Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

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Jason Hensley
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Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Sat Apr 29, 2017 10:26 pm

Please keep in mind that I am not familiar with all the classical terms and definitions of things, I am a self taught guitarist with no teacher available due to my location.

So I have been playing for awhile and I was able to really decide what my goal is. I would like to be able to play a few different pieces and have the skill to pick up ones that I want to learn as I discover more music. One example of this is Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, that is my dream piece to be able to play of all the classical pieces I have ever heard, the whole thing. I would also like to play Chaconne in D Minor by Bach as well.

Aside from these couple pieces being my ultimate goal to play, I want to be able to improvise and I'm not so worried about speed as of yet, but I want to be able to play something that sounds classical with a couple scale runs here and there, and fingerstyle similar to Andantino in C by Carulli, or the piece Ancient Stones from the game Skyrim.

Now I have a few things down pretty well, I can figure out any full barre chord at will, I know the 5 basic positions of the major scale(as in the CAGED shapes) I know all open chords, I can change keys at will (when it comes to scales, not necessarily all the chords I know) I have been working on playing in intervals such as 3rds and 6ths. I have been practicing by right hand technique using Giuliani's 120 Studies. I have also been working on shifting positons using the "Segovia Scales". I have also been working on rhythym and sight reading seperalty with spontaneous works so I progress faster, and am actually Sight reading instead of playing from memory. I can change almost any of my chords at a rate of about 60bpm on the slower ones, and a lot quicker on the ones I have been playing for awhile.

Three or so days ago I only knew how to play Andantino in C by Carulli. Now I can play Sor - Op.60 Etude 1, Carcassi Op. 60 Etude 1, Ancient Stones from the game Skyrim, I was able to place the majority of Jesu son of mans desiring just by looking at it and playing.

I have done all this by myself in and a few months ago I couldn't do anything but play the chords of C, G, A, E, and D major and minor.

I realize I have progressed a lot by myself, and like I said having a teacher is not an option.

I would love to be able to improvise quickly as in about the speed of Toccata and Fugue in D minor, as well as play the works mentioned at the top. I realize these will take lots of work and time, I'm not debating that.

But I want to know specifically what I need to focus on as a player in order to arrive at this goal. I find myself everywhere considering learning all these different pieces. I find myself picking up everything I can about technique and theory.

Therein lies the problem however. I have been developing a strong practice and have a lot of sources at my disposal.

I need direction from a more experienced player. I need help figuring out what to focus on here. I understand the importance of playing others pieces, and time and everything, but those are separate to the meat to this question.

So the question specifically here is: Can anyone out there help me get a clearer focus here? I know that I have a ton of information here and that it needs order, but piecing this together is not possible for me without help, I wish I had a teacher in this regard but alas I do not. I want anyone that comments on this to understand that what I am desiring here is a full conversation preferably privately where I can ask questions and get answers. I have been trying to figure this out for a couple weeks and have been looking everywhere. Please help, and please don't recommend me a book or a piece without a discussion first, so I can explain myself and be properly understood.

Sorry for the super long message here, but I have honed in on this to give you as much information as I can, I have asked this question in different ways and none of the answers I have gotten so far are fitting correctly.
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. - Robert E. Howard.

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Sat Apr 29, 2017 10:29 pm

As a follow up to this, I have considered doing a complete set of progressive etudes, or something of that matter to see how to develop this, but I'm not sure if that's the right choice, nor do I know which of all the ones that are available to use. I don't want to waste my time learning approximately 25 pieces just to discover that it wasn't what I was looking for. That is why I have learned 1 Etude each from Sor and Carcassi. If the answer is learning others music, how does that help me achieve my goal of learning to improvise?
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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Sat Apr 29, 2017 10:30 pm

Have you looked at the possibility of lessons via Skype Jason? Several folks in these parts offer that...
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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Sat Apr 29, 2017 10:34 pm

I really have considered it, but right now I don't have that kind of money to put into it. I really would love and am 1000% sure I would benefit from a teacher, and am fully aware that I am lacking exactly what I need. I don't know when I will be able to either. That being said I don't want to throw the time away when I could be developing at the same rate I am now. I have this steam and desire behind me, I just lack direction. Which I find odd because I know exactly what I want to do, my goal is very very clear to me. I hope this doesn't seem contradictory, but it makes sense to me....
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. - Robert E. Howard.

