To me, improvisation is real-time composition. Many people are scared by the notion that improvisation is playing the "right" notes over jazz changes, or by thinking that you must have the exact key, time signature and feel. All of these can be restrictive. I feel improvisation is the place where you can actually find out more about yourself than if you were just reading a piece of music
When I improvise, either by myself or with others, I like to balance the head with the heart. Just as there are scales and tone exercises for classical flute technique, I believe that there are exercises for improvisation: to learn how to listen to somebody better, how to listen to yourself better and how to go with what you are hearing even if it's not what you planned for. You can work on developing these chops, and then just let yourself go!
In teaching improvisation, I teach that there is a balance between being totally free, yet not abandoned. I like to teach using pentatonic scales, sections of pieces, graphic scores, different rhythmic ideas and even one note; the idea with improvisation is to expand the comfort zone. And that means getting to be a better player in the process of being able to express more and more ideas. I believe improvising leads to learning more tools and to thinking of things that you've never thought of before. Improvising is fun to do with others, in a duet or in a larger group, so that you don′t feel alone.
Anyone can learn how to improvise. We improvise all the time! Can you talk? Then you're improvising! You have a collection of words and you're putting them together. If you can talk or write a sentence you can improvise! Improvising is coming up with the musical vocabulary and grammar. I like to keep that vocabulary and grammar loose and open so that everyone can improvise.
I believe you can learn improvisation from the very beginning, as long as you're learning notes and sounds. This way, improvisation might even be freer because you're exploring your instrument and the sounds in a way in which everything is possible. If we go into music with the idea that everything is possible then we can more clearly develop our own sound and sense of personality through our instrument.
Ellen speaks about her Ink Bops improvisation cards. To purchase them ($20 + $5 shipping), email Ellen.
Ellen is available for all kinds of multi-disciplinary improvisation.
… She is gifted with a unique personality … Ellen vivisections her instrument to bring out its most hidden characters, employing a range of techniques going from pure atonal phrasing to raucous vocal/air utterances, all the way through a whole world of multiphonics and particles of lingual chattering.
Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes