I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and doing well.
Thanks for all the great responses to part 1 which is easiest to read here:
Have you ever had the feeling at certain times (say in a chamber music rehearsal) that you suddenly have much more fun, the music has a greater impact and your feelings about it are stronger; the act of playing feels straight-forward, more natural than ever, and maybe thrilling at the same time?
You may suddenly feel more creative than when playing a piece you have practiced 10 times as much, no obstacles are in view, and you enjoy just being in the moment, almost anything seems suddenly obtainable and possible.
I believe that much can be learned from experiences such as these, particularly if you do not store them in your mind just as luck of the moment.
You DID indeed do something completely right, every time it felt like this.
Maybe the secret is that you did NOT focus on what you usually focus when not feeling as free,which for instance could be on what you have been told to do by a teacher or by a less creative, more controlling part of yourself ?
First of all my view (I have chosen to remind myself of this every day, since I know it can always be true for me as well as actively keeping the option open regarding anyone):
We are all at least as good as the very best time we ever played, probably even a lot better than that as well, if we can find a path which allows it.
This text is about finding an angle or attitude which allows us to be and become what we can dream to be. Chances rise dramatically to encounter or invent such a path if we find out what we really value the most and start searching for our own true meanings and purposes, and not only enjoy freedom accidentally when for some reasons our fences are down.
These fences we might have allowed to grow in the shadow of society, teachers, schools, parents, conductors and maybe we even encouraged and nourished them with what we believe we ought to do or what we thought is expected of us until they act like high strong walls which could deny us the pure joy of just being. ("The road to hell is paved with good intentions").
What important things did we know so well and so often when we where young children which somehow got harder to access the more clever we became?
Try to remember one such time when you didn't feel the need to control anything. Maybe you were playing your instrument alone late at night, and it felt much better than usual (it felt good to be alive and using your gift of life to play). Perhaps it felt way better than at your recital or at your lesson (which these days maybe are on Skype or Zoom).
Remind yourself of what you experienced when you were this inspired (and fearless) - it is indeed true and will always be a possibility for you !!
I have heard some people say that you are never better than your last concert.
My view is that the very, very best time you ever played in your entire life is at least as good as you are.
But most likely you can already NOW be way better than that, if you find a way to think and to be which allows you to befriend your inner genius.
You were born with this genius inside and it will always be there for the rest of your life.
Do not buy into anyone or anything claiming that life (or practice) needs to be hard or difficult to get results.
Common knowledge is that we learn the most and fastest when we are children.
What we really do much more when we are at kindergarden-age is playing.
We learn a lot, and quickly , by being playful and by daring to try new things.
"Playing" ; The same word as in so many languages is wisely used for our profession.
So does playing feel like playing?
How much do you play when you play (practice)?
Couldn't we keep learning as fast and as much as back then if we kept being equally playful ?
Some scientists say that this happens because the brain itself changes as you get older, but do not let that hold you back. Do you think they studied the brains of Arthur Rubinstein or Mozart?
What is statistically true does not need to be personally or individually true.
If 99 percent of people stop being as creative and spontaneous as they were when they were children, I read that as 1 percent staying that way. And being or re-becoming one of those 1 percent is something that we can influence greatly ourselves.
It can often start with daydreaming.
If we are a bit persistent, and also occasionally allow luck/chance/fate or whatever we call it to help us, we can more easily get in touch with something we really want from deep inside.
We can start to change what we actually do and how we do it ;
How we practice, and what we remind ourselves about.
If during your daydreaming you find out that your innermost dream is to become an author, an actor, an astronaut (or something from the other letters of the alphabet) then maybe scales and etudes are a poor strategy to get there ;)
If you want to be an actor, dancer, philosopher, author, composer, teacher and performance artist while being a musician, that though might very well be possible.
What is our job description as musicians do you think?
If I were to describe what being a musician means to me personally I would (as an excerpt) mention:
To be a storyteller
To be a philosopher
To be a dancer
To be a performance artist
To be a comedian
To be a dramatical actor
To be a singer
To be an inventor
To be a pathfinder
To be a student
To be a teacher
To have limitless possibility for meaning and fun alone and with others.
To have the main responsibility for my own purpose and meaning, and part responsibility for some others.
Mahler said "Our duty in life is to pass on the flame, not to store the ashes".
I have been very lucky in my life and had incredibly great teachers, and I have been fortunate to have read extremely inspiring books beating even the best lessons in impact.(more about that later)
I have performed with some unbelievably great artists a lot of times, a few of them world famous others hardly known at all.
I have had the luck to be teaching some students (and learning from them at the same time) going on to make me burst with pride.
I have enjoyed some of humanities' greatest achievements in the playgrounds of the best scores of music.
But still I want more, I want a lot more.
What do you want?
Living and learning almost always have the possibility to feel meaningful and have a purpose, even now in the current corona situation.
If you find the right angle and path which leads in a direction you truly want to move, these will motivate you to put stone on stone to build a future which feels more right for you.
