Our study song, Crosscut Saw, does not have harp on it, so that tune raises the topic of what to play on a tune with no harp...and the idea of improvisation.
Shoji spent some very careful, deliberative time with us discussing his take on improvisation last night. First he made the case that yes, learning to play note for note is a valuable step in the learning curve and is in fact the way classical musicians play. But, when it comes to playing blues, it's clear that the music form is a conversation, not sight reading or rote memorization.
Shoji made a very clever analogy with examples in class, drawing on his early time in the states learning to speak English. You start by reading "canned" conversations back and forth between two people. But clearly the goal in learning a language is to communicate, to have conversations, to express yourself, not to continue on the path of rote dialog. So eventually those canned conversations give way to allowing variation and then over time, you find no need for the paper and the prompts and you are comfortable speaking. You make mistakes, you falter, but you are conversing on your own. And you improve over time by continuing to improve your vocabulary, by listening to the intonation and pronunciation of others, and by strengthening your grammar.
Speaking the blues is the same process. Memorize at first but with a goal to step away from that to conversing on your own. Take small steps varying the "conversation" you've learned - allow yourself to alter what you've learned and open up the conversation to the band around you.
It was an inspiring conversation that was well-received in class and has us all thinking about how to improve as blues conversationalists...or to at least take the first steps to getting there.
- Joe is stateside! And he'll be back in classes, both group and privates, next week.