When I first started playing in a band as a keyboard player, I was not familiar with the speaking part of the music language, as a musician. Sometimes as musicians, we get introspective and start looking at why we play patterns or chord progressions the way we do.
A wonderful comparison between speech language and improvising in music is that everyone learns to speak and have a conversation, as well as write in our given language. Unfortunately, many musicians never learn the “speaking” portion of the musical language.
When I first started taking piano lessons, I was classically trained to read all the notes on the music staff. After several years of advancing through different levels of music books and applying lots of music theory, I still wasn’t able to find a music teacher who wasn’t afraid of improvisation.
In short, music educators were not taught the history and evolution of improvisation in “classical” music. During the baroque period of music, improvising was a basic part during that time. Musicians needed to learn this skill in order to work together effectively.
Some say it is a skill that one learns unconsciously, without effort and fear. So it is with my grandchildren who are learning a verbal language. Hopefully, no longer talking like a baby but the English language. They seem to improvise with that language every time they have a conversation with someone.
So, we learn to read and write the language and that means we need to learn grammar. But with music, we learn it differently. Most musicians, including myself, learn to read the music notes at first but we can’t speak with one another unless we’re looking at the notes. We simply do not know how to “jam.”
When I first came across a very popular website online that teaches one how to play by ear, I would read about how easy it is to read the language of music and that it was not difficult to play by ear.
I was challenged at first because I could hear the difference in my playing without sheet music compared with the pros. It is necessary to have something worth saying when you speak the Jazz language. There is a huge difference between a beginner improviser and a great one. It’s not about skill, technique or memorization, but it’s about the concept and content.
As a piano teacher, I am trying to stay balanced with my students in finding the balance with their technique and developing their musical personality and composition.
A great tip is recording your self. Play the keys and playback your song and analyze the harmony and rearrange things a bit. The more you practice and get familiar with your instrument, your style becomes more fluid. Then you’ll merge more with the other band members.
When I play with a group of musicians that I have known for quite sometime, you can just feel the chemistry. A transformational event takes place when we are playing live and we become one unified voice.
After all, improvising is the art of making up music on the spot. It is fun to learn the Jazz language.