Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Did You Miss This Week? (Week 491 #536)

Improvisation with Dennis Gruenling!!!

Dennis Gruenling joined us last night to dig into the difficult discussion of improvisation.

He started off making the point that it is like the science vs art question and that for him as a listener, improvisation is where the magic is. As you see in improv comedy, improvisational music is real and in the moment.

He told the story of seeing William Clarke when he was first learning and noticing that everything Clarke did on stage was different from the record he was listening to - different keys, harps, breaks, arrangements. He was improvising.

Dennis talked about needing to spend time learning the tools to play, but that when it comes to improv, for him, it is when you are NOT thinking. You aren't thinking about tongue blocking or bending or nodding to the four chord. Your mind is open and you are expressing yourself. But you need the tools and you need to spend time developing an intimate relationship with the notes/scale degrees to know how they make YOU feel when you play them. You have to connect to them emotionally in order to use them expressively.

Dennis talked a lot about improv being personal - he knows, for example, that a jazz player might not rank James Cotton's playing as advanced in terms of theory and technique, but for Dennis, Cotton's playing wins on emotion. As he said, "Your doing it right is not going to be the same as me doing it right, or Joe doing it right, or Grant doing it right." The goal is to express yourself emotionally and afterwards feel that you did just that...and have it be enjoyed by others.

Joe asked Dennis to list a few mistakes he sees players make as they work to improvise:

  • don't be thinking and analyzing; do that in practice
  • don't have a set idea of what you're going to play

And put positively, what can you do to improve and practice your improvisation:

  • know that you CAN practice improv
  • overthink and analyze when you practice
  • work on skills - understanding chord progressions, scales, personal relationship to scales and notes
  • RECORD YOURSELF. Multiple times per week. Listen to it in a focused way. Analyze it. Build on the good stuff, the things you like.
  • dissect segments of other players to understand why something they're doing appeals to you
  • blues player? tongue block; especially working on a clean embouchure
  • know the classic recordings - spend a portion of your "practice time" in FOCUSED LISTENING - put your harp down and open your ears. Being a good listener separates good from great players.

"No newsflash, but it takes time to figure out who you are."

Thanks for a great evening, Dennis!

Class Notes

  • Business as usual next week.
- Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew