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In today's world of instant gratification, it seems like the realm of instant music would be exploding, yet it is still a rare musician that is capable of creating a musical piece from scratch at the drop of a hat. Sure, jazz musicians improvise, and are probably the most common practitioners of the art today, but even they usually work within a given framework. New music (both good and bad) continues to come from composers, but even in my own experience, composition is not an instantaneous process and usually requires some significant time.
Perhaps one of the reasons why so few musicians improvise is that it is a difficult skill to teach. There have been several organ improvisation method books written throughout time: the 'Cours Complet' of Marcel Dupré, 'Improvising: How to Master the Art' by Gerre Hancock, or most recently 'Breaking Free' by Jeffrey Brillhart. Each of these master improviser's has provided a book chocked full of information, but each one is very different from the other. Why is that? Isn't there at least some common ground that would appear in all the improv method books?

Linear vs. Organic growth

While any beginning music theory textbook will cover the basics of note values, rests, clefs, intervals, time signatures, eventually working up to chords, forms, or even elements of counterpoint, these topics are sequenced in a linear manner. Until you understand intervals, your ability to work with chords will be severely limited. In a linear progression, certain topics simply must be covered before you arrive at other topics.

Improvisation is a much more organic growth process where any number of areas can be worked with regardless of the skill level in other areas. Regardless of a student's harmonic language, it is possible to practice different formal structures. Likewise, given a formal structure, it is possible to work on the student's harmonic language. Because there is no linear structure required for the study of improvisation, there are as many different approaches as there are teachers (and students).

Do you improvise? Are you interested in learning to improvise or improving your improvisation skills? If there is sufficient interest, I'd be willing to offer a class to share some of the tips and techniques I've learned from the various teachers I've worked with. Once I can get the video cameras rolling, I'll probably put up a few video lessons on youtube. What would you like to see? Maybe one day, I might even write my own method book!
Wishing you all the best,
Wm. Glenn Osborne

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