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Sat Apr 29, 2017 10:35 pm

This is why the title of the thread is what it is, because I THINK that is the question that I need to answer but I'm not sure.
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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by MaritimeGuitarist » Sun Apr 30, 2017 1:36 am

Honestly, I think that you've already got the best answers you're going to get about learning CG on your own. I know you've heard these things before but here they are again:

1. Find and use a good method book like the Noad method, which I believe I read you own. Many method books, including the Noad will include many authentic and interesting pieces written by the greats. In addition, some graded repertoire books might help as well. Being from Canada, I used the Royal Conservatory books extensively, but I would also suggest Noad's 100 graded Classical guitar studies. These are studies arranged in order of difficulty and you get key studies by Sor, Giuliani, and Carcassi. It also includes some commentary and fingering suggestions.
2. Use the online resources found on this site. I'm pretty new to this forum myself, but there is lots of great info/advice here.
3. Watch instructional videos or concerts on YouTube.
4. Listen to as much classical music--guitar or otherwise--as you can.
5. Start learning a little about the history of the guitar and music in general. Might be a good idea to start by researching a composer you particularly enjoy.
6. Practice. None of the stuff mentioned here will hurt you or send you down the wrong path (if your goal is to be a classical guitarist). The real danger of learning on your own, IMO, is developing bad habits in your technique like poor posture or hand position. This is an example of where the corrective feedback of a teacher really is important.

As for improvisation, you are probably in the wrong place. Though there seems to be some capable improvisers on this forum, classical musicians, at least modern ones, are notoriously uncomfortable with improvisation. It largely falls outside the domain of the CG world. In today's classical music world, performers usually play pieces note-for-note written by composers with much room for interpretation but little for improvisation. Of course, there are some exceptions (there always are), but this is generally the way things are. What I can tell you in respect to your question, is that improv is a combination of technique, musical knowledge, stylistic awareness, creativity, and an thorough understanding of how to apply all of these things to one's instrument. I would suggest looking into some jazz methods or players--you will likely find better info on improvisation through those sources.

Good luck, and I hope some of this helps!

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by mmapag » Sun Apr 30, 2017 3:12 pm

Jason, I understand your limitations as you've expressed them about engaging a teacher. However, what you seem to be asking is for the folks on this forum to act in the role a teacher would by posing lots of questions and hoping to get the answer that will make all the dots connect for you. I just don't see that happening in any effective way. Part of the issue is you don't really know what you don't know so you don't really know what to do next. That is something only a teacher, live or skype, can really address.
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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Sun Apr 30, 2017 3:45 pm

mmapag wrote:Jason, I understand your limitations as you've expressed them about engaging a teacher. However, what you seem to be asking is for the folks on this forum to act in the role a teacher would by posing lots of questions and hoping to get the answer that will make all the dots connect for you. I just don't see that happening in any effective way. Part of the issue is you don't really know what you don't know so you don't really know what to do next. That is something only a teacher, live or skype, can really address.
Yes but I just explained the bind I am in, the reasoning for the question. My actual question here is: Is the ability to improvise in the techniques used, or is it gained by playing others works?
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. - Robert E. Howard.

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Sun Apr 30, 2017 3:48 pm

I'm not asking anyone to give me answers, I am asking other players to help me in regards to what the next step in being able to improvise is. This may be unclear, and I'm sure I overcomplicated it a bit, but the question seems really clear to me. What does one need to do in order to learn to improvise post all of the things I have done so far, is it play more pieces, or is that exclusively aimed at people that want to play others music? Should I really just focus on the techniques and apply them and using that I will be able to improvise.
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. - Robert E. Howard.

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Marshall Dixon » Sun Apr 30, 2017 5:13 pm

I think the short answer to your question is: both.

The ability to improvise was once highly regarded in the "classical music" world. (I just looked up the first use of the term "classical music"; it was 1836.) Bach, Mozart, Beethoven were renowned at improvisation. It seems that contests were held between popular musicians of the time to demonstrate this skill.

But what all those musicians had was a thorough grounding in the principles of music to the extent of being able to transpose a piece of music to any other key and do it while playing, on the fly. The ground work in theory, and technique, was well established either before, or perhaps in co-ordinaion with the basic principles (as it was expected at some level to be able to improvise).

An interesting aspect of this is that about this time (1800) printed music was becoming more available, and it could be that as the public was able to know what to expect from the musician people were less tolerant of any "wrong notes."

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Sun Apr 30, 2017 5:18 pm

Marshall Dixon wrote:I think the short answer to your question is: both.

The ability to improvise was once highly regarded in the "classical music" world. (I just looked up the first use of the term "classical music"; it was 1836.) Bach, Mozart, Beethoven were renowned at improvisation. It seems that contests were held between popular musicians of the time to demonstrate this skill.

But what all those musicians had was a thorough grounding in the principles of music to the extent of being able to transpose a piece of music to any other key and do it while playing, on the fly. The ground work in theory, and technique, was well established either before, or perhaps in co-ordinaion with the basic principles (as it was expected at some level to be able to improvise).

