By Jim Solomon
Teaching elementary school music full time for over 30 years and working with middle/high school students every summer has allowed me to experiment with and develop ideas that work with students. Through the years I have become convinced that we need to begin improvisation (and composition) immediately with our beginning recorder players. Click HERE for an excerpt from pages 4-5 of my newest Alfred publication, Hot Jams for Recorder with Guitar and Drum. The focus is how to develop improvisational skills with students in a practical way. I hope it works for you!
IDEAS FOR PRACTICING IMPROVISATION
*A simple definition of improvisation: “Make your own to fit the music.”
*Improvisational sections are included in five pieces in this collection. For improvisation (improv), all five pieces use the notes of the G pentatonic scale (G-A-B-D-E) centering either on the “la” tonal center (E) or “do” tonal center (G). On the soprano recorder these notes line up in descending order as B-A-G-E-D. Upper octave notes D2-E2-G2-A2-B2 are also available for improv with advanced students. The tonal center is E in all of these five pieces except for “Samba In The BAG,” in which the improv begins over the Em chord, but resolves to G.
*Start working on improv early in the learning process.
*In the beginning practice stages, have students improvise as a group. This will give them the opportunity to experiment and make mistakes without being put on the spot.
*In the later practice stages and for performances, use solo improvisers. Give any interested students the opportunity to solo improvise during the later practice stages.
*When beginning improv practice, start with only one note: B. Teacher plays the guitar part, and students play their ideas that fit with the rhythm and the feeling of the song using only B.
*Then, “Add the note A. Start on B, but add the note A sometimes.” Teacher plays guitar, students experiment with two notes.
*Then, “Add the note G. Start on B, but add A and G sometimes.” Teacher plays guitar, students practice improvising with three notes.
*Then, “Add the note E. Start on B or on E, and add in the others when it feels good to you.” Teacher plays guitar, students practice with four notes.
*Then, “Add the note D. Start on B or E, and add in the others when you wish.” Teacher plays guitar, students practice with the full pentatonic scale.
*For your very capable players, add in any upper octave notes they can comfortably play: D2-E2-G2-A2-B2.
*NOTE: I’ve found it to be extremely helpful to limit the number of notes they can use in the beginning. Many students, when given a full scale to use at the outset, will randomly play all over the recorder. Starting with one note will focus them on playing within the feeling of the music. Adding one note at a time will gradually increase their options.
*Include vocal improvisation in your practice time. It is excellent for developing improv skills. Echo speak or sing rhythms and melodic patterns that fit the feel of the music.
*Set up improvisation sections according to the abilities of your group. Individuals can:
(Note: In the beginning of Question/Answer practice, Teacher plays the Question and Student plays the Answer. As they develop ideas, change this to Student/Student.)
>Perform their own question and answer.
>Improvise for the length of a section.
>Improvise over the song, or add in “fills” the last time through the song.
Other publications by Jim Solomon:
Do you have any improvisation or composition success stories you’ d like to share? We would love to hear from you!