My view is that the best is to find ways to truly love and enjoy the stoneputting-part, and to also consider the possibility that spending a lot of time and effort with someone else's building stones you earlier thought necessary, could well be the very thing denying you access to your dreams and building your fortress.
The great thing is that even these types of attitudes you can indeed "practice".
Both the constructive and negative.
You will always get better at what you are really practicing.
So the question is what do you practice while practicing? ( knowingly and less consciously )
Are we, when trying to control certain aspects of our playing, really just limiting ourselves?
What is practice anyway?
What do you want to change?
Why do you practice?
Is it to fulfill your own dearest dreams?
How much are you influenced by what you think is expected of you?
Are you getting closer to something you truly wish for?
How can you find out what you really want?
It can all be quite confusing at times.
In "Part 1" I recommended some books helping me even more than any of my lessons, even with violin technique, though none of the books mention that at all.
In this "PART 2" I will delve deeper into how you could actually use improvisation in multiple different ways and for almost limitless purposes.
(as well as some other methods of practicing)
If you get interested just pick a few of these tools and try them out to see if inspiration can emerge in new ways.
And if you only keep going for a even a rather short period without evaluating to much, just looking for a nice time, you will very likely, as most of those I know who have started using improvisation, find out that you are much better than anticipated.
WAY BETTER. I always like the smile some of my students (and others) get after claiming they aren't good at improvising, only to find out that they were after all.
I will ask how they can know they are not good at it if they haven't done it much, that usually makes most willing to try.
At first maybe 3 minutes, and then when they are at their next 3 minutes, they often are twice as good, and already by the 5th little impro they will do something which surprises and amazes them. Then that priceless proud and happy smile can be detected even if they should be the types trying to hide it.
And don't think this concerns only children or young adults.
A personal knowledge of how fast creativity can grow is something very useful in order to be able to shut down your worst fears which often want attention. But your worst fears are better to starve and ignore by being occupied with more rewarding things.
On my Instagram, Facebook and Youtube Channel I will start sharing more videos, some maybe made by you :)
and launch more challenges.
More about that further down.
You can already now write to my email firstname.lastname@example.org
Here I suggest some possible methods allowing you to be fully creative and still hopefully giving you enough structure to be incorporated in your daily "Practice"
(I have found the best way for me is to start each day with Category 6 , anything from a couple of minutes and way upwards depending on the inside Weather where I luckily can influence the Forecast :)
If you are new to improvisation, category 2 and 5 as well can work very well.
Category 1 (using existing music as a base)
A (with notated compositions as a base)
Bach told his students to excerpt the main harmonic structure from his compositions and use that as a base for their own improvising and composing.
There are good composed examples in Bachs B Minor Partita for solo violin where the 4 "Double" movements are virtually identical harmonically to the 4 main movements.
You can apply this method to almost any of his music, or other composers you love for that matter.
Try to improvise and/or compose your own "Double" for a Bach movement or any piece where you love the harmonic progression.
It could be easier to start with a slow movement of Mozart or Haydn where the harmonic progressions are open and clear and easy to extract.
If you play an entirely melodic instrument, look at how Bach uses broken chords to achieve even 4-part harmony with a single voice.
If you decide to improvise and/or compose a bit more loosely inspired by other composers it will likely end up very different from the original. Like the slow movement of Strauss' Violin Sonata (look at that movement's title) for which he got the inspiration from a famous Beethoven piano sonata (though that is not so easily discernible just by listening).
A contemporary of Mozart said that when Mozart's students performed his piano sonatas, he would often sit on the right side of the pupil by the piano improvising an additional melody or over-voice on top of his own sonata.
The source thought it a pity that Mozart didn't write this down as it was supposedly better than any of his composed music.
If you listen to the middle (4th) movement of Mozart's Divertimento for String Trio, in that variation movement there are a few places where an additional voice seems to improvise freely on top of the melody. This gives me an idea of how this account could be right. Mozart improvising over Mozart, maybe it was even better than anything we have ever heard.
Improvising an additional voice to someone playing a piece reacting to your participation (as it was for Mozart then), or improvising just alongside a recording of someone playing anything you like.
Also here I suggest to maybe start with something simple unless you are the adventurous type who likes to just plunge into anything :)
I believe these two methods are a very good way to get your heart to really know a piece, to move into the world of the piece making it your own universe as well. If you enjoy improvising an additional voice to a piece, your love for it will likely deepen and when you later are to perform it as written (more or less), you will probably play the piece itself with even more freedom and your story will be stronger within the playground of that score.
I imagine this could be how Kreisler found his ingenious way of combining 2 themes in his Beethoven cadenza, and you will soon find out that several melodies are possible on the same progressions even in advanced pieces.
Once I shocked a whole symphonic orchestra and the conductor in a rehearsal by playing Andrew Lloyd-Webbers "I don't know how to love Him" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" instead of the melody in Mendelssohn's violin concerto 2nd movement, which works for a surprisingly long time.
That was fun :) I haven't done it in concert yet but maybe I will someday if I repeat the movement as an encore.
