One minute improvisation aptitude test

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
1,460
Location
New Zealand and Australia
#1
Here’s a simple one minute exercise that shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Improvisation starts with you and many/most of you have an innate ability to improvise. What’s often lacking is a means of transferring that ability to an instrument.

Exercise 1
Sing, hum or whistle “Happy birthday to you” without the words. You don’t have to be pitch perfect, but be aware of whether you hear in your head the correct pitch (even if you can’t match it). It should be obvious that you couldn’t begin to sing this simple tune if you couldn’t conceive of it in your head.

Exercise 2
Pick a random start note (other than the previous one you used/sang) and repeat the tune again. Did you find it difficult to hear the notes after your random start note? If this was easy for you, then congratulations, you can transpose by ear.

Exercise 3
This time repeat the tune at a very slow speed and add notes between that “embellish” and lengthen the tune. You can take this in any direction you like as a mournful tune, ballad, etc. Try to have a feel and story behind the notes. If you found this easy, then congratulations, you can improvise...simple as that! This is a basic “theme and variation” style of improvisation. It’s the first stepping stone towards a world of improvised music. You can make up a myriad of other variations for yourself.

This is NOT the same as jazz theoretical improvisation and is instead more akin to composition. The music comes from you. Those of you who are interested and found this exercise easy may wish to explore how to further engage your improvising potential. More exercises can be posted if enough of you are interested.
 
Last edited:
Messages
485
#6
I can't sing to save my life so I've failed. That's song's too advanced for me. There are too many leaps in it for my untrained voice. The notes that come out of my mouth are nothing like the ones in my head. I hit many notes wrongly and have to gliss to where they should be. Especially where it goes an octave up then down in thirds. When I have to sing it, I just shut up for that bit.
 

Mark

New Member
Subscriber
Messages
28
Location
Hertfordshire
#7
Here’s a simple one minute exercise that shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Improvisation starts with you and many/most of you have an innate ability to improvise. What’s often lacking is a means of transferring that ability to an instrument.

Exercise 1
Sing, hum or whistle “Happy birthday to you” without the words. You don’t have to be pitch perfect, but be aware of whether you hear in your head the correct pitch (even if you can’t match it). It should be obvious that you couldn’t begin to sing this simple tune if you couldn’t conceive of it in your head.

Exercise 2
Pick a random start note (other than the previous one you used/sang) and repeat the tune again. Did you find it difficult to hear the notes after your random start note? If this was easy for you, then congratulations, you can transpose by ear.

Exercise 3
This time repeat the tune at a very slow speed and add notes between that “embellish” and lengthen the tune. You can take this in any direction you like as a mournful tune, ballad, etc. Try to have a feel and story behind the notes. If you found this easy, then congratulations, you can improvise...simple as that! This is a basic “theme and variation” style of improvisation. It’s the first stepping stone towards a world of improvised music. You can make up a myriad of other variations for yourself.

This is NOT the same a jazz theoretical improvisation and is instead more akin to composition. The music comes from you. Those of you who are interested and found this exercise easy may wish to explore how to further engage your improvising potential. More exercises can be posted if enough of you are interested.
I am interested in more.
 

Targa

Among the pigeons
Subscriber
Messages
8,135
Location
KIC 8462852
#8
I didn't know 'Happy Birthday to you' had more than one note, it always sounds to me like it's sung as a funeral dirge.
But then:
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
1,460
Location
New Zealand and Australia
#10
I can do the above exercises ‘using Happy Birthday’ but the problem i have is transferring it to my sax !
That's EXACTLY what this is about and was the first thing said. Many already have the ability to improvise in their heads. What's needed are exercises that will help you become one with your horn so that you can play what you hear.
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
1,460
Location
New Zealand and Australia
#11
I can't sing to save my life so I've failed. That's song's too advanced for me. There are too many leaps in it for my untrained voice. The notes that come out of my mouth are nothing like the ones in my head. I hit many notes wrongly and have to gliss to where they should be. Especially where it goes an octave up then down in thirds. When I have to sing it, I just shut up for that bit.
If it's the range of "Happy Birthday" then substitute "twinkle twinkle little star". No big skips in that one.
If you can whistle that's OK too. Hearing the notes you want , whether you can physically produce them or not, is what this is about. If you have difficulty in hearing a transposition or creating a variation, then there's a lot of remedial basic training that would be necessary.
 
