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Fiddle Lessons: Basics of Improvising - Five Paths

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Improvising, all right, so, let's talk a
little bit about improvising, shall we.
The thing about improvising is that it's
just like talking, right?
We improvise every day.
Even if it's not necessarily musical,
we've never,
we've never or seldom ever plan out entire
If we call somebody on the phone,
we're improvising to some extent, even if
we use phrases.
Whole phrases like hey, how are you doing.
That's still sort of an improvisation in
that we don't know we're going to
do that until we usually do and
sometimes we don't even know we're doing
it when we're doing it.
Music is about that same way, we just
learn the language really well and
we can just speak music and
there is some question as whether
improvisation can actually be taught.
Although it certainly can be learned I
have a feeling it can only be self taught,
but there are some ways to think about it
and I can supply that
there's some ways to just sort of
demystify approaching improvisation,
and just just some ideas about how you do
it and we'll talk about that now,
we'll talk about like five ways to think
about improvising, and
of course you wouldn't necessarily take
any one of these ways by itself and
do it, you'd mix them all up just like.
You know you wouldn't like to think about
one way to say a sentence.
You would just say it.
But sometimes it can clear things up a
little bit to just think of you know,
tease out the various strands of ideas
that go into any, any activity.
And especially music.
So, let's take a melody that we all know.
Something like yeah this is, you can tell
this is also the five halves.
The five full halves.
Or you could call it the E I E I O method.
Because it's we'll take let's take Old
So there's a melody.
How would we improvise over Old MacDonald?
Well, before we even think about
maybe we wanna just have a little bit of
You know, we wanna like do a little
analysis first.
What is going on with that tune that's
gonna help us to improvise.
Over Old McDonald in a way that makes
sense, you know?
We can certainly improvise over Old
McDonald in a way that doesn't
makes sense.
We could do well, we'll leave that for
the later subject, but let's think about
Old McDonald.
Right, okay, so let's just take that first
How about that?
Right, old McDonald had a farm, ee eye ee
eye oh.
Let's let, okay, there's the melody there,
we're aware of the melody,
Right, so we're in the key of what, we're
in the key I just picked a key at random,
sounds like we're in the key of C, right?
So it's going one, one, one, five, six,
six, five, three, three, two, two, one.
So if we were gonna number the notes in
the scale of the key we're in,
those would be the numbers.
So we've got, we've got that, you know,
we've got the melody.
We've learned the melody, right?
I think we already know the melody.
We just play it on our instrument.
I've assumed you've all ready all, all
ready have played it.
So what is it about the melody that, okay,
what happens with the melody?
We can reduce the melody with very, most
It, take it down to the skeleton of the
Like, what it's the thing that makes,
gives the melody it's basic shape.
And let's get rid of all the extraneous
All the notes that are not as important as
those basic notes that's gonna make it
sound like Old MacDonald.
Well certainly the first note.
And then probably.
And then.
It's already pretty simple.
I mean you couldn't really, it'd be hard
to boil it down much farther.
You can take it down to
You can do that, you can do.
You could just, yeah so you get that basic
So you've got that.
You've got sort of very.
Skeletal version of the melody was that
the separate notes-
you could just go
So that's really you know, that would be
if you had a more complicated melody,
something like.
[SOUND]. Right? And then we can boil that
down to.
And something like that.
So when we have the fancy melodies it's
very easy to boil them down to something
simpler with a tune like Old MacDonald
it's a little bit more difficult.
You could even take it down to.
That much and you probably want that.
In there but, it's really you could
actually, yeah, maybe two notes.
Had a farm.
Anyway, so we've got that.
Okay, how about the chordal skeleton?
How about the, the general hum?
What's, what about the, the, the.
Now this is a little bit difficult for
the fiddle because you only get two notes
at a time usually but
if we take the fiddle and strum it out we
can say "Old McDonald had a farm."
Well it's pretty obviously the one chord
was like a C chord.
what was that?
That we could make it go to four, so we
And then,
So the one chord, which is a C chord.
Four, which is the F chord, back to one.
And then we stay on one.
And then the five chord, which is a G.
Just love coming back to the one, don't
So, we've got we've got that and we could
actually that's the simplest version
of that, or we could like make a few,
we could actually expand on it we could
make it a little more complicated.
We could say
Could put in a C seven,
like we're going to the F,
we're going to the four
So we could add chords, you know, we could
like do all kinds of things with a chord
skeleton to make it more interesting or
less interesting, you can take away cords.
But basically we've got that,
we know the general harmonic
feeling of the, of the
My blue grass singing is without compare,
and that might not necessarily be a good
Okay, so we know a little bit about, we've
worked out a few little pieces
of information about the tune that are,
it's gonna help us improvise on the tune.
We just, we needed to know a little bit,
we needed to get a little map of the
And we didn't know, you know, where we
were standing, you know,
in that territory.
So then, we can proceed with, couple of
different ideas about how to improvise.
Now we could just take the melody, and we
could just, decorate it.
We could just say, I love what you've done
with this melody.
Right, we could do, make it a little, out
of it, you know?
So basically we're playing the melody, but
we're just putting decorations on it.
We put putting them.
We're just doing whatever we're doing,
we're just, like, putting on little flips,
you know, flips on what is still the
So that's one way we could approach
improvising on melodies, just ornament it.
