8 Concepts for Becoming a Better Improviser

Eien on taiko-drumset hybrid setup

Eien on taiko-drumset hybrid setup

I have added a new entry about improvisation to my articles page, which contains other topics such as stick selection, metronome games, ji playing, and atarigane technique. By making these free tip sheets available, it's my hope that they help you find new ways of approaching these topics. I'm always happy to take questions or any feedback so feel free to contact me. For more in-depth discussion and demonstration, check out my instructional videos. Previews are on my youtube channel. While the best way to learn involves being in the same space, I would consider online private lessons to be a great alternative option because it still allows for live feedback and in-person demonstration. Finally, I will be covering the topic of solo creation in a workshop on June 4 at Asano Taiko US in Torrance. Here is the information and registration page: 


8 Concepts for Becoming a Better Improviser

Improvisation is a valuable skill which anyone can develop through deliberate practice and by accumulating experience. It can create spontaneous interaction during performances and help ignite a creative spark for new compositions. Mistakes during performance are inescapable; being prepared to improvise with them can produce new avenues for inspiration. Like any skill, the specific way you practice improvisation is important. Here are eight concepts for becoming a better improviser:

1. Copy good improvisers – choose several improvisers you like and learn to play their solos exactly note for note. This can be done by ear or transcribing into notation. Analyze why you like these improvisations.

2. Focus on rhythmic accuracy – the first sign of insecurity is inconsistent rhythm. Use a metronome and start with simple ideas to focus on the quality of your rhythmic placement. Record yourself and listen back for areas to improve.

3. Self copy game – improvise a one-measure phrase and then play the exact copy in the next measure. Continue the cycle and gradually add complexity. Make it more challenging by working with two-measure phrases or with odd meter.

4. Sing what you play – simultaneously singing and playing your improvisation is an excellent way to break away from the limited ideas that are stored in your muscle memory. If this is too challenging, only sing your ideas first.

5. Incorporate space – strive to become comfortable using space, which can be used to highlight the notes and improve your phrasing. Not playing anything can be an opportunity to think about what to do next and to listen for ideas from others.

6. Explore sounds, timbers, and dynamics – practice a wide variety of ways your instrument can be played. Exaggerate contrast to expand your range.

7. Work on accompanying – being a good accompanist is just as important as developing your own improvisation skills. Listen, play mindfully, be solid, and provide energetic support.

8. Trade solos – trade improvised solos with other players. If they are better than you, your musicianship will grow more quickly.

See more articles at www.eienhunterishikawa.com/articles

Step-by-step rhythmic practice using the theme music of The Walking Dead

Musical inspiration sometimes comes from unforeseen places. For the unfamiliar, The Walking Dead is a TV show about zombies (yet not really about zombies), but no knowledge of the show is necessary here. A little while ago I happened to listen more closely to the opening theme music and did some quick analysis in my head: strings playing three minor 9th chord arpeggios over one rhythmic motive (something like Gm9, Ebm9, Cm9). This is an especially common rhythm across many styles of music, making it a worthwhile study for future applications. Check out my videos Introduction to Notation & Reading and Notation & Reading Part 2 for demonstration of how to play and count these rhythms.

The very beginning of my sheet music shows the ostinato where the 16 subdivisions of the measure are divided as 6+6+4. Next to it is the simplified bass line where the 8 subdivisions of the measure are divided as 3+3+2. To deepen our understanding of this rhythmic motive, I wrote out several lines of six-note grouping variations to get familiar with. I recorded each line separately, and every rhythm was played four times. The notation PDF and audio MP3 are all downloadable.

Line A demonstrates combinations of 8th and 16th notes.

Line B introduces 16th rests.

Line C combines 16th notes with 16th-note triplets.

Line D combines 16th notes with 32nd notes.

Lines E and F are examples of how the above variations can be plugged into the 6+6+4 rhythmic template. Although not written out, I tapped my foot on the pulse while recording so that the relationship to the beat can be heard.

Line G shows the initial accent patterns against the quarter note pulse. Practicing the external pulse on your foot while playing various rhythms is one of the best ways to strengthen your rhythmic accuracy and improve tempo control. For an additional challenge, try playing these examples while using the metronome games explained in my Metronome Practice Tutorial video. As always, questions and comments are welcomed here.