Here’s a nice little video, the second I’ve done for Mike Spears’ iFiddlemag.com, featuring my thoughts on scales, arpeggios and what part practice plays in improvisation. …you may be surprised at my answer! I’m actually rather proud of this unscripted piece. I hope you enjoy and benefit from it!
Here’s also the accompanying article I wrote for the magazine. Enjoy.
The natural musician
By Geoffrey Fitzhugh Perry
Think about this scenario for a minute…
You are hanging with friends, goofing around, cracking jokes and “riffing” off each other, everyone is smiling and having a good time together.
Have you or your friends prepared and memorized what you are saying to each other? Are you reading it off a page to each other? Surely not! Doing so, unless maybe your are all trained professional actors, would most likely sound pretty stiff and un-natural, wouldn’t it?
We can not really say that that pleasurable scene, and the things that your friends are saying, is merely coincidental & blissful ignorance though either, can we? In any conversation, there are obviously some very specific things that you and your friends have learned ahead of time, and share, in order to make those good times possible… and those things? …they are called language!
Music, the universal language, is no different than this.
Conversation amongst friends is a perfect parallel to musical improvisation! We know the words, and have built a database of vocabulary in our brains, but barely have to think about speaking those words after a decade or two of practice! Musical improvisation should follow the same exact model… if you desire to sound natural and, what some call “gifted,” you should strive to not think too hard about the notes and just play!
So, just like, as children, we learn what the words “momma,” “dada,” and “hot” all mean, through repeated attempts, encouragement, and experience, we also learn musical “conversing” by practicing some notes, ideas, and riffs ahead of time.
The “rub” in this practice though, is when we start thinking that the notes, scales, and riffs we practice and learn ahead of time are the real conversation! Notes are just notes, just like words are just words, both which hold little value until put into meaningful phrases, properly placed at the right times, with the right inflection.
So what does this all mean to you, the practicing musician?
Yes, practice some scales and arpeggios, and maybe even transcribe a few of your favorite performer’s solos, transpose them to a few other keys, etc… but my advice? …don’t go overboard with this practice.
The best study path to becoming an authoritative and natural sounding improviser really has very little to do with technique or virtuosity and, just like you learned your first words and assimilated them one at a time, effective improv “practice” uses a plateaued learning structure where you learn a riff or two, “play” with them, and then use them in musical conversations by placing them purposefully at specific times decided strictly by you and you only.
No need to be overwhelmed, thinking that you have to know the whole language first before “speaking” (playing) a “word” (note)!
If you want to get good at scales and arpeggios… practice scales and arpeggios.
If you want to get good at improvising… improvise more! …starting with one note! Practice being as creative as you can with that one note at first. There is no shame in such a “practice!” …regardless of how technically advanced you might be as a player.
That is the simple magic of being a good improviser… take what you know, don’t think about it too much, and simply… Play!
PS: Learn more specific techniques about playing creatively at www.FiddleJamInstitute.com!