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#1 2008-12-10 13:31:52

Seth
Member
From: Scarsdale, NY
Registered: 2005-10-24
Posts: 270

Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Are there rules / guidelines for making shakuhachi improvisations effective / powerful / beautiful / charming and so on?

To what extent are these rules specific to shakuhachi or true for all music improvisations?

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#2 2008-12-10 13:51:23

geni
Performer & Teacher
From: Boston MA
Registered: 2005-12-21
Posts: 830
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

This is the golden question:-)
There are different kind of improvisations. They have all different rules & guidlines. What is beautifull and powerfull for one-is the opposite for other players.

My main focus is improvisation.
Last semester I took Indian music private lessons.(Awesome) They have diferent guidlines.
I took lessons with George Garzone. Diferent ideas- different guidlines (no guidlines at all sometimes:-) (opposite of Indian)

In the end it comes down to the improvisers taste & technical abilities & knowledge of the music & concepts they have.
Anyway, I offer private lessons with strong emphasis on improvisation.

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#3 2008-12-10 14:49:55

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

geni wrote:

This is the golden question:-)


In the end it comes down to the improvisers taste & technical abilities & knowledge of the music & concepts they have.

Pretty nicely sums it up, mainly because most of the 'rules', in any context, are unwritten.


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#4 2008-12-10 15:58:41

david
Member
Registered: 2006-07-25
Posts: 71

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

I always thought that there were no rules to improvisation. Just different styles, which would equate to different moods at the time of playing.


david
'Listen to the words of no man; listen only to the sounds of the wind and the waves of the sea.,~Claude Debussy

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#5 2008-12-10 16:05:09

Seth
Member
From: Scarsdale, NY
Registered: 2005-10-24
Posts: 270

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

david wrote:

I always thought that there were no rules to improvisation. Just different styles, which would equate to different moods at the time of playing.

Yeah. I get it.  No rules.   

But can someone take a shot at explaining why some improvisation sounds good and some improvisation sounds like trash?   I am sure there is a method here beyond "Hey man, whatever your ears dig your ears dig."

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#6 2008-12-10 16:44:43

James Nyoraku Schlefer
Dai Shihan
From: New York City
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 104
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Johannes Brahms said "Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind."

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#7 2008-12-10 16:59:20

geni
Performer & Teacher
From: Boston MA
Registered: 2005-12-21
Posts: 830
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

I agree!!

From my explorations of improv I learned that-Improvisers use certain systems to improvise. They like certain sounds, certain patterents, certain harmonic language. So, they create they own individual sound. (I can recognise a J Neptune solo right away:-) he uses certain intervals & patterns.

Even the free jazz & free improvisers have they own language (system).

So, for shakuhachi..the player needs to find a system on how to imrpovise with it.
This means a lot of practise & research.
Practising scales/intervals/ ear training/ Harmonie knowledge/ rrythem.
All this stuff helps when you improvise.

An improvisers is a composer that composes right in the moment.

So, the people that sound Great.....are.. the ones that sound Convicing!! And how do you be Convincing with your playing & improv?

1) Sound. Sound is the motherfucker! is the first thing people hear & the last thing they hear when they leave.

2) Time (rhythem)

Last edited by geni (2008-12-10 17:11:09)

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#8 2008-12-10 18:24:18

radi0gnome
Member
From: Kingston NY
Registered: 2006-12-29
Posts: 1030
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Seth wrote:

david wrote:

I always thought that there were no rules to improvisation. Just different styles, which would equate to different moods at the time of playing.

Yeah. I get it.  No rules.   

But can someone take a shot at explaining why some improvisation sounds good and some improvisation sounds like trash?   I am sure there is a method here beyond "Hey man, whatever your ears dig your ears dig."

Most styles evolved, so in order to get the feel of the style, or character, there are "rules" that pretty much all the players of that style follow a lot of the time that give it a distinctive sound. However, following rules produces bland, predictable, uninspired playing. Breaking the rules, preferably on the fly, adds pleasant surprises. Of course, there's some risk-taking involved there, the good improvisers have practiced enough not to fall into the traps where they'll inevitably crash and burn, and will spend a lot of their time breaking the rules only resorting to the rules to fall back on when they need a framework to keep playing when their excursions take them to a place that's so far out there is no resolving it.

