Falling Gracefully

The Art of Improvisation 


Toy story is one of my all time favorite animated movies!! Did you watch the movie? Do you remember the scene in the film where Buzz Light Year is showing off a little bit when he flies?! Woody exclaims, in discuss, “That’s not flying, that was falling in style!” Lol, funny scene! 


That is how I feel about improvisation in music. The more skilled you are at doing it gives the people the impression you are flying when in reality you are just falling with style. When improvising you really don’t know where you're going or where the journey will end. You are truly along for the ride just like the audience experiencing your performance. While there are some sign posts and rules in some cases but the music is truly being created in the moment. 


Music educators should teach some form of improvisation as early as possible in a beginner’s development, it would offset the rigid nature of music theory and rudimental music study. As soon as you get your student to take in the rules of music the faster you need to get them to stretch and be creative with them. 


Without improvisation, music can be very wooden and plastic. Don’t get me wrong there has been some very beautiful music written by decades of composers and musicians creating some incredible compositions. The theory was created from decades of composers and musicians creating some incredible composition. The problem remains; it’s still history and lacks forward motion without improvisation. 


Even with beginner, we can create exercises that build the skill of improvisation. Try this when teaching scales - use the number system and start off with simple exercises like the first 5 degrees of the scale and have your students practice soloing only using those 5 scale pitches. This is a great way to quickly get students to take the rules and create in the moment improvisational music. 


Check out this video of legendary saxophonist Ernie Watts talking about improvisation at a music workshop. It’s a little longer than my usual video but even if it takes you a few sittings I think it will be valuable to musicians of all developmental levels. Check it out and remember we may never be able to fly but we can all “fall with style” as we create great music to bless the world! 


Video-Ernie watts Melodic approach to improvisation By Brian Pace 


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