Thursday, April 20, 2006

Two Notes, Three Notes, Four: Creative Focus

I've had a couple of email messages from folks who like the one-note piece idea. I love email, of course, and I would also encourage readers to post comments, so that there's the opportunity to respond to one another, not only to me. Whatever you are comfortable with is fine, but know you are most welcome to post comments.

Once you've tried out one-note pieces--and let my emphasize again that if you genuinely put yourself into it, if you do them with genuine commitment and musicality, they can be powerful musical experiences--then you can add a second note.


You can use notes close together, such as a minor second (for example, a D and an E-flat). Or notes far apart. And again, you can do single pitches only, or multiple octaves.

In Mathieu's The Listening Book, he frames these sorts of practices as "creative limits." There's a wonderful paradox that when one limits the material to work with, creativity can explode. It's similar to a rocket, I suppose: all that energy is tightly focused in a cylinder and so it propels the rocket. (Once again, if you can get a hold of the audio version of The Listening Book, do. Hearing him read his texts and demonstrate at the piano is magical.)

In my own improvisation teaching, I've sometimes found students put off by the word "limits." College students in particular are still reacting to, resenting, and freeing themselves from the limits placed on them in childhood by parents and other adults. "Limits" didn't go over so well.

So I substitute the word "focus." We are going to select a note or two to give an improvisation focus. With my college students, anyway, focus doesn't seem to push the kind of emotional buttons that limits does.

After two-note pieces, of course, can come three-note and four-note ones. Tony Wigram suggests purposing making the notes part of a standard tonal structure or purposely not making them part of one.

For example, three notes could be those of a major or minor triad. Or they could be three notes as unrelated as possible. One way makes for an explicitly tonal improvisation, the other for an atonal, or at least ambiguously tonal piece.

Have fun!


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