  For example, with bop style jazz, a good way of learning is to learn the head of the tune first. This is the easy part, sometimes overlooked by intermediate improvisers because it's not the fun part, but it gives you a direction to go in at any given time in an improvisation. Then learn the chord structure and be able to play arpeggios and scales that fit the chords. This is lot harder, but a lot of people get there and are usually considered OK players, they are improvising in the sense that they're making up a melody on the fly and avoiding playing wrong notes at the same time, but the playing will still be somewhat boring. Then after getting more comfortable, you can use a bunch of advanced techniques like constructing things that make melodic sense like repeating a previously improvised phrase a few times but a step higher each time. This would be "wrong" notes because it's not following the chord structure, but it still sounds good because it makes melodic sense and at the same time adds tension because it's not following the chord structure. The tricky part is listening and remembering where you are so you can come back in and resolve it. There are a lot of other advanced techniques too like running the changes, or playing through the changes but faster than the rhythm section, that makes melodic sense too but leaves the chord structure in the dust. Then there's all kind of things you can do rhythmically, adding space, using chord substitutions and so on. Getting good at this kind of stuff makes it easier to "play what you feel" and still sound good.

  Another example is with Irish music. Learn the tune straight first with no ornamentation. Then add some ornaments, and find alternate ornaments for each of those. Find an ornament for each section of the tune with alternates for each and you'll be following the melody but mostly playing notes around it and astounding listeners.

Or, you can just do what I do, no rules no structure. No one will want to listen to it, and even I have to admit it doesn't sound all that good, but on shakuhachi it's still fun to play for some reason. smile


"Now birds record new harmonie, And trees do whistle melodies;
Now everything that nature breeds, Doth clad itself in pleasant weeds."
~ Thomas Watson - England's Helicon ca 1580

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#9 2008-12-10 21:01:27

Yungflutes
Flutemaker/Performer
From: New York City
Registered: 2005-10-08
Posts: 1040
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Seth wrote:

Are there rules / guidelines for making shakuhachi improvisations effective / powerful / beautiful / charming and so on?

To what extent are these rules specific to shakuhachi or true for all music improvisations?

Hey Seth,  Aside from all the good stuff others have written about technique and theory, I think that improvising alone is different from improvising on stage, which is different from improvising within an ensemble.

Do's and Don'ts according to me smile:

Do:

1) play with a true sense of exploration.
2) follow each note as if you are on a determined path (I think that if the improviser is searching for something, the audience would be more likely to be interested in what she/he's looking for).

It can be more interesting for the audience if they know you are improvising.

Don't:

1) play what you are always playing thinking you are improvising.
2) assume the audience is into you.

Improvising in an ensemble is a very different thing. Here, there is a lot of give and take on what is happening at every moment. You must know your instrument well enough to remain engaged in the dialog.

In this case, do listen and share in the lively conversation. Don't just talk.

Improvisation is a learned skill. There are lots of ways to approach it. It is a life long endeavor for many. The more you partake, the better you will sound.

Seth wrote:

But can someone take a shot at explaining why some improvisation sounds good and some improvisation sounds like trash?   I am sure there is a method here beyond "Hey man, whatever your ears dig your ears dig."

Some famous, respected musician said something like, "If it sounds good to me, then it is good". Anyone know who that was?!

All the best, Perry


"A hot dog is not an animal." - Jet Yung

My Blog/Website on the art of shakuhachi...and parenting.
How to make an Urban Shakuhachi (PVC)

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#10 2008-12-10 22:06:17

Justin
Shihan/Maker
From: Japan
Registered: 2006-08-12
Posts: 540
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Seth wrote:

Are there rules / guidelines for making shakuhachi improvisations effective / powerful / beautiful / charming and so on?

To what extent are these rules specific to shakuhachi or true for all music improvisations?

