Notating exercises for improvisers
The first problem
We always start with your note. Each time you pick up your instrument is an opportunity to seize a note out of thin air, by singing it or imagining it, and then finding it on your horn.
And going down a step like so:
You soon get used to 12 meaning an octave and 8 meaning a minor sixth. The great thing is that these numbers add up like normal numbers, unlike standard interval names (two thirds make a fifth ??!!??). Moves notation need not be restricted to counting halfsteps. Slightly adapted, it can be used to count scale degrees too, if you play an instrument such as Scottish bagpipes. Hybrid chromatic and scale notations can also be devised, though a moment arrives when you will want a computer to read them.
The basic unit of musical time is a quarter note or a count of one. A movesign represents one quarter note and can be extended by an additional sign > for each count.
To subdivide into eighth notes we can use underline, and double underline for sixteenth notes etc. To extend by an eighth note we use
The idea is to make exercises which take you through all the houses, especially on key-biased instruments. The knowledge you gain on wholetone panpipes, for example, can thus be transferred to saxophone or trumpet.
First you get your idea, maybe from a fragment of popular song:
In this example you have ended on a note a wholestep lower than the one you started on. (You can verify this by adding up the numbers in the phrase, total
Now hanging on to the last note and use it as the launchpad to repeat the same moves. The wiggly brackets tell us to repeat the move sequence
We're not quite there yet, because the
Note that you are no longer starting on
This game of looping is one of the most important tools in breaking free of the old key- and scale-bound improvisational styles. Looping the melody means using the last note of the melody as the starting point for repeating the same melody in a new pitch. Adding up the moves (respecting the plus or minus signs) between the wiggly brackets tells us by how many semitones the loop transposes at each pass, up or down. The above exercise has a loopsum of -2, telling us it descends a whole tone at each pass. The fact that this is an even number tells us that it will only visit half the houses. If we want to visit them all we will need to choose two starting points a halfstep apart to ensure coverage.
new terms for new ideas
trouble is it won't work as an exercise because it goes down by a fifth each time round, and we risk falling off the bottom of the instrument. So we make a mirror move by substituting a
Shortcut to Improvising Fluency