more toward piano improv for some reason. This felt like the right forum to sign up for and see how it goes.

Looking forward to digging into the improv that you all have shared. The bits that I've heard so far are pretty great but I'll need to dedicate some time to sit down and give them a proper listen with full attention.

Anyway, wanted to share a recording from a while ago --

https://soundcloud.com/caustik-1/aaron-piano-improv-am-phrygian

I wonder if it will irritate trained ears since it has such a meandering variety of tempos and the melody drifts around in not such a structured way. But to me, those are among the reasons that I like it Smiley

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ted
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« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2017, 09:42:46 AM »

Welcome to the forum. While improvisation is certainly not the most popular sort of piano playing, here or elsewhere, those of us who engage in it regularly would assert the experience is one of the most profoundly satisfying in music. You are completely free to play any notes you choose in whatever way you choose, and this freedom carries with it the need to be yourself at all times. It is not something many trained pianists find at all comfortable, but once past the initial inhibition, the rewards of doing it over a lifetime are truly immense.

Your playing shows you have feeling for rhythm and phrase, a much rarer quality than one is likely to suppose. The "how" is much more important than the "what" when beginning to improvise, so don't fill your mind and impede your idea flow by concentrating too much on names and labels of scales or chords. Learn them in terms of your ear and the keyboard by all means, but then put them into your unconscious and whenever you improvise let your mind run free. Being able to get a flow going, with meaningful statements and ideas, is much more important than memorising a lot of note combinations. At seventy, I am not sure I know what an Am phrygian is. I possibly play it, but I don't clutter my creative brain with useless labels.

Structure and the lack of it are just creative options, theories are just creative options, the same as anything else in music. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Start from freedom and work towards an order of your own making over time. I hope we shall hear more from you soon.
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philolog
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« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2017, 12:44:07 PM »

I enjoy what I hear as the Middle Eastern or Hebraic influences as well as the syncopated rhythm-----properly arranged I could imagine the thematic material forming the basis for some "exotic" film music. Do you also learn from scores, classical or otherwise, or are you solely interested in perfecting your ability to improvise?
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caustik
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2017, 05:48:13 AM »

Welcome to the forum. While improvisation is certainly not the most popular sort of piano playing, here or elsewhere, those of us who engage in it regularly would assert the experience is one of the most profoundly satisfying in music. You are completely free to play any notes you choose in whatever way you choose, and this freedom carries with it the need to be yourself at all times. It is not something many trained pianists find at all comfortable, but once past the initial inhibition, the rewards of doing it over a lifetime are truly immense.

I really couldn't agree more with this. There's great freedom when you detach from any specific goal and just sit down and start playing. It's also really nice to listen to old recordings of improv that you've made as well because they capture so much of your mood and life at the time of recording. It won't always be joyous memories, but very complex and nuanced and beautiful. Those recordings are wonderful time capsules IMO.

Your playing shows you have feeling for rhythm and phrase, a much rarer quality than one is likely to suppose. The "how" is much more important than the "what" when beginning to improvise, so don't fill your mind and impede your idea flow by concentrating too much on names and labels of scales or chords. Learn them in terms of your ear and the keyboard by all means, but then put them into your unconscious and whenever you improvise let your mind run free. Being able to get a flow going, with meaningful statements and ideas, is much more important than memorising a lot of note combinations. At seventy, I am not sure I know what an Am phrygian is. I possibly play it, but I don't clutter my creative brain with useless labels.

Structure and the lack of it are just creative options, theories are just creative options, the same as anything else in music. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Start from freedom and work towards an order of your own making over time. I hope we shall hear more from you soon.

That's right on the mark to me, because while recording this particular improv I didn't completely switch into the "unconscious" until the last 30 seconds or so. I can remember that happening because it felt like everything in my mind was directly going into the sound without the piano being involved. Maybe that's a normal feeling for skilled pianists, but for me it's not! Smiley

Am phrygian is just a label, but there's an easy way to explain it. Looking at the white keys, if you center your playing around E you are basically in phrygian mode. Push your transpose button on your digital piano so that E becomes A (+5 semitones) and now you're in Am phrygian. If you are using a "real" piano with a transpose feature, well -- good luck to ya! Tongue

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caustik
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« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2017, 06:00:09 AM »

I enjoy what I hear as the Middle Eastern or Hebraic influences as well as the syncopated rhythm-----properly arranged I could imagine the thematic material forming the basis for some "exotic" film music.

That's incredible because someone else has said something similar about this recording. I haven't specifically listened to Middle Eastern or Hebraic music, but from my limited understanding the "phrygian" mode does have some connection to them. I'm drawn toward it, who knows where that comes from. Mostly to my ear it just sounds complex and interesting, but also somehow grounded, I guess.

Do you also learn from scores, classical or otherwise, or are you solely interested in perfecting your ability to improvise?

I don't want to perfect anything, really -- all of that sort of energy goes toward my computer programming job. For piano improv, I just want to play without thinking about it too much. When I go back and listen to old recordings and music production, it's the stuff which I didn't think about and did spontaneous which sticks and leaves me wanting to go back and hear it again. Makes it very simple to look at it that way because you really can do no wrong when you just sit down and play without any goals or hesitation Smiley
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ted
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2017, 09:40:11 PM »

Thanks for the Phrygian explanation. My teacher in my youth was a highly regarded professional composer and pianist, who did his best to instruct me in these matters with a view to moulding me into a professional musician like himself. I didn't understand the point of harmony and theory then and I still don't understand it now. Luckily, I was good at one or two other things, including programming, which enabled me to earn a decent living with enough spare time to develop my musical art precisely after my own fashion. I would have been a superdud as a professional.

I do not think it would have mattered which aggregate of notes you used for your improvisation, because phrase and rhythm give it life, not harmony, which merely serves as a sort of surface colouring.
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ronde_des_sylphes
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« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2017, 11:13:11 PM »

Welcome to the forum. It has rhythmic vitality and the modal aspect adds character. I suppose if I had a criticism, it would be "nice idea, but too much of it". Ted and I would probably disagree over this, but I think he views improvisation as an end to itself, whereas for me it's usually either warmup or prototype composition. I believe in being aware of the dramatic affect of whatever I'm improvising, not being totally controlled by it, but liking to deploy a bit of contrast, modulation, etc. So whilst a lot of what I improvise isn't ultimately very compositionally sophisticated, I will at least pay lip service to concepts like major -> relative minor -> major etc. Of course this is just one way to improvise and I would encourage people to develop their own aesthetic and not be defined by exterior influences.
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Derek
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« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2017, 10:49:27 PM »

I enjoyed your piece, and followed you on soundcloud. Welcome! From a guy who left for 2 years lol. I enjoy purely modal improvisation such as you're doing here, I still do this frequently. My favorite modes are probably lydian and dorian for some reason. No idea why, I just tend to use those sounds an awful lot in my playing.
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