Timothy Murphy on Jazz ImprovisationReaders of this blog will know that I'm fascinated by the process of improvisation, a subject I discussed most recently here. I'm firmly convinced that one of the prime aspects of expertise is the ability to conjure up promising ideas on the fly. I'm also confident that this is a skill that can be steadily honed through practice.
The Spring 2010 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine gives its last page over to a summary of how an accomplished jazz pianist in an ensemble undertakes to improvise. The summary is provided by Timothy Murphy, a keyboardist and teacher at Hopkins' Peabody Conservatory and at Towson University.
Murphy's offers these four bits of advice:
- First, clear your mind. Get rid al all the words coursing through your head. Sit quietly about 30 seconds before putting your hands on the keyboard.
- Improv is a conversation. Watch the facial expressions of the other players, listen to them, try to respond to what they do with the least predictable thing that's still musical.
- If you suddenly go blank, just smile and keep pressing the keys until something good happens. Now and then, the best thing to "play" is silence.
A good solo should have a shape. Pay attention to the inner voice that's telling you that you've reached a high point and it's time to wind it down and get out elegantly.