Compare the melody of Grieg's 2nd sonata 2nd movement with Brahms' 2nd sonata 2nd movements middle sections.
Grieg was written first and there lurks an exciting and largely unknown story behind that "quote".
Try to find one harmonic progression used in two different pieces and swap melodies. Very fun to try (especially if the time signature is different)
Lots of pieces have Tonica, Dominant and Subdominant over large sections.
Improvise using something you already love and know, which is not a classical composition written fully down or composed as thorough as most things we perform as inspiration.
Here you can use Children's songs, Christmas Carols, Folk songs and dances, medieval ballads, popular music tunes, lullabies and any other source you might love.
When Bugge Wesseltoft and I recorded "Last Spring" on the label ACT we largely used songs our mothers had sung when we grew up and other music which had meant something since before we started thinking too much.
With some tracks we made some vague plans for harmony, or about where to improvise over the melody and where to just reflect through free improvisation.
Every time we perform this material in concerts it ends up wildly different though, partly since we luckily do not remember our plans too well.
Try to play some songs you already have in your heart and then improvise and see what happens.
Here is a youtube link to Bugge and me, where I use my Viola Concorda, a six string instrument custom-built to my specifications since I wanted to reach down into the cello frequencies while improvising. (there is only one in the world so far)
Try to improvise say over the old Requiem Dies Irae-theme you for instance will find in Ysaye's 2. sonata.
Also on this recording with Bugge is our version of "La Folia", the harmonic pattern-melody so many composers have become inspired by.
La Folia can indeed drive you mad in an exciting way.
This brings me to ..
Improvisations over bass lines, harmonic patterns, passacaglias and chaconnes, tonal cadenzas and much, much more.
Try to improvise and/or compose your own La Folia (maybe after listening to Corelli, Vivaldi and other versions if you like)
There is an older and a newer version of La Folia, and you could always alter anything in the harmonic pattern to your liking as well.
Try to improvise and/or compose some extra variations to Handel's Passacaglia as Halvorsen did, and arrange it for any instruments.
At the end of this email you will find a link to when Kofi Annan received the Nobel Peace Prize. Right after his speech you can watch Lars Anders Tomter performing the Handel-Halvorsen live with me. I remember the feedback-howl from some microphone was at times terrible in the hall, but luckily you can only hear that a bit in this archival TV-transmission.
Try to compose and/or improvise some more generations of variations in the saga which is Bach's Chaconne.
Make your own bass line or harmonic structure and use that to improvise over multiple times a week.
Record all of them and later write down the best and while doing that you can improve it and compose some more if inspiration knocks at the door.
If you do so, you will already be a composer by the end of April :)
If you feel like it, write down your own new harmonic patterns to compose cadenzas or write down some progressions from some earlier cadenzas to improvise over and compose your own cadenza.
Cadenza-like structures were first derived from a cadence (row of chords) starting on a 6/4th chord and ending on a dominant (with a trill).
Then gradually through music history it turned into something totally different, often like a development section soon to be stolen from the performers by the composers, as these 2 professions sadly started to separate.
Which brings me to..
Improvisations as developments of any ideas, motifs, themes or rhythmic patterns.
This can be used for generating material for your own composing or improvising, or you can improvise using the above elements from a concerto to make your own cadenza.
That could be a development-type cadenza like Sibelius, or one that is both an early-type cadenza and a development-type one, like some of Joachim's and Kreisler's.
Improvise with timbre, colours, dynamics, vibrato just to express yourself and your joy, pain, hope, doubt, anger or any feeling through sound alone developing your personal voice. Add portamentos, glissandos, articulations, gestures, rythm and other patterns ;
All this to broadening your palette and expanding your toolbox, and to letting your subconsciousness have more to play with the next time you get inspired in a storytelling improvisation or piece of music.
Once in a while I hear something so painfully beautiful it makes me stop everything.
Listen to this youtube link to the violinist David Nadien playing a piece by Ysaye's teacher and mentor Vieuxtemps.
Studying his vibrato and bow speed and pressure in this and other videos didn't help me whatsoever in creating the unusual naked honesty of his playing. But then one time during a concert in Sweden in the middle of a movement while the orchestra played I suddenly remembered the feeling Nadien evokes in my heart and I let that fill me without any plan and then something came to me as a gift.
I produced a sound I had never done before, it wasn't the same as Nadien but it was not something I had ever done before either.
While signing CDs after the concert a lady came up to me saying she had been overwhelmed by feelings and moved to tears. It is so nice when people actually tell you how they feel, it keeps me motivated. I asked her if there was a particular place and she at once told from where it had started.
Anything you plant in your mind and heart, your inspiration can later use in an effortless way once the seeds have sunk into the deeper regions where they start to transform and combine obeying other forces luckily out of the limitations of control.
Mozart by the way wrote that he often composed when he was half asleep and he seems to have had a particularly great access to inspiration in my view :) ;)
This leads me on to..
