Magazine article Strings

The Art of Improv

Magazine article Strings

The Art of Improv

Article excerpt

If you're a classical player and are interested in spicing up your playing with improvisation, consider borrowing from jazz and bluegrass. You can learn a lot about creating your own motifs and figures and incorporating them into your own playing by starting with some exercises and borrowing ideas commonly used by jazz and bluegrass players.

Violinist and fiddler Martin Norgaard, assistant professor of music education at Georgia State University and author of many jazz string method books for Mel Bay, has some suggestions.


Most classical players practice their scales exactly how Kreutzer and Flesch (and their teachers) tell them: They start at the root, go up an octave or two, come down note by note, and end on the root.

Norgaard suggests trying this: Start on your root and go up, but pick a different note to end on before descending. Come back to your root and then ascend to a different note, descend to a note other than your root, and so on [Ex.l].

"I call this dilly-dallying up and down the scale," Norgaard says.

Even that relatively simple exercise is improvisation-it introduces the element of choice, he says. "This exercise will help you learn the scale better because it forces you to practice with more flexibility," he adds.


First, make sure you're comfortable with practicing scales in broken thirds [Ex. 2].

Then, dilly-dally up and down a scale as described earlier but include some intervals of a third instead of simply playing the next note on the scale.

You can mix in consecutive thirds with parts of your scale or scatter individual thirds throughout the scale [Ex.3].

"Thirds are the most often used skip in tonal music," Norgaard says. "Practicing with skips helps flexibility in scale usage. Players who think they know a scale very well often have problems improvising on a scale using skips, to their surprise". …

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