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Improving auditory skills for improvising (Read 1152 times)

Offline mjames

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Improving auditory skills for improvising
« on: December 18, 2018, 08:18:04 AM »
When I'm improvising a theme I can only hear/think of left hand if the patterns are simple enough, like arperggios or w/e. But when I try being a little more complicated, "free form" on my left hand my brain just short circuits. Idk a classical example of 'free form' would be the first page of Chopin's nocturne op 62 no. 1, sometimes it's arperggios, sometimes its in strict rhythm or sometimes it's syncopated. I mean how do you get to improvise with a left hand as sexy as that? Better examples are also found in Scriabin's music. You guys know what I'm talking about right?

Now I could settle for "okay I'm just not talented" but even the world class Jaz pianists improvise over a strict left hand pattern, so I'm starting to think...is it really just too much for the brain and it's something left for composition? Or can I actually improve my left hand accompaniment skills?

idk man I'm just rambling but if you guys have any tips i'm all ears

Offline quantum

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Re: Improving auditory skills for improvising
«Reply #1 on: December 18, 2018, 04:27:48 PM »
It's a good question.  Your LH needs to build up a repertoire.  Similar idea when learning 5th Species Florid Counterpoint.  Having 5th species as your introductory counterpoint studies would be incredibly intimidating. You learn species 1 through 4 then combine them in the 5th species. 

What you need to do is break down the accompaniment into smaller elements and practice them in isolation.  To take the first few measures Op 62/1 as an example, improvise short pieces using only one of these at a time, and try to stick to the pattern:
- ascending arpeggios, root as bass note on downbeat
- ascending arpeggios, inversions as bass note on downbeat
- alternating between two notes, same harmony (eg: B and D#)
- alternating between two notes, similar motion (eg: thirds using B major scale)
- alternating between two notes, oblique motion (one note stays, the other moves)
- ascending arpeggios, bass note root starts on off beat
- ascending arpeggios, bass note inversion starts on off beat
- LH in counterpoint with RH melody (counterpoint priority over homophonic texture)
- LH single bass note downbeat, plus a few notes in counterpoint with RH
- LH in counterpoint with RH while holding notes that belong to harmony

After you are comfortable doing one, try combining two patterns, then three, and so on.

Think of it as the harmony taking lead, while the patterns fall in place.  A lot of Brahms' keyboard music does this.  Have a look at the late piano works.

You could take a hymn and try to stylize it like Chopin or Scribin.  The melody, harmony and voice leading are already set out in an orderly manner.  It is up to you to arpeggiate the LH and ornament the RH.  If you are up to it, try the same with a Bach chorale.

Free LH accompaniment will come in time, but you have to work at it. 



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Offline ted

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Re: Improving auditory skills for improvising
«Reply #2 on: December 18, 2018, 09:59:32 PM »
I donít know very much about music, and the sort of thing quantum describes I find quite horrifying, but I do think through both hands when I improvise. Mjames is right, hardly any jazz pianists seem to do it. The lack is probably just one of those habits which people acquire through imitation and tradition, without questioning the musical reasons for it. During improvisation, the illusion I have is of having one big hand with ten fingers, liable to do duty anywhere at a moments notice, I have never thought in terms of left and right. It might not be the whole answer, but maybe you could spend some time each day improvising with the left hand alone, that could possibly help.
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Offline ronde_des_sylphes

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Re: Improving auditory skills for improvising
«Reply #3 on: December 18, 2018, 10:36:18 PM »
I think pianists are conditioned, from very early on, into viewing lh as accompaniment and rh as melody. If this is bothering you, I'd suggest either spending some time with Bach fugues, or playing lh only pieces. If you want to focus on improvisation, why not trying improvising and consciously placing melodic material in the lh, whilst the rh adds harmony? Even improvising two part inventions might be helpful.

Breaking down the denominational boundaries between the hands will enhance what you are able to do with the lh, even if all you're looking for is improving its facility to think for itself, as it were.

Offline mjames

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Re: Improving auditory skills for improvising
«Reply #4 on: December 22, 2018, 05:29:09 AM »
It's a good question.  Your LH needs to build up a repertoire.  Similar idea when learning 5th Species Florid Counterpoint.  Having 5th species as your introductory counterpoint studies would be incredibly intimidating. You learn species 1 through 4 then combine them in the 5th species. 

What you need to do is break down the accompaniment into smaller elements and practice them in isolation.  To take the first few measures Op 62/1 as an example, improvise short pieces using only one of these at a time, and try to stick to the pattern:
- ascending arpeggios, root as bass note on downbeat
- ascending arpeggios, inversions as bass note on downbeat
- alternating between two notes, same harmony (eg: B and D#)
- alternating between two notes, similar motion (eg: thirds using B major scale)
- alternating between two notes, oblique motion (one note stays, the other moves)
- ascending arpeggios, bass note root starts on off beat
- ascending arpeggios, bass note inversion starts on off beat
- LH in counterpoint with RH melody (counterpoint priority over homophonic texture)
- LH single bass note downbeat, plus a few notes in counterpoint with RH
- LH in counterpoint with RH while holding notes that belong to harmony

After you are comfortable doing one, try combining two patterns, then three, and so on.

