Sunday, September 12, 2010


I keep coming up against the very strong feelings of high level players on the value of sight reading, and I understand what they're saying, especially as it applies to high level players being able to fill in at the last moment. It's also a terrific skill at lower levels of play as well, as it allows you to browse through material to see what you want to work on.

With the exception of Jeffrey Agrell, though, they rarely talk about improvising. I think what my problem is with sight reading is that it's not balanced with making up some stuff on your own. They are two completely different ways of making music and working on both will make you a better music maker as different parts of the brain get exercised. Going with just one seems to me to have to distort your sense of what music making can be.

As I think about it, I've read through a number of practice routines mentioning scales and etudes and sight reading and current literature, but have never seen mention of spending as little as five minutes a day improvising. No wonder so many high level classical players freeze up at the thought of improvising or composing. 

Part of what's going on here is my focus on the music maker and wanting to enrich that experience, whereas educators are more biased towards the needs of the music itself. Why you're doing what you're doing affects how you do it.


  1. I think that amongst musicians trained solely in the classical tradition, there is such little need for improvisation skills in performance that it is perceived that there isn't much justification for teaching or practising the skill.

    I suspect that if you were to talk to musicians brought up more in the jazz or folk traditions, there would be much more receptiveness to the idea of teaching and learning improv techniques.

    Music in schools in Britain is now much broader than merely classical. Pop, electronic music of all varieties, big band, ethnic and other varieties of music are increasingly taught in addition (and sometimes instead of) classical. So a new generation of children is growing up where improv is more part of the musical scenery.

  2. Jonathan - As always, thanks for the comment. Sounds like the British music system is still way ahead of what's going on over here.

    As to improv in general, what I'm trying to suggest is that it's another way to nurture musicality. Anyone allowed into the music educational system is probably going to already have a feel for musicality, even if not as blessed as you were in nature and nurture.

    My target audience is that majority of people not allowed into the system. I think I'm not clear enough at times that I follow all the educational/performer info to see how it can be adapted for regular folks. Not everything done by the elite is going to work for the masses. I'm not trying to get folks like you to change what you're doing, but to figure out how to help others outside the system do something akin what you're doing.