Because that is what improvisation is to me: expressing one's self using sounds. Any sounds. It's quite convenient that we life in a post-musique concrete world in which composers embraced what had formerly been considered noises as musical sounds. When I teach a section of our introductory seminar for first-year music students at DePauw, we work on a definition of "music." I won't thrash out all the possibilities here, but suffice it to say we have to work out something that includes sounds from "found objects." Perhaps a good, all-encompassing definition is "sounds made on purpose with the intent of having them listened to."
The Music for People motto for many years was "self-expression through music and improvisation." And that's what I focus on: facilitating and encouraging self-expression.
Since I work mostly with classical musicians, the first challenge is to get people over the usual fears, including (but certainly not limited to):
- I won't be good enough.
- I can't play by ear.
- I'll make mistakes.
Feel a feeling. Make a sound that expresses that feeling.
Simple as that. You can't do it wrong. You can't lose.
Many classical players have their self-esteem tied up in how well they play their instrument. Especially professional players. For me, I know, playing the cello was, for many years, the way I justified my existence. My sense of well-being rose and fell with how "well" I thought I was playing.
So improvising on one's main instrument can be especially frightening. You're a professional flutist? For heaven's sakes, the last thing in the world you may want to do is to take a risk and sound bad.
Ah, but here comes the good news. Make a sound that expresses how you feel. And feel free to make it some other way than on your main instrument.
Groan. Moan. Shout. Slap. Thump a drum. Play just one note on a piano. Play an entire, horrible-sounding tone cluster on the piano, one that would have made Charles Ives himself proud.
OK--that's not so hard, is it?
Now pick up your instrument. Make unconventional sounds.
Scratch if you're a string player. Don't stop the strings all the way to the fingerboard. Do snap pizzicatos. Bow the on the other side of the bridge. Use your instrument as a drum.
Make all those squawking sounds on a clarinet or flute you've spent your life learning to not to make! Crack a note on a trumpet or horn. Just blow through the thing.
Sound effects. They are liberating. They can be cathartic.
They are a great place to start.