.....which so many of the greatest minds in music history have claimed was their most important source for inspiration, AND development as artists :
Completely free improvisations without any rules or boundaries, just being in the moment with all of yourself to see what happens when you do not try to control anything.
If you have not experienced this much, try to read many of the written accounts about (and sometimes from) the great minds in music history ;
About the inspiration they got from improvisation that many of them claimed to be their greatest source, (also from the ones mainly remembered as performers today)
See if you get a curiosity to really give free improvisation some tryouts.
My experience with students is that most quickly become much better than they anticipated, and when they get over their initial resistance and urge to try to control and be clever and musical and finally let go, they benefit hugely in their normal playing afterwards.
And not only students, same for me.
Maybe for you as well?
Try it and you might get a thrill or a connection to valuable sides of yourself, you might be surprised what happens when you, with an instrument, have this quest to let go of all defenses and just BE musically.
Side effects of this can be that your instrumental technique gets less conscious and more capable of accessing what words and normal intellect cannot access, something I believe will not really feel new but that you might greet as your oldest friend and recognize once you remove the obstacles hindering your soul.
For me if for some reason I haven't improvised much in some time, then together with a sense of fulfillment happening when I finally manage to let go of my stress or worries I can also get a sadness that I have ignored something essential for me. Improvisation is like the greatest psychologist for me.
To improvise together with someone as a conversation, dialogue, melody-on-top-of harmony, fun-without- any-rules. Over a common pattern or agreement, as a quarrel, as a duel or contest, as anything you like.
As with most all good living, nothing is completely without risk :)
Category 8 or further categories can be anything you invent yourself or to combine the previous 7 categories with each other and also with your normal playing activities like "practicing", playing concerts, having rehearsals, playing for your teacher, teaching your students and on and on.
There is of course room for a lot of types of "practicing" not involving improvisation, but even here I have found great benefits smuggling in some of the attitudes and methods derived from improvisation.
My first definition of my job description (as I mentioned) is..
...to be a storyteller.
When I practice a piece I use a large percentages of my "practice" time to get to know and love the story, so I actually have something worthwhile telling.
Listen to this rendition of Schubert's Erlkönig
I have heard Bryn Terfel live 3 times, and one of these concerts stands out as the very best concert I have ever heard and by far.
I get inspired and excited just by writing now, virtually nothing in the universe can beat a live concert the very few times I have experienced something in that stratosphere.
It is almost like (but much, much better) my 3 best Tiramisu cake experiences in life. Even if get disappointed again and again I always ask in every Italian Restaurant how they make their Tiramisu and order it anywhere they seem to be a bit proud of it, and in spite of my monthly disappointments I keep longing for the 4th heavenly experience.
If you enjoy my favorite recording by Terfel then know that this particular live experience, when all stars were aligned (including the acoustics of the hall and his wonderful pianist Malcolm Martineau ), just multiplied everything.
Listen to the horse riding in the piano, Terfel's different voices to Goethe's Poem, the sick and worried boy, the seemingly friendly but evil Elf King.
I have never heard the violin played at the level he had at this particular live concert ever, but now I know in my heart that it can be possible.
Singers are lucky to have a text as additional inspiration.
So I have started to invent texts to all pieces I play, and most of my compositions have them as well.
The great thing about these secret texts is that no censorship is ever needed, so there we have a huge advantage to authors who publish their printed words.
Music really is humanity's greatest invention.
I believe in it more than ever.
Here is link to Tearful (which is what auto-correct suggested for Terfel) and to Goethe's poem in original and English translation.
If I learn a concerto I will most often first sit down with a piano reduction of the score.
Being very slow to read 2 staffs of piano music and not a good sight reader I move forward extremely slowly, which has some benefits; I can taste each harmonic ingredients on its own , and move along slow enough to digest the progressions better. So even when I use my violin to pick fewer notes of the harmonies I will often deliberately slow down.
If there is a harmonic progression making a special impact I will repeat it as a mantra, often improvise over it or thinking a different melody on top. This gives me more pleasure out of this important part of the composition also when returning to the composer's melodic choice.
Once I have filled each phrase of the score with enough things giving me pleasure, entertainment, sense of love, excitement etc, I start to try out wildly different ways to tell the story both with my violin and in my mind, including making singable texts for the most expressive or heartwrenching places.
Possibilities for different storytelling start to grow in me.
The same great melodies and harmonies can often both be whispered or sung from a full heart, played (danced) faster or slower, and in various different characters while still being true and honest to your musicality.
And even if you step over the line while practicing no harm is done.
Actually only overstepping the line will tell you were that line is for you, and in my view most of the truly great stuff is close to this line and not in the middle of the safety zone.
(Bryn Terfel seems to like it near the cliff edge.)
This process lets the smaller parts of the music show different of its possible qualities which will broaden the meaning-possibilities also when you play those within the scope or storytelling of the full piece.
And to have multiple good versions you enjoy of each phrase gives your inspiration much more room for playing and knocking down the Walls of Overcontrol during concerts.
