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How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero? (Read 345 times)

Offline ranjit

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How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
« on: April 12, 2020, 05:12:04 AM »
Look at this clip starting from 3:30, for example:


Of course, she was a "prodigy" in that she had a talent and grew up with it early on as a kid, so it's kind of like a second language to her which she acquired by listening to a lot of classical music as a young child. Still, how do you even begin to attempt to learn structured improvisation in the classical idiom, as she does so well?

Offline brogers70

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #1 on: April 12, 2020, 10:00:30 AM »
This fellow, John Mortensen, teaches classical improvisation. I, too, always thought it was mysterious, something that just came from the heart of gifted people. He breaks it down so that it seems a skill that anybody making a reasonable effort could learn. I'm linking to one of his videos; it should be easy to find more if you are interested.


Offline mjin1

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #2 on: May 21, 2020, 02:22:23 AM »
I'm kind of late to this topic, but I figured i'd respond since i have experience with this and it's a subject i like.

i do alot of classically based improvisation, this is an example of something i posted a bit ago: https://www.instagram.com/p/B9HMZlhB2Ze/

In my experience for improvisation, i just wanted to say it is very much a technical thing, rather than a musical one when you are learning it initially.

you have to know where you are going, and sense how exactly you are going to get there. this means that it's very much a technical problem, if you're able to play fluidly in nearly all of the keys, with many different techniques, then your sense broadens, and you can start worrying about musicality. but until then, improvisation is largely a technical question, answered only by being able to have command over the keys you want to go to.

so the answer is to just practice in different keys, do scales in e major then see if you can switch to something uncomfortable, like g minor, then during that scale, sense in your head if you can go to c sharp major, etc. try to sense where things are. etc.

hope this helps. I love classically based improvisation and i rarely find anyone who is interested in it.

Offline ranjit

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #3 on: May 21, 2020, 08:57:42 AM »
I am pretty fluent at the piano, so to speak. I wanted to know how people incorporated classical form on the fly, and how they kept track of motifs, etc. It's the mental "game" that I'm concerned about.

Offline ronde_des_sylphes

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #4 on: May 21, 2020, 09:54:33 AM »
I'd say you need:

A highly developed sense of harmonic relation - it helps if you can instantly transpose a short phrase to any given key.

The ability to play multiple accompanimental figurations, ranging from oom-pah-pah waltz type accompaniment to scales or arpeggios against any given phrase.

The ability to create joining passages (typically a brief cadenza or recitative passage will work well here).

The ability to take any phrase and return to it at will at a later point, to be able to create variations on it, to manipulate the rhythm of it, to maintain the rhythm but change the notes (ie use it as a motivic cell), and the ability to expand it at will, or to go sideways from it (eg the movitic cell example above). Also the ability to create answering phrases of the cuff. All of these will facilitate creating structure, if what you want is an improvisation which has points of commonality within it.

Offline ranjit

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #5 on: May 21, 2020, 10:29:49 AM »
A highly developed sense of harmonic relation - it helps if you can instantly transpose a short phrase to any given key.

The ability to play multiple accompanimental figurations, ranging from oom-pah-pah waltz type accompaniment to scales or arpeggios against any given phrase.

The ability to create joining passages (typically a brief cadenza or recitative passage will work well here).

Thanks for your reply. I think I can manage the first three points. What I find most difficult is the fourth:
The ability to take any phrase and return to it at will at a later point, to be able to create variations on it, to manipulate the rhythm of it, to maintain the rhythm but change the notes (ie use it as a motivic cell), and the ability to expand it at will, or to go sideways from it (eg the movitic cell example above). Also the ability to create answering phrases of the cuff. All of these will facilitate creating structure, if what you want is an improvisation which has points of commonality within it.
This motivic cohesiveness is what I find most difficult. I keep jumping around. I can improvise a motif, create a countermelody, and come up with variations by expanding it /playing around with its rhythm, etc. However, I almost inevitably end up forgetting the motif after half a minute or so. How does one keep track?

Offline ronde_des_sylphes

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #6 on: May 21, 2020, 10:38:59 AM »
Your motif should be short and memorable. How about experimenting / practicing by working out a motif beforehand, writing it out and putting it up on the music stand as a reminder?

Offline ranjit

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #7 on: May 21, 2020, 02:28:39 PM »
Yes, I should try that. It could work as a stepping stone to "properly" improvising.

Offline mjin1

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Re: How do I learn to improvise like Gabriela Montero?
«Reply #8 on: May 21, 2020, 09:20:51 PM »
 Yea, or if you find that you're forgetting your motif, you can try improvising in say a fugal style, where the motif is reused much more often than other kinds of pieces. That could get you thinking in terms of really reinforcing the general theme and motif of the piece that you're wanting to always return to.