Tuesday, August 22, 2006

E=mc2, and You Couldn't Just Make That Up

After my interview with Darcy James Argue, some of my readers have asked me, "Esteemed Professor, what is your stance on improvisation?" I often respond curtly as I am very busy preparing for the fall semester, but it turns out that I needn't alter my lesson plans from the last five years, so I thought I'd use some of my spare time to briefly explain my take on musical improvisation.

My experience with improvisation includes six months of lessons from the Hotel Cadillac's Professor of Guitar Tablature, Dr. Fretler Fendless; five years as musical consultant on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" children's book series; and my ongoing development of the Predictaphone – a TANDY recording device that records an improvised melody, filters out the "accidents," and replaces them with more appropriate notes and rhythms.

Students and other young people believe that improvisation is a kind of composition. That couldn't be further from the truth. Composers don't get their ideas from making things up on the spot. We establish systems, structures, patterns, and pre-determined progressions. We do not subject ourselves to the whim of the "spirit;" that type of performance, dear readers, is for gospel choirs, not for learned professors.

Composition is an intellectual pursuit, and as such, it should not be polluted by the dangerous white-waters of improvisation. Improvisation is not done with the brain, but rather with the gut, or the pelvis.

I'm not going to stand here at my blog and disallow my readers to improvise, but I will say this: Once you start making music on the spot, you may not be able to create music on the page. Keep that in mind, dear readers. And remember, you may have a hard time earning a doctorate, since most institutions of higher learning do not allow students to just come up with their dissertations on the spot.

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