And also here your subconsciousness combines things on its own when you sleep or do other things, once you have planted the seeds through inspired practice, even quite far-fetched ideas can suddenly pop up and be the best thing in an entire concert.
If the composer writes a phrase sort of saying saying "I Love You" in forte in the score and you suddenly feel like playing it in piano instead in your 7th performance of the piece, I am sure that this will be even more powerful that night, but maybe not the next night if you try to repeat your success in a less sincere way.
If I feel like playing a "piano" and nevertheless play "forte" because it is printed, maybe I succumb to the (often false) fear that the pianist or conductor would not be delighted by this or similar things, then I feel dishonest and ashamed of myself for not taking the chance of following what I knew was right for me there and then.
I have made some really good friends with a lot of musicians and conductors by daring to be myself on stage.
That is not without risks or pitfalls either of course, and verbally at least I have often made huge mistakes, less so while actually playing.
When "practicing" I often use my imagination as a spearhead, if I can think it better than I can currently play it, then the path with the instrument gets much shorter and I can reach better places.
If I can sense essential things in the music while dancing or singing then later on with my violin under the chin I will benefit from these.
After this process I will start to practice finding fingerings and rehearsing difficult passages with rhythmic patterns, and enjoying the pleasure that doublestops which are fully in tune can give me, and much more.
I always try to translate any challenge or difficulty from something I merely want to survive into something I actually want to express myself through.
I then do not as easily get side-tracked by the controlling and less inspiring parts of my brain, because I already love the score so much that the absence of that feeling will remind me about the storytelling part.
So especially for the most virtuosic passages it is important to have a higher musical purpose and meaning.
The brain works poorly if you try to avoid playing badly, and much better if you have a lot to tell which has importance to you in itself and not only in its execution.
If any place in a piece feels like a punishment or a sentence you have to serve and you are relieved when you are through that passage,in those places the balance between "the challenge" and the musicality can get wrong.
Some pieces have extreme difficulties in them. I enjoy challenges quite a bit and find it fun to conquer my fears and overcome these with my musicality and natural urge to tell stories remaining in charge, but there are still some passages where it is hard to keep my focus on the storytelling and natural awareness.
I believe that in classical music composers have frequently gone too far.
I have played the violin my whole life and devoted so much of it to practice and still my musicality and self esteem can be sufferingunnecessarily. Music does not have to be that difficult to be exciting.
I still perform some of this music and have even recorded it on CDs, and I love it, but this love is rarely due to the most difficult passages, more in spite them, and I tolerate them due to the high level of meaning in the entire piece.
So I always try to start searching for gold in the scores until I am as brimful as possible with enthusiasm and love for as much of the piece as possible, then I start with the violin.
The pianist Glenn Gould maybe went furthest and claimed to use 90 percent of his practice time away from the piano.
For me it is maybe 50/50.
Not going into the trap believing that intonation, fingerings, bowings and more need to be fixed first really saves me a lot of time.
And not only that, but this type of practicing brings me to much more inspiring places.
If you, like I used to, spend 95 percent of your practice time with your violin glued to your collarbone and feel restless by the piano, because you think you ought to do "proper practice" and not waste your time, I will tell you that I now believe the largest percent of the time I have wasted in my life was through mindless practice, instrument in hand, but not with sufficiently clear direction and purpose.
You can of course waste your life also with uninspired studying of scores, piano reductions or music theory as well, if these aren´t connected to your own dream. One the other hand Music History, Harmony, Orchestration, Composition, analyzing of works, improvisation and a lot more like dance and song can all be used as tools in your personal toolbox to reach your goals if you use them with inspiration.
Mozart's father and teachers taught him most of the above disciplines as well as fencing, and Mozart even told one of the lead singers in Figaro that if he could live again he would like to be a Dancer, which is a fact that has inspired me a lot when playing Mozart.
Dance and Opera make me play his violin concerti much better than just to limit my practice to the violin.
But then, even while practicing some of the more virtuosic romantic concertos at a later stage, I will, if I start to fatigue or believe less in the power of music, remind myself to change my attitude again.
I can then often improvise a bit in the vicinity of the characters of the music to wake up my feelings, or play a similar passage from a concerto that I haven't played in a while and hence not lately destroyed with that part of my brain; a piece which lives unpolluted in my heart, inspires me and acts contagiously so that I can return to the concerto I am practicing with a healthier attitude.
Nowadays I can interrupt my practicing with improvisations even mid-phrase, every time I feel less free, and return to the printed music (more or less) when my storytelling feels unforced and no longer chained to the negative controlling my unsound wish to "be perfect" often brings along.
Also when playing scales or etudes, I will play them as if they are the very best of music. Or even better if I have an obstacle in a piece in actual need of practice I would rather improvise my own little piece including thirds, shifts etc, if normal improvisation does not fix the issue.
I learned how to cycle when I was a child and I know I can do that, so I do not ask myself if I can cycle when I haven't done so in a while - it very quickly, almost instantly, just becomes natural on its own, even after years of not doing it.
