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Improvisation or copying?

rudjarl

Senile Member. Scandinavian Ambassadour of CaSLM
Messages
657
First off, I do realize that there is a general order of things. And in playing jazz (and in other genres with lot of rules and no rule to govern them) the general order of things (besides learning the melody if it got one obviously) dictates that you 1) learn basic scales, 2) advance the scales in majors, minors and modes while 3) learn licks before finally 4) copy solos... yupp... more or less... that's it...

And while there is nothing wrong with that, I can't help feeling that it only conforms you to the stereotype that has become Jazz. There is no real originality in playing licks and copying solos. Oh, it makes you sound cool. No doubt about it. But is it a sign of originality? How often is it not said: plays like ... or sounds like ... (It's only when it goes horribly wrong it truly sounds like myself)

Make no mistake about it, I'm a copy cat. Sometimes I try to be original, but the sound of that makes me hurry back to them good old licks. So how improvised is my improvising? Doing those hard learned (indeed) licks. Oh yeah.... never done before... possibly... not exactly like that any way... But they are not dissimilar from tune to tune. Is it improvisation then?
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
I have an armoury of theory, licks and riffs in my head but when it comes to it, it all flies out the window when I'm improvising, and I just do my own thing!! :)))
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
As some one who has an interest in composing "original" music I find it extremely difficult to actually be original.

I mean, forget about being able to play an instrument or technique, and all of all that. Just trying to come up with a musical phrase that has already been done is quite difficult IMHO.

When you stop and think about it, there are only 12 notes. Sure, you can get into changing keys and modulation and so forth, and in the larger picture of compositions that certainly helps to expand creativity. But no matter what key or mode is being played, we basically only have 12 notes to choose from, not counting octaves of course.

It truly amazes me that anyone actually comes up with something truly original. Much less improvise it on the fly easily.

There is also the huge problem that our minds have already been conditioned with millions of musical phrases over the course of our lives, just from having listened to music.

I've sat down and just played randomly off the top of my head. Well, not TOO randomly. I mean, after all, if you truly play totally random note patterns it's going to sound horrible. You can't get away from that. So total randomness isn't "music".

Therefore you need to put some kind of 'thought' or purpose behind it. And once you do that, chances are extremely high that you are going to be playing something that you've heard before. Even if it's subconscious. You may be playing phrases from elevator music that you heard when you weren't even aware that you were listening to music. From your point of view it's flowing spontaneously form you creatively, when in reality it's actually just something you heard without being fully aware of it.

So when it comes to truly 'original' improvisation, I'd say that it's a pretty rare thing. Especially in terms of being totally new and freshly original. I think even historically music 'evolved' slowly as various things were gradually being morphed into other things, or being 'fused' together (i.e. music from difficult cultures combining to give rise to a new genre)

Blues and Jazz are really nothing more than African rhythms being applied to the Western 12-note music system. And let's face it, the 12 bar blues progression is truly just an extremely simply progression that has been rehashed a gazillion times whilst refusing to die.

You can look at it two ways.

You can look at every blues performance as being "unique and original" in the subtle details, or you can look at it as being totally worn-out boring stuff in the overall big picture.

Of course, "jazz" in general covers a whole lot more harmonic territory in terms of chordal progressions, etc.

I personally find it quite difficult to come up with truly new music. Something I wish I could do easily. People who can do it, are either quite lucky, gifted, or have simply figured out a way to analytically create new tunes.

There are stories of composers trying everything under the sun. From listening to the microscopic sounds made by insects, to even trying to extract new melodies and rhythmic patterns from the noises made by everyday man-made machines.

What's a composer but an improviser who puts his improvised thoughts down on paper?

I've composed some musical pieces that I feel are 'unique' but I'm not sure how 'original' they are in terms of their overall structure.

Here's a piece I wrote for guitar and flute: This was generated by my sheet music program. But I wrote this from scratch off the top of my head. I actually wrote it with both instruments in-hand. Playing each part as I composed it. I wanted to be sure that it was something that was indeed easily playable on these instruments.

Fantasy for Flute and Guitar

You might not thing of this is improvisation, but isn't it truly nothing more than improv that is being written down?

It's that all that composition amounts too? Especially when the composer is sitting there with instrument in-hand making up the parts as he goes, and then just writing down what he had just played.

I also composed this piece for Guitar and Banjo in a similar fashion.

