Thursday, December 3, 2009

10 Steps to "Pure Inspiration"

    In response to my previous post on the absence of melody in today's practice of improvisation, I thought I would share with you a method I discovered  a few years ago by Lee Konitz which involves 10 different levels of alteration or embellishment to a melody.  Lee Konitz was the alto sax man on Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions as well as a sideman to many great jazz musicians.
    First and foremost, Konitz stresses the importance of melody.  He says that in order to play on a tune, you need to have a solid understanding of the basic elements which make up the tune: the melody and the harmony.  Before you can go on creating a melody, you need to understand the meaning of embellishment.

    Konitz suggests the use of compositional elements such as a trill, a passing tone, an appoggiatura, etc. to embellish the melody.  At this point you still want to be playing the melody, but doing something a little different to it.

    Konitz points out that practicing tunes is more important than practicing scales, because you will learn more about the music by practicing the tunes as opposed to warming up with scales for an hour and then playing tunes for a half hour.

    Here is the ten step method for improvisation developed by Konitz.  The first and most important level is the melody of the song itself.  It then progresses, little by little, through more "involved" stages of embellishment, gradually obscuring the original melody.  This process of embellishment builds up to the final stage, which results in an entirely new melodic structure.  Konitz calls this last level "an act of pure inspiration."


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