Some people claim that you constantly need to practice almost every aspect of violin, but I believe it is much better to really learn things well early on and then decide to trust that I know it or can find it very quickly.
If you start to focus on how you walk, and what your tongue does while talking that would also become unnecessarily difficult.
For instance shifts obey the same few principles regardless of which key.
If you learn these principles for both beautiful melodic singing shifts and unnoticeable smooth shifts in quicker passages and how to find appropriate fingerings taking the tempos, characters and articulations into to account, it will quickly become natural and you will know it forever, and even if it needs freshening up it won't take much time.
If you on the other hand repeat shifts every day in your scales which are neither very beautiful nor smooth and unnoticeable, the act of daily repeating will at best be a very slow way of learning.
A really good way to learn anything is to play with it, in a curious and childlike way, trying things out from many angles, seeing if there is some principles behind to fathom, and to make that fun by using improvisation in the process. Improvise any technical issue better or compose your own etudes if you like, like Chopin.
And if you practice scales as if they were great music and even use your musicality and storytelling while practicing different rhythmical patterns in difficult passages, you will avoid most of the nasty side effects of practicing.
An easy way to tell if your practice today has been good is to simply ask yourself if you love the piece more and you think it is easier to play it than yesterday. If so then it likely was very good practice.
If you get a thrill and do not even need to ask that question then even better.
If you can play your practiced piece as if you composed it yourself that always helps. Or why not as if you were a mastermind capable of just inventing that great story on the spot improvising it as for the first time in history?
Then chances that your audience will get excited about your story skyrocket.
It feels so good to be present in the feelings here and now, to participate in your own life while living (I mean while playing) ;
When having access to the entirety of Yourself without need to try anything and just letting the music happen.
If you now like so many are more alone due to corona, how can you enjoy this period in your life the most ?
Can you be less alone when you are alone?
Can you, like when Mozart improvised on top of his own sonata, "practice" to have conversation with a better part of yourself?
CONVERSATIONS WITH BETTER PARTS OF YOURSELF.
I believe you indeed can achieve this, and in multiple different ways.
I mainly write this text to share some of the methods I developed on tour, and which I have used for many years in hotel rooms around the world.
How to not be alone when I am alone.
How to stay motivated.
And due to Corona it has gotten more relevant than ever.
It has helped me for a long time, maybe a few of you who are still reading this long text want to try out if this could be something for you?
If you have a device which can record (like a smartphone) and any device which can play back that recording at a similar volume to your playing, say a wireless speaker, a stereo system, a television set with input connection, or just earbuds or headphones, you can then make improvisations and while listening to these in addition improvise together with yourself.
If you have a piano or a digital keyboard, guitar, or any instrument other than your main instrument with more chord capabilities you can record harmonic progressions more easily and improvise on top of that.
Many keyboards also have the ability to record different tracks on top of each other natively as an option.
On tour I always bring a really small, quite cheap digital keyboard with 61 micro keys weighing about 2 kilos, and a small portable speaker, weighing less than 2 pounds. Both fit in my suitcase and it means I can improvise on piano and improvise on violin on top of that anywhere while on tour.
I have several hundred piano improvisations on file so anyone who wishes to improvise together with me can email email@example.com and I can send you mp3s or even videofiles.
I make double-improvisations in multiple ways, also as videos.
Double-improvisation-videos are easy say with a laptop (or ipad) and one cellphone.
If you play back one of mine or your own improvisations on a computer, stereo (or connected to a TV) and improvise while video-recording yourself on your mobile phone you can even send the file to me if you like.
Consider this a challenge :)
Some of your videos I will then put on my Instagram, Facebook or Youtube channel.
Separate videos can also be merged in computer programs but double improvisations do not need to be high-tech at all.
You will see a small sample of different ways how I make double improvisations directly and merged in this videoclip.
At the end of this text you will find a few of my piano-improvisation videos which you can use for your own double improvisation,I also included some more double-improvisations.
These are very free philosophical types of piano improvisations and maybe not the simplest to begin with.
I have though as I said many, many more I can email you, also some shorter and easier to use.
But best of all is probably to just record yourself a little, maybe some harmonic progressions to start up on your own.
If you play them back any of this at an appropriate volume level you can just take out your cellphone and video record yourself while improvising along. And if your playback device screen is in view you have a double video.
Hopefully you can will let this inspire you to make the whole process yourself, maybe ending up in a composition for others to perform as well?
There are several apps and programs which will let you do double recordings natively as well. With some searching you can find examples of this on the net. This text here is just to get you started.
There are some reasons why I do not personally use " A Cappella" or similar apps but if they do what you want they can probably be a very easy way getting into this as well.
So what happens if you improvise a lot and also start to write down some of your improvisations ?
Well, then you are indeed officially a composer. :)
It might be a lot easier than you imagine, and you are probably way better than you might think.
I do believe that if many more musicians and young players in Classical Music are encouraged to improvise and compose again that could make several things happen and might help transform the Classical Musical scene for the better.
This is another reason why I improvise with my children and students, and have many other projects to stimulate change.
