Why Improvise and Compose
How would you explain to 12-14 year old kids why learning to improvise and compose songs is part of the simply music program? How does it help them learn to play songs, if that is their goal?
Mark M., New York
Do you have the Tune Toolkit Program? The Vol. 1 SHM Welcome video chapter says why. Here’s from my typed up notes:
“Creating music is something lots of people find simply fun and enjoyable.
Others appreciate having the chance to express themselves.
And for people who aren’t especially interested in becoming composers or songwriters, and even for people who don’t think of themselves as creative, you can think of creating your own music as a regular exercise routine that helps you improve your musical skills in all sorts of ways, supporting all the other things you do as a musician.”
Let me expand here a bit on that last point from the Welcome video:
One of the key premises of Simply Music, one of the most fundamental things we talk about when explaining the Method to anyone, is the idea of delaying learning how to read music, first spending a bunch of time playing. You know the many reasons for this. One of them is that we can play much more sophisticated, enjoyable-sounding pieces right from the beginning. And we know it’s because in a reading-based environment, one can only learn to play what one first learns to read — and to get people reading Simply Music’s first pieces would take quite a while in that environment. Reading is a constraint on playing — people are perfectly capable of the physical/coordination demands of pieces that are much more complex than what their ability to read would allow.
Well: extend that logic — is it easier to play something you make up, or to learn how to play something that someone else composed, learning all the exact right notes in the exact right order? It’s the same situation as reading vs. playing — making up our own music, we are perfectly capable of playing things that are much more complex than what we’re able to learn in compositions that have already been created.
So when I say in the Welcome video that creating your own music helps you improve your musical skills in all sorts of ways, I really, truly mean it. The hands learn to do things together sooner and more easily than they otherwise would — because creating your own music has the same relationship to learning how to play a composition as learning a composition in a playing-based way has to learning it in a reading-based way.
This is why we not only do C&I in the first place but why, also, we introduce it *right from the start*.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
Right on, Mark! You could add more (perhaps on an ongoing basis each time you do a new creative project): when talking about generative learning, point out that creating your own music is the ultimate generative activity; it potentially opens up more opportunities to cross-pollinate; creativity is needed even when playing other people’s pieces in the form of interpretation; oh and (once you discover you can do it) it’s fun!
Mark M., New York
Gordon Great points! I especially like that point about creativity being needed when playing others’ pieces. I say in Tune Toolkit that expression is probably the single most important tool one ever learns for creating music — and that part of why is that it’s applicable anytime we’re touching the piano regardless of whether it’s our own original music or not. But it’s in our own original music, at least probably for most people, that it’s most clear that we have so much room to experiment with expression, which makes it such a great playground for developing expression that can carry over into other people’s pieces. For sure!
Leeanne I., Australia
Generative learning vs receptive learning. When we create something, we learn and retain tools at a deeper level than when we simply copy songs. The ability to improvise can be handy when you forget your song or part of it during a performance – you can improvise your way out of trouble. You will be able to learn a melody of a song and simply improvise the LH. You will be able to create your own arrangements of songs. It’s good for your brain, or as Neil says “critical neurological nutrition”.
Mark M., New York
I happened to come across something that was relevant to the discussion, so I figured I’d post it here for posterity. Once upon a time I wrote a two-part guest blog piece for Simply Music on the benefits of Comp & Improv!
Original discussion started October 3, 2022