Looking for Comp & Improv Ideas
Found in: Composition & Improvisation
I am looking for comp and improv ideas? Anyone have any that they would like to share?
Sue K., Australia
I am so pleased you have asked about this. It is an area I struggle with also. I often ask them to take a simple right hand (dog is good) and try it out with all the left hands they know. Can they make it work shifting the left hand or making another change. Then follow up with what else can they do to make it sound great.
Also work with a specific left hand (Fur Elise is great for this but played in different ways) and create a right hand.
Hope this helps a little.
Kelly C., Canada
This is not an everyday idea, but one of the things Elaine F. and I are doing for our Christmas adult open stage is assigning the composition project where you place your 5 fingers over 5 white notes, and you only have 10 notes with which to compose a song.
We are all looking forward to hearing everyone’s composition and all the variety that the students bring to this project. The students really dove into this project, knowing that they would have an audience and a place to bring their finished songs.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Comp/Improv Class Notes from 2009 Omaha Conference
- LH – Open 5ths with finger 5 descending on A,G,F,E
RH – Improv 5 over 5 with finger 3 on C. You can add G# to the RH when left hand plays the E/B 5th.
- Teacher plays Honeydew while students improvise on the white keys with right hand. Student can also play RH chords in the LH while RH improvises
- Honeydew rhythmic variation: Students play Honeydew on their own, but change the rhythm
- Squidgies Boogie in left hand with Sleeping right hand
- Sleeping in Am – play as fast and loud as they want with bottom finger from both hands on A. It sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. Younger boys LOVE this one.
- Comp Project Alma Mater Blues – LH as usual, RH use same notes, but try in a different order and rhythm.
- Amazing Grace melody with a blues left hand
- Mary Had a Little Lamb in right hand with blues left hand.
- Chester – Have them change the rhythm or order within each position.
- Chester Tick Tock – Keep right hand the same and play left hand: bottom, top, bottom, top, etc. . . with a 1:2 ratio.
- Lyrics Comp project: Have them make up new words to Dreams on D since the Neil words don’t fit the minor mode so much.
- Squidgies in LH / RH ideas – Jingle Bells, Amazing Grace
- Duet – Bottom plays Tear For a Friend, Top plays Fluff Pie
- Walking With Billy – Have them come up with other things to do with Billy (run, skip, etc) and reflect those actions in the left hand.
- Comp or Improv: Have them play the left hand of Dreams or Night Storm and improv a new right hand keeping it over the same 5 notes.
- Amazing Grace – change the mode to minor for the sad verse and switch back for the end.
Mary R., Michigan
The two easiest improvs are:
- One student plays Jackson Blues and the other plays notes of the jazz scale in any order or combination they want.
- The one from Omaha (Ray? Laurie?)–teacher or another student plays Dm9 chord fours times then Cm9 four times, repeating over and over while student plays any white notes they want. [LH chords from Dreams Accompaniment arr]
They both are easy, fun and somehow always sound great!
Mark M., New York
I mentioned a few weeks ago the way I introduce improv. Once students have learned Storm and Ode, I show them that they can just put their hands in position for one of those songs, play the first LH chord, pick a few notes with the RH, then I tell them to play the next LH chord, then pick a few more RH notes, then I tell them to just keep doing that, going back and forth between those two LH chords, there’s nothing more to it. This has been an extremely simple and extremely successful intro to improv for all the students I’ve exposed to it, including in my recent afterschool program workshop where some of the students weren’t even practicing much of anything and were otherwise not appearing to succeed much, but they took to this exercise both immediately and well.
I recently also did a followup with a student who had done the above exercise a few months back. I gave the option of doing the same improv on Storm but with RH in Ode position, or the same improv on Ode but with LH in Storm position (up an octave so hands don’t overlap). I gave an additional option as well: whether in original Ode/Storm position or one of these new hybrid positions, doing the opposite LH “finger wiggle,” i.e., moving the thumb up and down in Ode position or the pinky down and up in Storm position.
These two ideas provide a number of variations, allowing for many new melodic and harmonic possibilities, yet all still basically maintaining the same simplicity as the original Storm/Ode improv I mentioned above. It went well, and I believe I will do this from now with all my students as a second improv exercise some number of weeks after I introduce the first one above.
For some months now I have been reflecting on some strong resistance to this brilliant area of SM from the adult women students in particular.
There’s a psychology going on there I notice about feeling ‘inadequate,’ e.g. (not as good as Burt Bacharach or Leonard Cohen, or whomever as a composer), comparison and self-judgement etc. And improvising with me has been really challenging for them. So they have done assignments but not enjoyed them. They want to learn only ‘someone else’s work’.
So the giving of personal permission for free and fearless ‘mucking around’, ‘fiddling’ or whatever – has been absent. And I mention the age range because education 40 years ago was not that good at fostering creativity and this seems very relevant.
I think I have had a breakthrough last week when I brought along a laminated picture of a ‘judge’ I got from the internet, for each of these particular students and had it ready on the table. They are open to self -development, and trust me and I talked about the role the ‘judge’ plays in our heads saying – ‘that’s bad, that’s good’, and how it (‘he’) stops us from being playful etc. And that I honour the sides of them that the judge helps with preparing something well for performance – but there’s a time to put the old guy in the cupboard and let them free to play.
I really felt heard with this little spiel, and feel they will be more self-propelling in this aspect of the program in future.
All the wonderful ideas that have come through this thread and many others are great but something underlying was missing I felt.
Sue C., Australia
Thank you for passing on your observations, Unami.
I fall in to the age category you discussed and find it interesting that I have written what others say is a really nice carol, and for a while i loved it too, but negative feelings crept in. I had made up my mind that if I was asked to perform it, I was going to say that it needs more work and I will leave it til next year. Of course next year it will be out of mind.
I dislike the simple style, would rather write music more upbeat or exciting etc. But what you wrote made me understand that I have to accept where I am up to, share it with others, and go ahead from there. On reflection it sounds like I am not accepting myself and my growth, and it is a back to front pride I, guess.
Like babies, they have to goo and gaa a fair while before they can high five so i might have to do more song writing before i get to one that turns me on.