Last edited:

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
1,460
Location
New Zealand and Australia
#12
Nice to hear that there is some interest. Further exercises will be for those who can hear the transposition and are able to hear a variation. Those who can't are unfortunately still back at the starting blocks. To be honest I wouldn't know how to help someone learn to hear music in their head. It's likely they would need a face to face learning situation where keys to their learning could be explored with instant feedback.

There is a basic learning issue that sits underneath all this. People have different ways of learning. To simplify we'll just divide them into two groups: Visual and Aural. The visuals types learn by seeing, the aurals learn by hearing. Most of us are not all one sort, but shades of grey. It should be obvious that those who are more aural will (generally) have an easier time learning music. Visual types who have good dexterity can be exceptional readers and able to learn to play the "cut and paste" style improvisation that follows rules/theory, so they have a route they can take, but it's not the same.
 

Jazzaferri

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
2,182
Location
Victoria BC Canada
#14
For those if us who learned to improvise/create music as children I think it is hard to figure out how best to advise those who didn't.

Improvisation is creating. Part of the process usually includes learning by rote someone else's lines or parts thereof but beyond that...whew.

I think @Wade Cornell makes a great point of beginning the process. For those who have a hard time with melodic creation perhaps starting with one note rhythmic im.0rovisations might prove useful
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
1,460
Location
New Zealand and Australia
#15
For those if us who learned to improvise/create music as children I think it is hard to figure out how best to advise those who didn't.

Improvisation is creating. Part of the process usually includes learning by rote someone else's lines or parts thereof but beyond that...whew.

I think @Wade Cornell makes a great point of beginning the process. For those who have a hard time with melodic creation perhaps starting with one note rhythmic im.0rovisations might prove useful
Thanks Jazzaferri. There's really two parts to this and we'll try to tackle them both at once. One is continuing to develop people's inner voice and stretching their composition/improvising thinking. The other is practice with their instrument to make it their voice. The latter is (IMHO) the most difficult and can take years. Well, have to start sometime and somewhere.
 

MandyH

Sax-Mad fiend!
Subscriber
Messages
3,215
Location
The Malverns, Worcs
#16
I can do the above exercises ‘using Happy Birthday’ but the problem i have is transferring it to my sax !
Yep, that's me!
I can sing (well grunt!) something that is at the correct pitch, then at some random transposed pitch, then with embellishments, but stick the sax in my hand, and if I am lucky enough to find the first note, then the 2nd note is unlikely to be forthcoming!

A while ago, I was part of a small group of sax players who attempted this - happy birthday may have been one tune, all things bright & beautiful was another.
Firstly we had to work it out & play it by ear, then transpose it wherever we fancied and try it again.

It was a worthwhile exercise, but I didn't pursue it much more than that.
 
Messages
2
Location
Sheffield
#17
Here’s a simple one minute exercise that shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Improvisation starts with you and many/most of you have an innate ability to improvise. What’s often lacking is a means of transferring that ability to an instrument.

Exercise 1
Sing, hum or whistle “Happy birthday to you” without the words. You don’t have to be pitch perfect, but be aware of whether you hear in your head the correct pitch (even if you can’t match it). It should be obvious that you couldn’t begin to sing this simple tune if you couldn’t conceive of it in your head.

Exercise 2
Pick a random start note (other than the previous one you used/sang) and repeat the tune again. Did you find it difficult to hear the notes after your random start note? If this was easy for you, then congratulations, you can transpose by ear.

Exercise 3
This time repeat the tune at a very slow speed and add notes between that “embellish” and lengthen the tune. You can take this in any direction you like as a mournful tune, ballad, etc. Try to have a feel and story behind the notes. If you found this easy, then congratulations, you can improvise...simple as that! This is a basic “theme and variation” style of improvisation. It’s the first stepping stone towards a world of improvised music. You can make up a myriad of other variations for yourself.