(If you are a teacher try to start each lesson by improvising and having small musical conversations at any level.)
So what could happen if you improvise and compose as part of your "practice"?
My experience is that the access to telling your own story right from the source will be stronger and it will get easier and easier to find ways to free yourself. Music composed by some of your heroes from music history will likely benefit hugely from this as well.
True technique which is just the ability to express your feelings without interference, will develop rapidly.
If we look back to a slice of history, say to the time of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, from 1780-1830,we will find that in those 50 years a much, much larger percentage of musicians did improvise and compose than today, and almost all composers were performers as well.
Today the whole classical musical scene is vastly larger, many more in the world play today than in those days.
If we think conservatively there are maybe 50 times more classical musicians today in the world than back then.
Shouldn't we then in the Classical Music World expect to have had about 150 composers of the caliber of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert the last 50 years? Some people indeed believe that we have had that, but I am not so sure.
I do believe we have had many fantastic composers in recent times, but are we missing out on many of the possibly greatest ones due to how we largely do things nowadays? Not only in educational institutions but also in the rest of the music life (and beyond for that matter)
And similarly, are we missing out on many of the excellent types of musicians, such as the likes of Kreisler, Ysaye, Britten and others?
What is different today?
How do we practice and what do we practice?
How is modern teaching, and competitions and belief in systems and scales and etudes influencing?
Who becomes a composer, how do they compose and how many of them still perform?
Who becomes a performer? How many of those who showed signs of talents for composing were not stimulated sufficiently to this side of their talents?
Even if certain aspects of playing today maybe are vastly better than before, is the classical musical scene more exciting now than it was in the older days?
Are we more or less creative?
And even back in the early 1800s, how could Paganini, Chopin, Liszt and so many more heighten certain aspects of playing so extremely fast?
What did they do? Was it etudes and scales which made them so extremely capable or something else?
They say that Paganini didn't practice particularly much, and often after composing a piece he already knew mostly how to play it.
Could it be that improvising and composing are one of the fastest, most inspiring and best way even to develop virtuosic aspects of playing?
Not that I believe that this at all is needed today.
I think the special effects and virtuosic aspects have already for a long time been way overemphasized in classical music.
I think our "Movies" have more than enough car-chases, and stunts, and special effects, and often leave me with the same taste in my mouth as after seeing a multi-million-dollar movie production with not quite a good enough story or not the best use of its actors.
I do believe we need to generate even better stories and scripts if classical music is to survive long-term in a good way.
And remakes of only old Movies, however great, will not be enough, neither will filming less good stories just because they are newer.
Mozart already believed that the virtuosic element had gone to far in his time.
Chopin, while often writing quite challenging music, expressed that the greatest value lay in simplicity, and I believe his best pieces have this simplicity in them, even in the more virtuosic elements.
I personally often get tired if I hear certain old circus numbers performed and ask myself : Why is this piece really played anymore ?
Do the persons who play these pieces express something of great value to them while playing?
Of course not all humans feel the same, so this email is also to those of you not entirely happy with how classical music is today, who want something different and more, and want to really steer out a new course and change direction.
Do not settle for something you just partially believe in! Do keep daydreaming and seek for more meaning.
My advice to you is to stop wasting your time and life, so only fight for something you believe in or search for something which rings true to you.
Only you can know what you think is most important and which music you really value the most. Neither your teacher nor anyone else will ever know this better than yourself.
You are indeed your own teacher and have always been.
If you perform things you do not believe in fully, I don´t think that will bring any long-term benefits. Neither to you nor to the music world.
There are many paths and many truths, start questioning which is yours and which you do not want to fight for any more.
I think: What will happen if we could get many, many more to try improvisation and composing?
It is never too early in my view and actually never too late either I believe.
But it is not the only way though !
Some of the very best musicians do not compose or improvise and still obviously have contact with the most important sources in themselves to share.
Nevertheless, is the world missing out on other important voices, who are not nourished the right way today?
Could a more creative way of learning both be more fulfilling for most and help revitalize our classical music life?
If I compare Music to a religion, personally I believe in the power of music more than ever, but in the Church built around it less so.
But what would happen if we keep stimulating everyone who shows talent in composing and improvising, to remain creative both as players and composers?
I personally believe we could get on a much better track and reclaim and find way more new excitement than ever before.
So I believe we would benefit from challenging and changing our habits in everything from the "practicing room" and institutions to the "concert hall".
If you through your music already are expressing what is the most valuable to you, you are probably using the gift of life well and it is proof that your practice is good.
If you really want other results than those you are achieving today, the logical solution would be to "practice" differently from what you currently do, not just more.
Can it be fulfilling to learn an instrument and develop all the skills needed without forcing yourself or losing yourself on the way?
(Or rather to find yourself back again every time)
I do believe it can be, and that the sky is the limit and not even that.
I do believe that it is always possible to have a meaningful time, particularly while learning.
I now "give up" much more often than before.