Hi Seth
If you get a chance to come to Japan, you should try to study with Tim Hoffman. Indian classical music is highly structured/systematic, with many rules, and yet at the same time improvisational. It seems that when people try to "play anything", with no rules or structure, they often get stuck in small circles, repeating over and over the limitation of what they can find. Studying a good system gives you a huge toolbox, so you have this vaste array of moods etc at your fingertips (ragas for India). Tim applies this to the koto and shakuhachi. Indian music I guess is the most advanced in this respect.

As for free improvisation, I have played a few times with Eddie Prevost, a great percussionist, and he really taught me to explore sound in a very general and open way. There is no system, but a kind of deliberate openness and willingness to search for new sounds and textures, without letting oneself become stuck. Eddie himself has been working on the same little set of 2 drums for many years, constantly finding new sounds in them. That kind of music (free improv) is not everyone's cup of tea, but I think it is very healthy to engage in for any musician, and even can be used as a kind of "suizen"! Playing in that way, particularly with other musicians, forces you (also listeners too) to be very aware and present in the moment. It puts you right there on the edge. In fact, I think being on that edge is the most important point of the improvisation, and if you stray from the edge, the "music" becomes bad. That may turn the listener off (so they may stray from that intense present-ness too) and also you as a performer will be aware of having lost that present-ness. That in itself is very valuable, as it gives you instant feedback. That's why it works so well to train you into being right there, present. A great Zen practice!

Justin
http://senryushakuhachi.com/

Last edited by Justin (2008-12-10 22:10:18)

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#11 2008-12-11 01:48:59

Jim Thompson
Moderator
From: Santa Monica, California
Registered: 2007-11-28
Posts: 421

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Hi Seth,
    Good to see you posting again.
     To improvise, regardless of style, one needs an understanding of scales. You can get started with just a few or even one scale. The more you know the more freedom you have. Your first problem will be trying to ascertain what key and scale(s) a particular piece is in. Once you figure that out the door starts to open. However an intellectual understanding of the scale(s) is not enough. You must practice that scales(s) until your fingers know it without your head having figure it out. Then your fingers can begin to dance. Be patient. Improvising is basically developing your ability to play by ear. The more educated your ear and fingers are, the better. Hope that helps.
                                                   
                                                                                    Jim

Last edited by Jim Thompson (2008-12-11 01:51:28)


" Who do you trust , me or your own eyes?" - Groucho Marx

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#12 2008-12-11 04:31:36

jdanza
Moderator
From: Vancouver, Canada
Registered: 2008-06-19
Posts: 85
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Hello Seth
  Improvisation is my first love, so here are my two cents, for whatever is worth...
Fundamentally, consider these three elements:
1) Scale/Mode.  Ask yourself if the piece requires you staying strictly within the mode or if some "outside" notes may be appropriate. Know your scales and modes inside out. Get yourself and Ear Training teacher or book.
2) Rhythm/Time signature. Master syncopation and polyrhythms. Play arrhythmically over rhythmic patterns and viceversa. Buy a metronome!. A great phrase played with bad time will sound pretty bad while a simple phrase played in perfect groove will always sound great.
3) Sound.  This one is perhaps the most important, and here is where you can never do enough Robuki. Find the Sound of your Soul and let it Sing. Once you find That, a couple of notes may be enough for a great improv (literally).
  Another Golden Rule. If you can't sing it, don't even bother playing it. Moving your fingers around and playing notes, even in good time, is meaningless. You have to play the music that comes from within a millisecond after you "heard" it. A great practice is to set up a drone,  sing a phrase and then play it on your instrument. Hopefully you can do this automatically, but if not, take your time to find the notes and you'll get better and better with practice.
Record yourself!. You never know how you sounded until you can be your own audience... If you can't sing or don't "hear" any phrases, then start by studying and copying the players/improvisers that you admire most. Nowadays you can even get machines that will slow down the music without changing the key so you can hear with total clarity the phrasing!.
I hope it helps... Best wishes...

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#13 2008-12-11 04:44:01

Bruce Hunter
Member
From: Apple Valley CA
Registered: 2005-10-10
Posts: 258

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Speaking of  famous musician quotes :

"If it sounds good, it is good." - Duke Ellington

"There are no wrong notes; some are just more right than others." - Thelonius Monk

"There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions." - Dizzy Gillespie

There are no wrong notes in jazz, only notes in the wrong places." - Miles Davis

later...