Repikulous

Again, I wrote it with instruments in hand, basically just writing down what I was improvising.

I confess though that this was, in a sense, my own version of "Dueling Banjos". Although clearly my version sounds nothing at all like the original music. The only idea that was retrained was the idea of having the piece start off going back and forth between the guitar and banjo as in a duel.

What what I did 'True Improvisation'?

All of this come totally off the top of my head. No pre-learned or pre-practiced licks or anything like that. I just played what I felt like playing.
 
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BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
I've just started working seriously on licks myself. My teacher (http://www.mikehall.co.uk/, really sound guy) explained it to me as follows.

The purpose of learning licks (and solos) is not so much to trot them out slavishly in your own solos (though it can be useful to have something to fall back on when your mind goes blank). The idea is to take a lick that you like (not just the next one on some list compiled by someone else) and work on it thoroughly. Find out what it is you like about it. How does it fit with the chord sequence? What voice leading ideas are being used? How does it sound if I use a regular 9th instead of a flat 9? Try varying the rhythm, delaying or advancing resolution of non-chord tones. That sort of thing. That way, you're developing your ear, learning harmony, being creative and developing a personal style (because *you*'re choosing the material and taking in directions that *you* find interesting). Better to learn one lick in depth than ten superficially.

I had this lesson about three weeks ago. Since then I've learned a grand total of two II-V-I licks. But I've learned a lot more by doing it than just two sequences of notes.
 
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ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
I've just started working seriously on licks myself. My teacher (http://www.mikehall.co.uk/, really sound guy) explained it to me as follows.

The purpose of learning licks (and solos) is not so much to trot them out slavishly in your own solos (though it can be useful to have something to fall back on when your mind goes blank). The idea is to take a lick that you like (not just the next one on some list compiled by someone else) and work on it thouroughly. Find out what it is you like about it. How does it fit with the chord sequence? What voice leading ideas are being used? How does it sound if I use a regular 9th instead of a flat 9? Try varying the rhythm, delaying or advancing resolution of non-chord tones. That sort of thing. That way, you're developing your ear, learning harmony, being creative and developing a personal style (because *you*'re choosing the material and taking in directions that *you* find interesting). Better to learn one lick in depth than ten superficially.

I had this lesson about three weeks ago. Since then I've learned a grand total of two II-V-I licks. But I've learned a lot more by doing it than just two sequences of notes.
Great stuff Martin :thumb: I learned this way and I have a collection of licks that work over the typical chord structures of major blues, minor blues, major and minor ii-V-i s, and you're right they become so ingrained that after you've practiced them a squillion times you automatically know where to use them.

As you say eventually, instead of trotting them out parrot fashion you find yourself drawn towards the essence of them so you can put own spin on them. Where I still come unstuck is on very chordal pieces that don't have obvious patterns that I recognise easily from the chord symbols (without a lot of working out first and scribbling on the music) so I've recently started working very hard on playing through pieces just playing each chord's arpeggio (one of my weaker areas) so I can call on any arpeggio or note from each chord at will to find guide tones and hopefull navigate my way through sounding half reasonable (if it all goes wrong I just play the root note! >:))

My other weak areas are the more off road techniques like side slipping and wholetone patterns etc, so I'm going start working on those more too. :)
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
I'm currently working through a book on licks, phrases and patterns. But from my point of view, it's not so much for learning specific licks as it is for gaining fingering practice. Every lick I play seems to expand my fingering techniques. Of course, I'm still a beginner on the sax, but still, it's more about learning and expanding fingering techniques than it is about learning "licks" for me.

And like Big Martin suggests, if I were going to use any of this material in actual music I'd probably modify in a freestyle form anyway.

So for me, learning licks is just "fingering practice".

Well, it helps me to sight-read better too. ;}
 

johnboy

Senior Member
Messages
1,179
I have an armoury of theory, licks and riffs in my head but when it comes to it, it all flies out the window when I'm improvising, and I just do my own thing!! :)))
And you do it very well young lady :welldone

Personally I just play, thinking shall I stay down a bit, go up, bend it, or growl. What happens, happens.

John :):):):):):);}
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
Of course, there is a valid argument that there are only twelve notes, which even when bent originate or end at one of them and can only be played in distinct orders a certain number of rimes. Add length and timing and a mathematician could tell you the possible number of variations and therefore prove we are all copyist.

