Thursday, November 02, 2006

Saying Yes

All I can say is that teaching improvisation classes to DePauw School of Music freshmen is the absolutely best job in the world. I've been having such an amazing time this semester that the amount of experiences to recount is so overwhelming that I haven't known where to begin.

Today's class ended up centering on "saying yes" to one's own ideas and the ideas of those one is improvising with. I say "ended up" because I'm finding my young friends so open and flexible (and I suppose I have enough experience to draw on) that the best plan for teaching has been to have no plan and follow my instincts of the moment.

Commenting on the improvisation one group did early in this morning's session, I found myself talking about the concept of "saying yes" which I've heard features prominently in the Second City approach to comedy improvisation. We've explored many techniques and structures for improvising. Today we moved (back) into small-group improvisations with no talking first, and a commitment only to saying "yes" to one's own ideas and the ideas introduced by the other players. The kids took themselves places I didn't think they could go.

When people go from playing carefully to really connecting with their creativity and doing amazing things, truly connecting with each other, and genuinely expressing themselves, it is magic. It's a privilege to witness. And how I got to be the one who helps them open these doors for themselves I'll never understand. At the moment, I just feel overwhelmingly grateful.


Terry said...

I've recently started a blog that I expect to discuss improvisation at some points: .

So far I've only begun to touch on an example of a made-up accompaniment, and an example of how one fiddler simplified a complex fiddle tune such that even a not-so-advanced cellist could play it. It's not improvisation exactly, well, maybe it's improvisation spread out over time so that at a performance one has a reasonably firm idea of what notes to play, but then, there's always the possibility of new ideas.

celine said...

Hi Eric,

I am a classically trained flutist who is teaching part-time at two universities in the Nashville area. Along with a colleague, we've developed a workshop on improvisation that we're presenting at several flute festivals. I was actually putting together a bibliography of my own when I found your site! It's been amazing to read your work so far, it's really echoed a lot of the ideas that we use in our improvisational workshops.

Last year I took a class in comedy improvisation for beginners, and found that many, many, many of those exercises could be helpful to musicians. The idea of "Say Yes" is from a book written about comedic and theatre improvisation and how the larger ideas can apply to anyone, regardless of your field. The book is "Improv Wisdom," by Patricia Madsen. It is a tiny little book, and a quick read, but its ideas are enormous.

I've been making my way through several books on comedic/theatre improvisation, and have based my workshops around those exercises and the discussion of principles like "Say Yes," and "Don't Prepare, Just Show Up," etc. We've been working with transferring theatre exercises into musical exercises, building confidence in improvisation, and talking about how it relates to performance anxiety, musicality, and our general well-being! Anyway, I would wholeheartedly recommend "Improv Wisdom," and even more than that, would recommend to anyone interested in improv and music to explore the connections that we have to improvisational theatre and comedy.

Enough of my babble! I am really excited to find your site and will definitely stay tuned.


Celine Pendergrast

Eric Edberg said...

Thanks, Celine! I'll definitely look that book up.

And there is more on what I'm currently doing on the site for this semester's "Improvisation in Western Art Music" class, at

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