Before I could give up for weeks or months (and for my composing even for years)
But now I give up every day, that means that I restart after a much shorter time and can re-purpose and remind myself more clearly of what I believe for as long as I believe that, and change direction more easily when that becomes true to me.
Beginning to question old truths and break habits replacing them with new approaches and new behaviours is to change.
Practice is all about change, change your playing and life towards what you dream it to be.
Each time in my life when I made a big jump forward was when I found better ways to think and act.
Each time the process slowed down or stagnated was when I just followed habits and old truths.
I remember one Easter 20 Years ago which I spent with my friend Bård Monsen practicing Brahms and Beethoven together by really getting to love all the harmonies and melodies.
For each page we first gold-digged in the scores by the piano and then practiced those pages on the violin. Then onto the next pages playing the harmonies until our hearts felt like bursting, sitting next to each other on the piano stool. Again followed by playful search with our violins, and also after a while enjoying movement,and dance and singing and much more in the process of making the music our own.
During one week I made more progress than in the previous 2 Years, and since then I always use the piano when I can to get to love the scores.
If you find methods to get to know more and more aspects of the scores possibilities until your love for the music fills your mind, you will always benefit.
This will keep you motivated to search for better ways to tell your story. Your practice will be more focused, a lot of issues will just disappear and your natural technique will not be hindered but blossom.
Reading the Book "Effect" by Ihlen and Koss, recommended to me by Bård, was also a milestone. I read it twice in a row and have used it to influence and change virtually every aspect of life, hence also regarding my composing, my practising and playing and also technical aspects.
Similarly later on with the 2 other books by w. Timothy Gallwey, "The inner Game of Tennis" and "The Inner Game of Stress" which have been game changers and life saviors for me.
So if you sometimes feel you play much better in spite of not having practiced a piece, maybe consider that you play it better because you didn't practice it.
This can tell you much about "practising"
Kreisler said that young violinists were destroyed by too much practice.
Let's rather reconsider what practice is or could become.
Practice is simply to change.
What do you want to change?
Would you like to love music even deeper, be freer, to play more straight from your heart?
Then try out new methods of practicing to find out if they could be right for you.
Improvising to get the path from feeling to sound instant.
Don't just do what you usually do unless you want the results you usually get.
What has brought you where you are today is in one sense also what stops you from moving where you really want to.
If you have kept reading for this long and are inspired about some of the things I have written, I want to add just only one little last thing :
It doesn't really matter much what you know or agree, it is what you actually change and do which counts.
The provoking thing is that almost everyone who really goes for something they truly want, and is willing to break habits in spite of what is expected of them by others or themselves, and also takes full responsibility for their own motivation, actually succeeds to a large degree, nearly everybody.
It is the very act of trying out something new and breaking your habits which is the unusual thing thing to do,
....not to think about it.
Henning Kraggerud April 17 2020
Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia after Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Speech Kofi Annan starts 1hour 15minutes and 20 seconds into this.
https://youtu.be/mpOb_ET3Vws (this one is used above or as Facebook-video if you read this there)
Improvisations on piano alone that you can use for double improvisations : ( I use 2 of them above)
Feel free to share this text with links with anyone. And stay tuned for more if you like.
You will also find the text on www.henningkraggerud.com or I can email you if you want to share it that way.
If you want mp3s or videos with more improvisations please write firstname.lastname@example.org
There you can also send me your own videos
Please write if you want music for my compositions, arrangements, cadenzas or educational pieces to play.
Equinox Postludes in 24 Keys for violin and orchestra is recorded on Simax Classics
Also in new edition with Simon Callow narrating Jostein Gaarder´s Original text.
Topelius Variations, Preghiera, last leaf, Victimae Paschali, Mantra-Metamorfosen and more on Simax Classics
and on Spotify and Naxos Music Library where you will also find all my Naxos Recordings
Some of my chamber music and educational music you will also find on other labels as well as on my youtube channel
Review quotes about Equinox CD of Orchestral version. Simax Classics :
(there is a chamber version for violin and piano and optional narration)
“Henning Kraggerud… shows in a masterly way the universality of the language of music...
These short compositions create the perfect connection between contemporary musical language and a classical artistic form and concept...
…. We are presented with a great work, rich in different stylistic and artistic aspects, but at the same time containing very diverse emotional layers.”
Muzyka 21, five stars, February 2016
“Violinist-composer Henning Kraggerud’s booklet biography describes him as ‘an artist of exquisite musicianship’ and that’s not hyperbole. Hearing him play as a Prom encore the tenth of his 24 'Postludes
in All Keys' ... opened a window on a magical world ... [the music] is endlessly resourceful and surprising ... from meditation to lopsided dance, it is extraordinary. I can't wait to hear the whole thing in
BBC Music Magazine, five stars, December 2015
“Equinox is a fascinating composition to return to over and over again.”
MusicWen International, December 2015
"Kraggerud sticks to a lush, late-Romantic idiom and delivers a beautifully clean, superbly articulated performance of his self-composed solo line throughout, full of character and wit."
The Strad, November 2015