An interesting aspect of this is that about this time (1800) printed music was becoming more available, and it could be that as the public was able to know what to expect from the musician people were less tolerant of any "wrong notes."
Ok I see that making sense, so what would the basic principles be? Because you mention theory and technique and in my mind those are the basic principles.
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. - Robert E. Howard.

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Marshall Dixon » Mon May 01, 2017 12:13 am

I was suggesting that, as improvisation was a desirable skill, it would be part of the teaching process somehow. Merely conjecture on my part.

Theory and technique begin with basic principles. The application of those is where you become involved and depending on personal factors, where you end up.

I don't have any formal education in any of this and can't be of much help, but find the question interesting in that you are addressing a distinctly different aspect in the way classical music was presented in earlier times. A highly admired talent at one time that seems to have gone by the wayside.

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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Mon May 01, 2017 1:11 am

Marshall Dixon wrote:I was suggesting that, as improvisation was a desirable skill, it would be part of the teaching process somehow. Merely conjecture on my part.

Theory and technique begin with basic principles. The application of those is where you become involved and depending on personal factors, where you end up.

I don't have any formal education in any of this and can't be of much help, but find the question interesting in that you are addressing a distinctly different aspect in the way classical music was presented in earlier times. A highly admired talent at one time that seems to have gone by the wayside.
I think it truly is a desirable skill, and to do it in an old manner just has this feeling that I cant describe, the same one I feel when listening to older music as in Romantic back to Antiquity.

It has seemed to have gone to the wayside, and it saddens me to see all these classical guitarists that can play almost anything but aren't composing anything and it blows my mind. I personally have never been one for any kind of cover, but how can you hear that music and not want to produce your version of it, your feelings, your emotions, the deepest depths of your soul, like Beethovens Sonatas.

The crazy part is a lot of classical musicians can recognize the styles as well.
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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by SunnyDee » Mon May 01, 2017 2:15 am

There's a really fine university piano teacher, John Mortensen, on youtube who says that his classical pianists can't improvise. It's not part of their background. He teaches some interesting techniques to them and shares it on youtube. I feel like there are (at least) 2 very different kinds of musicians. Many classical players are what I call instrumentalists, they might compose, but they are the ones I think of almost like athletes, they are so amazing in technique. Others are composers or songwriters, who may or may not be particularly great instrumentalists. I remember some guitar teacher on youtube making an impassioned plea to guitarists to decide early which kind they want to be because both take a lot of time to master and take different kinds of training.

I do see, for myself, that since I've learned the fretboard, my improvisation/composition is far freer and much more melodically interesting, but that makes sense because it was my goal for learning the fretboard. I learned it not as a sight reader would (which I can't do), but by intervals, so that I could start on any note and move any interval staying in key in any key. The knowledge of the fretboard was the last bit of information that I needed to connect what I knew about theory to the fretboard. It still takes practice, but I feel like, in this sense, anyway, it was technique (or information at least) that I needed.
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Re: Is the ability to improvise in a classical manner in technique or playing others works

Post by Jason Hensley » Mon May 01, 2017 9:24 am

SunnyDee wrote:
Mon May 01, 2017 2:15 am
There's a really fine university piano teacher, John Mortensen, on youtube who says that his classical pianists can't improvise. It's not part of their background. He teaches some interesting techniques to them and shares it on youtube. I feel like there are (at least) 2 very different kinds of musicians. Many classical players are what I call instrumentalists, they might compose, but they are the ones I think of almost like athletes, they are so amazing in technique. Others are composers or songwriters, who may or may not be particularly great instrumentalists. I remember some guitar teacher on youtube making an impassioned plea to guitarists to decide early which kind they want to be because both take a lot of time to master and take different kinds of training.

I do see, for myself, that since I've learned the fretboard, my improvisation/composition is far freer and much more melodically interesting, but that makes sense because it was my goal for learning the fretboard. I learned it not as a sight reader would (which I can't do), but by intervals, so that I could start on any note and move any interval staying in key in any key. The knowledge of the fretboard was the last bit of information that I needed to connect what I knew about theory to the fretboard. It still takes practice, but I feel like, in this sense, anyway, it was technique (or information at least) that I needed.
Yed but you use that in contrast to scale patterns meaning your doing a ton more work because rather than memorizing just on shape your memorizing every interval and have to make sure its in key versus one shape in one key meaning approx. 1 shape 1 pattern versus 12 intervals 12 patterns one for third etc... it is far more useful in chords and arpeggios but useless when it come t =o improvising one or two notes individually in scale otherwise it will make no sense
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph. - Robert E. Howard.

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