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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Everyone else is making it up, except classical musicians

Carlos interviewed on Radio Nuevo Leon Monterrey, Mexico, 2009

- The benefits of improvisation come from just getting on with it -

Until quite recently improvising in classical music was quite a normal activity. It did not require particular talent, for it was part and parcel of music-making. For musicians it was one of various skills they employed. Improvising is still thriving in many other musical areas such as jazz, folk, and rock music. It is also alive and well in Eastern music, and woven into the very fabric of Indian music.

Notice I write the word classical music in italics. I don’t like the word, in the same way that I don’t like the reference to a classical guitar. The description is not accurate. What’s more it sounds over-refined and distant. Maybe it is a fair reflection of how it is perceived by both listeners and players. If so it may help explain what has happened to improvisation by classical musicians. It may be that the respect for every note and indication left to us by dead composers has led to us not daring to change anything. This has rubbed off into not improvising cadenzas in concertos, and not improvising introductions to familiar pieces. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that player-composers did just that.

In recent years some classical musicians have emerged who have taken up this challenge, and very exciting they are to watch and listen to. There are few of them, and those who are doing so are very good at it. And for this reason the mystique of the improvising classical artist continues.

But does improvising have to be considered something so special? Does it grow out of some mysterious space buried deep in the creative souls of a lucky few? Are the rest destined to listen admiringly and wonder how it is done? My answer is no, for the evidence from other musical cultures is that improvising is a musical skill like any other: it can be acquired. Some will be better at it than others, just like everything else.

The key is to remove at the early stages of development the over-riding importance attached to learning to play other people’s music, and to enjoy making your own. In the beginning improvisation can rely on following simple chord patterns repeated over and over again. It can then be enlarged step by step. In this way a new method of learning can arise whereby many technical and musical improvements can happen through improvising. It will not replace the usual method of practice, but will enhance it and turn learning to play into a much more enjoyable and creative exercise.

So, if organists can do it, why not guitarists and other instrumentalists too?

If this approach were to take off, I can see a day approaching when children would be asked to improvise a Baroque sequence, or part of a Romantic cadenza, or a piece of their own based on a four note fragment handed to them a few minutes before one of their grade exams. And if you think this is a bit far-fetched remember that organists have never lost touch with an improvising tradition and are still expected to do all I have described and more.

So, if organists can do it, why not guitarists and other instrumentalists too? The hardest part is making a start. After that enthusiasm, excitement, and creative juices take over, no matter whether the player is good at it or not. What’s more it doesn’t matter how good the player is at improvising, the benefits come from getting on with it.

If you are not sure how to get going, well….just make it up. After all that is what improvising is all about!

20th January, Mexico

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2158 .
© 2019.

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