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Building a Solid Improvisational Concept Part 1 by Igor Saavedra

I’ve noticed through my career that when musicians talk about improvisation and soloing, most of the energy of the conversation is driven by topics like scales, technique, chords, licks, chops, etc,.

The reality in my opinion is that there are so many aspects within the improvisational context that are far more important than the ones I just mentioned above, aspects that have to do mostly with poetical, lyrical, philosophical, esthetical and psychological concepts.

In my opinion improvising is composing in real time…

When you compose, you either have some idea or feeling that inspired you in the first place, and you need to represent it with music, or, you just have some notes in your head that you are starting to like as you proceed.

In both cases you’ll start hitting some notes on your instrument, making some adjustments through the process, and then you’ll write or record them to make sure you don’t forget your composition. But the point is you have the opportunity to analyze, erase something you didn’t like, and then rewrite it, or just stop, go to the fridge, grab a sandwich, feel better, and then continue.

As I said before, when you improvise you are indeed composing, but the challenge remains that you are doing it in real time, so you can’t erase the note you just played if you didn’t like it. You just have to let it go and just care about the next note you are going to play.

Here is when the philosophical aspect gets involved within the improvisational context. I would say that this is somehow a “Quantum Physics” aspect, and I’m risking that you’ll start thinking I’m completely crazy and won’t read my articles anymore!!

Within the context of soloing, what is wrong and what is right is up to you to decide. Believe it or not, you have the power to change the past by taking care of the future…how?

First of all, never forget this humble advice from this fellow South American friend.

“The only note that matters is the following one, not the one you just played”.

When I say the word “note”, I’m not only referring to the pitch, I’m also referring to the rhythmical aspect and all the nuances involved on the exposition of that note; like dynamics, expressive resources, sound textures, etc. With that following note you will have the power to make the previous one look like a beauty queen, or a witch. So, as you can see, you indeed have the power to travel back in time…that’s the Quantum Physics part.

When you improvise, one the first things you have to learn is to love any note you have played like it was a son or a daughter. It doesn’t really matter how “good” or “bad” it sounded. If it sounded “good”, send that note more “brothers” so it won’t feel alone, the better the brothers the better the “family”. On the other hand, if it sounded “bad”, send that notes even more supportive “brothers” to help it and make it look great. But once you are improvising, never regret about a note you already played. Just love it, and support it all the way, you won’t believe how the following note can change everybody’s perception, including yours!

Play confident, don’t play “safe”. Take risks! A safe improvisation has no soul, no purpose to itself!

Probably the most important improvisational ability you are going to have to develop through the years is the ability to walk as close to the abyss as you can, and deal with the “mistakes” in such an elegant and beautiful manner it doesn’t effect your statement. You can choose walking on a plain and safe valley, but if you like that better, I’d suggest to dedicate your musical life to sitting safely in your own home or studio and composing great musical pieces instead, which is also an amazing thing to do.

Next month on the following part of this series I’ll be addressing the poetical, lyrical, esthetical, and psychological concepts that will help you to build a solid improvisational concept.

See you soon!

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