Do I believe it? Of course not in my case, it's you lot that are the copyists. >:)>:)
 

johnboy

Senior Member
Messages
1,179
Of course, there is a valid argument that there are only twelve notes, which even when bent originate or end at one of them and can only be played in distinct orders a certain number of rimes. Add length and timing and a mathematician could tell you the possible number of variations and therefore prove we are all copyist.

Do I believe it? Of course not in my case, it's you lot that are the copyists. >:)>:)
I see plenty of reason and 'RIME' in your arguement (even more >:)>:)>:))
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Of course, there is a valid argument that there are only twelve notes, which even when bent originate or end at one of them and can only be played in distinct orders a certain number of rimes. Add length and timing and a mathematician could tell you the possible number of variations and therefore prove we are all copyist.
Hi OG. It's your friendly neighbourhood mathematician here. What you say is only true in the short term.Take a sequence of 3 notes and you have no chance of being the first one to play it. Make that 100 notes of random-ish noodling and you have very little chance of it having ever been played before.

Actually, I've heard this "only 12 notes" thing a lot and I don't agree. It depends what you call a note. In Western harmony we have 12 note NAMES, but they can be played in different octaves wth different durations, different accents, different tonal qualities, vibrato, and so on. To my ear those are all different notes.

And then theres the question of context. The same note has a different effect on beat 4 than it does on the "and" of 1, for example. A B played against a Cmaj7 doesn't sount the same as a B against a D7, or whatever.

And on the sax we're not really limited to equal temperament. I'm not just talking about bending notes. Get two decent sax players to play a mjaor 3rd together and they'll ususally drift into playing a true major third (frequency ratio 4:5 if I'm doing my sums right) because it sounds nicer than the equal-tempered one. "Blue notes" are something similar, I believe.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
BigMartin,
Don't come heavy with me, I'm backed by the CaSLM. >:)

Would be interesting to check when you consider music began, presumably prior to the emergence of any human as primates have the ability to sound different pitches. Could you please supply an equation, not that I will understand it, furthering your argument and let's make it even easier by one octave of equal temperament only.

Your chance to bamboozle us poor mutts. :)
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
BigMartin,
Don't come heavy with me, I'm backed by the CaSLM. >:)

Would be interesting to check when you consider music began, presumably prior to the emergence of any human as primates have the ability to sound different pitches. Could you please supply an equation, not that I will understand it, furthering your argument and let's make it even easier by one octave of equal temperament only.

Your chance to bamboozle us poor mutts. :)
Let him have it Martin! And don't forget to integrate with respect to cussedness to assess variability between players.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
BigMartin,
Don't come heavy with me, I'm backed by the CaSLM. >:)

Would be interesting to check when you consider music began, presumably prior to the emergence of any human as primates have the ability to sound different pitches. Could you please supply an equation, not that I will understand it, furthering your argument and let's make it even easier by one octave of equal temperament only.

Your chance to bamboozle us poor mutts. :)
OK. 100 notes, 12 possibilites for each one. that's 12^100 (12 to the power of 100) possible sequences. Way, way more than the number of atoms in the universe (about 10^70 if memory serves me right). Stick to C major if you like. Still an astronomical (or should that be supra-astronomical?) number.

Edit: of course, most of them will sound like ****, especially if I'm playing them.

Edit (2); Also, I don't think it's fair to expect other primates or even early hominids to have used even-tempered 12 note scales.
 
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old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
BigMartin,
Sorry, not impressed. Primarily because you were asked for one octave of equal temperament and if you ask anyone who has seen the Pleiades or similar asterisms, the number of atoms on earth are not impressive. >:)

As for putting down primates and hominids, sheer homo sapiens' bias. ;}

Oh, and BTW Kev, stop stirring or you'll go on my list and remember the CaSLM are nastier than Gilbert and Sullivan or Gilbert O'Sullivan.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
BigMartin,
Sorry, not impressed. Primarily because you were asked for one octave of equal temperament and if you ask anyone who has seen the Pleiades or similar asterisms, the number of atoms on earth are not impressive. >:)
Hold on, there! I did say atoms in the Universe, I believe. Including all yer pleiades and galaxies and what-nots. And I did (very generously, if I say so myself) restrict myself to 12 notes. How many hominids have there ever been? Pick a number, but remember the Earth is only about 4 billion years old. How many 100-note one-octave even-tempered tunes can the average hominid play in a liftetime? A million? Make it a billion, if you like. Multiply them together, you won't scratch the surface of 12^100.