This is NOT the same as jazz theoretical improvisation and is instead more akin to composition. The music comes from you. Those of you who are interested and found this exercise easy may wish to explore how to further engage your improvising potential. More exercises can be posted if enough of you are interested.
I go to a jazz workshop to help me with more interesting improvisation skills. I have always been able to play around with the melody. but find playing with chord progressions and and all the various scales helps but it does somewhat constrict my melodic improvisation ability when thinking this more theoretical way. Trouble is when using my imagination I invariably loose the form.
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
1,460
Location
New Zealand and Australia
#18
I go to a jazz workshop to help me with more interesting improvisation skills. I have always been able to play around with the melody. but find playing with chord progressions and and all the various scales helps but it does somewhat constrict my melodic improvisation ability when thinking this more theoretical way. Trouble is when using my imagination I invariably loose the form.
I hear what you're saying Bob. It's hard to mesh these two different realities. When reading a chart you're usually just trying to plug in chord tones, scales and arpeggios that fit. There's little or no crossover as you're locked into continually "translating" chord notation into your fingers without necessarily being able to hear what you're about to play. Your fingers lead your ears. If playing melodically it's the opposite. Your "ears" lead your fingers.

The trick to playing melodically is that you need to continually be hearing the tune (head). If you can't hear it then you won't know where you are. That's why we start with something simple. Many tunes have very recognizable form, which means that it's possible to hear what's coming. The simplest would be 12 bar blues, but many standards also have very predictable form. Developing a mental library of specific music as well as generally is the key. An exercise that helped me, and I still use is to turn on the radio to random stations and see if I can play along. It's best to use music you DON'T know. When playing, as compared to just listening, you're trying to fit as well as anticipate what's coming. A few years of this exercise will give you confidence to play in many settings.

IMHO if you can play melodically you have a gift. It's not necessarily unique, yet needs nurturing. Following chord charts is pretty much like paining by the numbers. You will wind up with something that sounds OK, but it won't necessarily have that individual spark that sets creative people apart.

Old saying: you are what you eat. Likewise you will sound like what you practice and play. It's a much more lonely road to develop yourself as a melodic player rather than follow the heard and paint/play by the numbers. Ironically, that doesn't mean that you should give up on learning the theory and learning to HEAR all of those chords and their nuances. That's part of your tool kit, but the tools are not the artwork, you still need to use the tools to create. That doesn't happen (IMHO) for those who are stuck with just trying to manipulate the tools as fast as possible but have nothing artistically to say.
 
Last edited:

randulo

Europe
Subscriber
Messages
369
Location
Bordeaux, France
#19
I've jammed with a lot of musicians over the years (on guitar) and a couple of years ago, I was at a keyboard player's place with keys, bass and two guitars and was surprised by something. In the middle of a tune he yelled "scat!" and everyone had to trade fours on voice. It was a great idea, probably not new, but I'd not been involved in this before. I think it's an excellent idea, which is why I interject it here. I hope you find it à propos.
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
1,460
Location
New Zealand and Australia
#20
I've jammed with a lot of musicians over the years (on guitar) and a couple of years ago, I was at a keyboard player's place with keys, bass and two guitars and was surprised by something. In the middle of a tune he yelled "scat!" and everyone had to trade fours on voice. It was a great idea, probably not new, but I'd not been involved in this before. I think it's an excellent idea, which is why I interject it here. I hope you find it à propos.
An excellent idea! Even better if players use their instrument as their voice! I've got to admit though that trading 4s doesn't give you much space to develop a melodic line. You've only got a few seconds to say anything, so it's usually just a rhythmic diddle that (hopefully) works. The masters of rhythmic ideas are East Indian Tabla players. They practice saying/singing what they are about to play. Their voice becomes their instrument and their instrument can perfectly reflect what they have vocally conceived of. The equivalent for us is to sing a line, then be able to play that line. If you can do this, then your are likely "one with your instrument". Make your instrument your voice.
 
Top Bottom