How can improvisation help structure a formal composition? #1

This is quick method of fleshing out potential composition material.

Brief: Create a 3-minute melody using 3 notes. 

The purpose is to:

  1. Enable students to create material very quickly.
  2. Build an appreciation of structure and its importance.
  3. Help a composition to assume a natural, improvisatory sense of flow throughout.
  4. Solve the issue of accompaniment- using teacher led ideas to inform a midi accompaniment which could be transferred onto any other instrument.

The student chooses 3 notes they are comfortable playing and likes the sound of when played alongside each other.

Set a mic (phone mic or other) with the student.

The teacher accompanies the student he/she improvises for 3 minutes. 

The teacher’s keyboard is linked by midi so that the mp3 recording can be imported and set alongside the midi notes in Logic. The more fluent a student is with improvising on their instrument, the more likely they are to try more exploratory ways of using these very limited resources.

Once recorded, the student listens back with the teacher at a keyboard. (An initial way to think of the piece graphically could be drawn here too). The student writes down the short phrases which sound like they will work on a mini whiteboard. If a phrase would sound better in a different order the whiteboards are moved around. While doing this the student should justify his/her choices musically- thinking carefully about how the phrases sit alongside each other.

…Do they fit together?

…Is there any symmetry in length between phrases?

…Is there a sense of opening and closure to the phrases when they are played successively?

…What makes or breaks the ‘story’ of what is going on in the music?

…Where are the weak points within the structure?

…Where are the points of tension and release?… Why have you chosen to create tension/release here/there?

Is there a balance within the melody of repetition, movements of steps, skips and jumps?

Next the piano improvisations are listened to and analysed. 

…How does it work alongside the main melody?

…What sort of piano/other instrumental accompaniment works best (use textural vocabulary of polyphonic, contrapuntal, monophonic, homophonic, melody and accompaniment etc.)

…Are there any points where the accompaniment interferes with what you feel is the more important melodic content?

…How would you define the relationship between the melody and accompaniment – use of a metaphor here might be useful to describe the power plays / dynamics (bee to flower: struggle, searching, excitement …. or the way a car tyre interacts with asphalt at different speeds: rolling, twisting, skidding, sticking, stopping, blocking…)

Finally these ideas are drawn up into a more formal Logic recording or written Sibelius piece which uses the material to create a short sketch. This could form the method of composition for a single section of a larger piece and the method could be expanded or contracted to fit the needs and interests of the composer.