As for putting down primates and hominids, sheer homo sapiens' bias. ;}
Are you calling JS Bach a plagiarist?

Oh, and BTW Kev, stop stirring or you'll go on my list and remember the CaSLM are nastier than Gilbert and Sullivan or Gilbert O'Sullivan.
There is nothing on this earth (maybe in the Pleiades, I dont' know, haven't been there yet), I repeat NOTHING, nastier than Gilbert O'Sullivan.
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
OK. 100 notes, 12 possibilites for each one. that's 12^100 (12 to the power of 100) possible sequences. Way, way more than the number of atoms in the universe (about 10^70 if memory serves me right). Stick to C major if you like. Still an astronomical (or should that be supra-astronomical?) number.

Edit: of course, most of them will sound like ****, especially if I'm playing them.

Edit (2); Also, I don't think it's fair to expect other primates or even early hominids to have used even-tempered 12 note scales.
You definitely made my point in the blue underlined statement in your quote:

Yes, mathematically I'll agree with you that if you start fiddling with numbers to try to calculate the possible combinations of notes you will indeed end up with astronomical numbers.

But how many of those are going to sound half-way decent to the human ear?

Start tossing out all the random junk combinations, and that astronomical number may actually whittle down to something almost manageable.

So you can't go by pure mathematics without taking into consideration the fact that humans don't find random combinations to be "musical".

~~~~

Oh wow!

I just argued with a mathematician and I might have even made some sense! :thumb:
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
Edit (2); Also, I don't think it's fair to expect other primates or even early hominids to have used even-tempered 12 note scales.
Whilst I'm here, I'll nit-pick at this other idea.

I think it is fair actually. I mean obviously not all cultures came up with the 12 note scales. And some cultures do indeed use sounds that are note even-tempered.

But in truth, from actual mathematical frequency analysis the 12 note scale is the most practical in the universe (mathematically speaking). It's not even perfect, that's why it needs to be "Well-tempered". The next scale up that would be slightly more "naturally-tempered" would need to consist of 48 notes I believe. Which is impractical, especially if you're planning on writing this stuff down into musical notation. Can you imagine trying to read a staff that could accommodate 48 notes in say a 3-octave range?

So the 12 note well-tempered scale was actually put onto us by nature in a way. And thus any living entities that become evolved well enough to get into actually writing music down in notated score are probably going to end up with a 12-note well-tempered system.

This really isn't so much an "invention" of humans. It's more of an recognized necessity of the universe if you planning on writing things down in convenient notation on paper. That's really the key right there. If you're not going to bother to notate it on paper you could potentially move up to the 48 note scale like some Eastern cultures have done.

The 12-note well-tempered scale is really designed to make "music theory" possible in a very simplified and manageable way. But it was "designed" based on natural harmonics which pretty much forced the 12-note system onto us by the nature of physics.

So if space aliens exist and are highly intellectual, I would expect them to be using a 12-note well-tempered scales too. Although it would be interesting to hear their music. I imagine their music would be quite different from ours in terms of the kinds of moods and feelings they are attempting to express.

Wouldn't it be absolutely thrilling to meet aliens if only to see what kind music they are into?

Actually if they are that far advanced intellectually they may have actually moved up to the 48 note scale. I wonder if humans will ever move up to the 48 note scale. Music theory would become a nightmare and imagine what practicing scales would suddenly mean! Yikes! I guess there would be 48 keys too then! Each one having 48 modes!

Yep, it would be an intellectual nightmare. But imagine the possibilities in terms of key modulations? Wow!
 

rudjarl

Senile Member. Scandinavian Ambassadour of CaSLM
Messages
657
But in truth, from actual mathematical frequency analysis the 12 note scale is the most practical in the universe (mathematically speaking).
Nope, not mathematically, but since we find those frequencies most pleasing to our ears, those are the ones we've got stuck with. And then, long time later, mathematically inclined people felt the need to do some measurements and in an 'ambushy' sort of way, impose a set of rules on us unsuspecting buggers.

The next scale up that would be slightly more "naturally-tempered" would need to consist of 48 notes I believe. Which is impractical, especially if you're planning on writing this stuff down into musical notation.
I have no idea where you got those 48 notes within a scale thingy from. But from informed sources I know that the humpback whale can easily compress at least 7 pentatonic scales within a fortnight.
 
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