Think of it as the harmony taking lead, while the patterns fall in place.  A lot of Brahms' keyboard music does this.  Have a look at the late piano works.

You could take a hymn and try to stylize it like Chopin or Scribin.  The melody, harmony and voice leading are already set out in an orderly manner.  It is up to you to arpeggiate the LH and ornament the RH.  If you are up to it, try the same with a Bach chorale.

Free LH accompaniment will come in time, but you have to work at it.

Makes perfect sense when you say it! Right rather than going all in I should try and get comfortable with different patterns before mashing them together. I'll try out your list for practice.

And it seems your pretty much right on the repertoire part, far too much of the music I learn is "right-handed", back to Bach I suppose and I guess I should introduce myself Brahms!

Offline j_tour

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Re: Improving auditory skills for improvising
«Reply #5 on: December 24, 2018, 04:18:33 AM »
This is a nice thread, so thanks to the OP for getting it going and all that.

Yeah, on the one hand "auditory skills" as in the thread title, it seems like the OP has that locked down -- just ear-training, transcribing, and all that.

But, it's also true as everyone said above, yeah, a lot of jazz styles for piano (or maybe a piano+bass+whatever else) rely more on rhythm and some implied harmonies for LH.

However, like was said above, the real musicians in jazz don't think in LH/RH -- it's like one big hand.  Sort of like in some of Bach.

But, there are still patterns that can be viewed as either repeated harmonic flourishes, even if not as simple as some ostinato pattern or an improvised walking bass, that can add some melodic content.

I was fooling around today with putting some very quick LH work in scales (mostly) while the RH just did "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" with partial chords. 

Didn't quite work out so good for me for the ten minutes I played with it, but I'd guess if the harmony is there and you have a total concept in your head (plus aren't too lazy/tired, like I was), there's no reason not to just go ahead and try it.

I think I'm echoing others above when I suggest it's really a question of idiom -- to me it's important to be idiomatic, rather than eccentric or "original" when playing, but that's just my aesthetic preference.
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Offline louispodesta

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Re: Improving auditory skills for improvising
«Reply #6 on: December 25, 2018, 11:58:39 PM »
When I'm improvising a theme I can only hear/think of left hand if the patterns are simple enough, like arperggios or w/e. But when I try being a little more complicated, "free form" on my left hand my brain just short circuits. Idk a classical example of 'free form' would be the first page of Chopin's nocturne op 62 no. 1, sometimes it's arperggios, sometimes its in strict rhythm or sometimes it's syncopated. I mean how do you get to improvise with a left hand as sexy as that? Better examples are also found in Scriabin's music. You guys know what I'm talking about right?

Now I could settle for "okay I'm just not talented" but even the world class Jaz pianists improvise over a strict left hand pattern, so I'm starting to think...is it really just too much for the brain and it's something left for composition? Or can I actually improve my left hand accompaniment skills?

idk man I'm just rambling but if you guys have any tips i'm all ears

For what it is worth:

My late Piano Teacher, Robert Weaver (Ithaca, UT Austin) taught me 30 years ago that there was no such thing as "Improvisation."  He said that the particular pianist was playing the same scale, broken chord, and arpeggiated passages over and over again. 

However, until the last few years, I was not able to quantify or qualify his teaching. I can delineate this concept now, "IN MY OPINION:"

1)  Before there was Jazz Improvisation, there was the Classical/Romantic Period practice of "Preluding."  That meant that one did, composed "Improvised a Tune," which summarized compositionally what the Audience/Listener was now going to hear.  Parenthetically, amongst Applied Musicologists, this has now become the rage in the UK.

2)  According to Dr. Kenneth Hamilton ("After The Golden Age", Oxford University Press), it was considered extremely rude for a pianist of this time period not to do so.  So, with the exception of Mendelssohn (who literally got physically ill when forced to), everyone complied.

3)  Subsequently, the only way audiences finally wised-up to this supposed genius is when they travelled to the next city on the performer's concert tour and then heard the artist play their so-called improvisation in exactly the same way.

4)  Before that (Robert Levin, Professor Emeritus, Harvard), there was the expressive device now known as "Arpeggiation and Tempo Modification."  In that keyboardists started out on the organ and harpsichord, every student since before the time of Bach was required to change things up by spreading chords and changing tempos

5)  Beethoven and Mozart were renown for taking a hand written melody from an audience member and then performing a short piece on the spot.  Speaking only for Beethoven, he then employed his magnificent skill of utilizing Secondary Dominants, and then went from there.

6)  Finally, the story goes that Bach once travelled a great distance to audition for the Kapellmeister of a Great Cathedral.  Once given a furnished hand written melody, he simply played (of course based on passed performance) a so-called Improvisation using only the Organ Pedals.  Consequently, the only other applicant who showed up for the audition simply got up and left.