The ingredients of improvising musicianship

So you want to build your massive improvising musicianship, and I hear you ask: what does that consist of? And how do I go about getting it?

Inspired by coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of success,  I came up with the pyramid you see below. I started from the top and broke it down to basics. What, I asked myself, were the ingredients of playing convincingly, and winning hearts and minds with one’s playing?

This pyramid may not coincide with everyone’s set of values. It’s what works for me. And if I were starting again, I would hope to find a teacher who could help me put such a pyramid in place.

I propose a little test for you: When you’ve done all the groundwork, and know how to handle your instrument, try imagining “intensity and certainty” – or just saying the words to yourself – before you take a solo. See if that makes a difference.

The pyramid of improvising success

The pyramid of improvising success

There are one or two elements you may think I missed out, such as listening. But where would you put such an element in the pyramid? To my mind, the art of listening pervades the whole structure. Every sub-pyramid has its active and passive face.

Same goes for models that you emulate, or teachers. The ideal teacher can be by your side to help you put each brick in place. Or you can learn each element from a different teacher – or figure it out for yourself.

And of course, practice makes perfect. Every element in the pyramid needs practice until it becomes second nature.

I have placed MOVES, which covers both melodic and harmonic knowledge, as a cornerstone, but in fact other geometries could be imagined that would reflect different views, and allow more “corners”.

Let me know what you think in your comments.

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About jazzpanflute

jazz panpipe pioneer and designer
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