Develop infallible technique and then lay yourself at the mercy of inspiration. - Anon.

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#14 2009-02-08 11:43:11

ABRAXAS
Member
Registered: 2009-01-17
Posts: 353

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Yungflutes wrote:

Don't:

1) play what you are always playing thinking you are improvising.

Exactly! The closest thing I ever had to a guitar teacher, who was a totally outside player, used to say "They aren't improvising, they are just re-arranging their old licks."


"Shakuhachi music stirs up both gods and demons." -- Ikkyu.

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#15 2009-02-09 08:28:19

YuccaBruce
Member
From: Tucson
Registered: 2008-07-06
Posts: 39
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Rules are what messed up the world inwardly and outwardly-personally and socially-the individual and collective etc..
Why do we feel there must be rules? or something somebody knows that we don't- why are we so impatient and not able to just observe where our playing takes us?

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#16 2009-02-09 08:45:13

purehappiness
Member
From: Connecticut USA
Registered: 2009-01-13
Posts: 528

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

YuccaBruce wrote:

Rules are what messed up the world inwardly and outwardly-personally and socially-the individual and collective etc..
Why do we feel there must be rules? or something somebody knows that we don't- why are we so impatient and not able to just observe where our playing takes us?

That is the best way to learn new things.


I was not conscious whether I was riding on the wind or the wind was riding on me.

Lieh-tzu

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#17 2009-02-09 11:13:41

radi0gnome
Member
From: Kingston NY
Registered: 2006-12-29
Posts: 1030
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

purehappiness wrote:

YuccaBruce wrote:

Rules are what messed up the world inwardly and outwardly-personally and socially-the individual and collective etc..
Why do we feel there must be rules? or something somebody knows that we don't- why are we so impatient and not able to just observe where our playing takes us?

That is the best way to learn new things.

I'm tempted to say that it's not the best way, but the fastest way. However, the thought crossed my mind that since a lot of these songs seem like improvisations that were written down (if that's true Japan isn't the only culture to do that sort of thing) and the playing of the songs are supposed to be steps to enlightenment, maybe only some special improvisations that were stumbled upon and had the correct zen properties were written down. In that case the notes for a particular song, I guess you could call them rules, would be something a student of zen would be very unlikely to find by themselves.


"Now birds record new harmonie, And trees do whistle melodies;
Now everything that nature breeds, Doth clad itself in pleasant weeds."
~ Thomas Watson - England's Helicon ca 1580

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#18 2009-02-09 11:34:57

purehappiness
Member
From: Connecticut USA
Registered: 2009-01-13
Posts: 528

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

Isn't to be blowing zen to have no rules. To blow what is right for you. Even if a note is not hit correctly it still should be considered ok?Not to completely put down rules. Rules are good but I want to play and not have to worry about if I got a note just right. It wouldn't be meditation if you had to worry about what you are playing. Right?I am a complete beginner so take my words with a grain of salt. I am reading this book called "zen mind, beginners mind" and that concept says that a beginners mind is better though.Just my 2 cents.


I was not conscious whether I was riding on the wind or the wind was riding on me.

Lieh-tzu

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#19 2009-02-09 11:38:44

radi0gnome
Member
From: Kingston NY
Registered: 2006-12-29
Posts: 1030
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

ABRAXAS wrote:

Yungflutes wrote:

Don't:

1) play what you are always playing thinking you are improvising.

Exactly! The closest thing I ever had to a guitar teacher, who was a totally outside player, used to say "They aren't improvising, they are just re-arranging their old licks."

Guitar is a different animal and difficult to improvise with without being riff-based. The way the fretboard is layed out loans itself more to riffs than scales. So, most improvisers, if they haven't practiced all the scales and their permutations until they become natural will be riff-bound. Piano, on the other hand, will play scales even if a total beginner were to step up to it and run their fingers along it, so even very beginner players can hammer out decent, non-pattern oriented improvisations. Woodwinds are somewhere in between, but I think much more easy to improvise with than guitar. Players like Wes Montgomery were very far from just re-arranging their old licks. What your guitar playing teacher/friend said I believe is true for most, and even includes some very good professional jazz players, but that style can be transcended from to do something different.


"Now birds record new harmonie, And trees do whistle melodies;
Now everything that nature breeds, Doth clad itself in pleasant weeds."
~ Thomas Watson - England's Helicon ca 1580

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#20 2009-02-09 11:49:35

radi0gnome
Member
From: Kingston NY
Registered: 2006-12-29
Posts: 1030
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

purehappiness wrote:

Isn't to be blowing zen to have no rules. To blow what is right for you. Even if a note is not hit correctly it still should be considered ok?

I had thought the same thing, but it's apparently not what the zen monks were doing with shakuhachi. At this point I am a bit more open-minded and thinking that maybe the mindless "improvisational" playing I like to do is very far from using the shakuhachi for zen meditation, at least traditionally. It kind of fits my Western understanding of what zen meditation must be like, but I have to think that there may have been a reason for the monks being so "song" oriented.


"Now birds record new harmonie, And trees do whistle melodies;
Now everything that nature breeds, Doth clad itself in pleasant weeds."
~ Thomas Watson - England's Helicon ca 1580

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#21 2009-02-09 12:07:27

purehappiness
Member
From: Connecticut USA
Registered: 2009-01-13
Posts: 528

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

I am saying this in reference to improvising with oneself. To play in a group requires much more technique.

You will have to excuse but I just jumped in without reading the complete post. So my comments may not really correspond to the original question.


I was not conscious whether I was riding on the wind or the wind was riding on me.

Lieh-tzu

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#22 2009-02-09 12:15:58

geni
Performer & Teacher
From: Boston MA
Registered: 2005-12-21
Posts: 830
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

can you guys post some of your improvisations with Shakuhachi? So, we can hear what is about.

Last edited by geni (2009-02-09 12:16:58)

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#23 2009-02-09 12:39:52

Karmajampa
Member
From: Aotearoa (NZ)
Registered: 2006-02-12
Posts: 574
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

We improvise all the time, from the moment we wake we are asking, "what am I going to do next?" But we don't start stumbling around in a disordery manner, there are particular parameters we work within, "I am hungry, what is there to eat?", we look in the pantry and make an arrangement with a selection of what is available. The wider the selection the wider the possibilities, the more open the preference the broader the taste, the greater the interest, the greater the focus...etc.

Technique, Concentration, Energy.

The more these elements have been studied and developed the greater the potential for the improvisation.
There seems to be a view that improvisation has no intent, no focus, no nothing! "Get loose Man!"
First you loosen to open the possibilities, then you focus on the chosen purpose of the expression. There may not be rules but there are Laws. If you are stumbling around you would be wise to have more direction, focus, concentration. This requires discipline and interest.
Improvisation is not without direction, it is discriminating creativity.
It is not some 'laid back, anything goes', that is basically DULL MIND !
The greater the question the greater the discovery !

So, what do you want for breakfast ?

Kel.


Kia Kaha !

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#24 2009-02-09 16:10:05

radi0gnome
Member
From: Kingston NY
Registered: 2006-12-29
Posts: 1030
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

geni wrote:

can you guys post some of your improvisations with Shakuhachi? So, we can hear what is about.

My myspace website you can get to with the link under my avatar has some of my noodling. It really sucks compared to what you do, was done on shakuhachi that aren't all that user friendly and about a year ago. In the near future I should have some more stuff because I just got a portable recorder that should make recording a bit easier. It should be better because I have some better playing instruments and I've improved some since then. It still won't be anywhere near the quality of your stuff though. I know I've been talking up a storm here and maybe misleading people on how skilled I am, but really, I wasn't attempting any self-aggrandizement smile


"Now birds record new harmonie, And trees do whistle melodies;
Now everything that nature breeds, Doth clad itself in pleasant weeds."
~ Thomas Watson - England's Helicon ca 1580

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#25 2009-02-09 22:27:23

geni
Performer & Teacher
From: Boston MA
Registered: 2005-12-21
Posts: 830
Website

Re: Improvisation and Shakuhachi

hej Charles,
I am looking forward to hear your new stuff.

Playing makes the difference.Puting the stuff in practice makes All the difference.

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