And you hear that classical musicians do
that what else could we do?
We could we could put in a different time
We could actually.
We could just simply put it into a waltz
time, where you make it a waltz where you
play around with or we could, we could
stretch it out and compress it.
We could do,
We could make some parts shorter, some
parts longer,
that's certainly a way to improvise on the
Although, that would be tough to do with
bluegrass band because one of
the things about bluegrass is that it
tends to move forward in a very reg way,
you know, with a lot of drive.
So, we might not want to do that but,
here's another way, another idea we could
We could actually just harmonized, you
play a harmony to the melody.
We can just play, let's see, we've, well
we know the melody.
We've worked out the melody.
So we just take, what's on top which is
another note that's gonna go.
We already know the chorus, so we know
what the harmonies are gonna be like.
So there's a way to improvise we just play
a harmony to the melody so
we could just yeah, we just go.
And then our,
our improvisation is that low stuff.
Then we take away the melody and we've got
a whole little thing that we do so that,
that's a good way to do it.
We could develop the melody.
Which means a lot of different things.
We could, we could fiddleize it.
We could like, put in linking notes.
Just, we could just make it all eighths
So we're just
basically playing around the melody but
we're just putting in those fiddle notes.
that's just making it feel like
And that's pretty cool, that's a very
common way to do that kind of thing.
Or we can take away notes, we can just,
instead of adding notes,
we can take notes.
We could we could go.
that's taking away some radical notes.
Maybe then we wanna think about what are
the important notes again?
Maybe we should just put those notes in.
then something like that where that makes
a little bit more sense.
start playing around ornamenting the notes
that we leave in slide.
something like that actually starts making
a little bit more sense.
That's an alternate melody.
So all kinds of things we can take little
pieces of the melody.
Like that little thing.
If we wanted to really rigorous about it,
say okay, well that's a fourth right?
That's a fourth interval.
So, I'm gonna play all kinds of little
fourth intervals all through the space
that the melody happens in.
So let's see, I could play.
That's a fourth interval.
That's a fourth interval.
So I could go.
that's taking an idea that happens in the
melody and
just moving it all over the place.
that can work really well if the, if
there's a nice phrase,
a little bit more of a phrase that's in
the melody, like.
If we took a melody phrase like that and
we improvised on that using that, that
move that around we could get something
like this, we start with the melody.
And you get that same brod, dah,
dot, ot, dah, dah, dah.
You know, that, that kinda thing where
we're actually taking the rhythmic
scale it's in of the melody and playing
with it.
Just putting different notes on it.
So you can do that.
What there's just another, couple other
things go back to the chords, right?
could do like a lot of the jazz people do,
and most people actually do this,
this is one of the most common ways of
improvising in the Western world.
Is to just take a bunch of your licks that
you know and stick them on the chords.
So, we could just say, okay.
Well, I have all these licks that I like
to play on C.
I'll just a play a bunch of them until I
get to the F.
And then I'll play some of my F licks on
then I'll play some of my D licks on the
And some more G licks on the G again.
And then we come back to C, I'll play
another C lick, so
we get something like that.
Right, so that is fine.
You know that's, that's all, that's, I
guess, you know, I could call it tock,
take off.
Take off sound, because you're just really
taking off in your own direction.
Using the chords as, as sort of a, just
the road that you're traveling on,
but you're really just going everywhere.
You know.
So, that's kind of fun.
It's almost like off-road, actually, in a
And that's pretty much the most common
thing that most people do to improvise,
and that just assumes you've got a lot of
great licks that you play, or, you know,
if you're doing it, if you're doing.
If you wanna be a little bit more close to
that you just only pick your licks that
resemble the melody.
So that's another way to do it.
And then of course another way to do it
would be to just play randomly.
That is
not such a popular style in Bluegrass or
most traditional music.
That's, it's more reserved for
Western European composition and of jazz.
Some of, some contemporary jazz.
We're not really interested in that style
because it's in a way it's very easy and
in another way it's very hard because
usually the only way that's gonna sound
good is if you're listening very hard to
whoever else is playing it with you and
you're trying to play with them.
And then you're playing this random stuff
the other person's playing random stuff
and you're trying to listen.
And you're trying to play randomly and
yet, together it usually is a lot more fun
for the people that are actually doing it
than for the people that have to listen.
So really, you know, if we summarize this
we're looking at ornamenting the melody.
We're looking at harmonizing a melody.
We're looking at taking bits of
the melody and changing them.
We're playing our,
our licks on the chords.
Or we're just playing the random stuff.
So I would,
out of those well I'm sure everybody's
gonna have their preference on that.
And but that, but that's in a way to think
about improvising sort of you know,
few ideas that sort of are gonna get you
And what's really important about this
whole thing is that we are looking at some
aspect of the structure of whatever you're
improvising on and trying to relate what
we're going to do to that structure, which
includes the melody and the harmony.
So, that was sort of the point of all that
gamering right there is that,
what is the melody, and what is the
And how can we make stuff up that goes
with what the tune actually is?
All right.
Well, we've been through the five paths of
We've kinda gone through one by one.
And now we're going to try putting it all
And I'll play a few examples for you.
With a little bit of rhythm backing.
And we'll just run through that, give you
some examples.
And then of course we'll have a a nice
rhythm track for you to try it yourself.
So to recap we, first we analyze.
See what, how we can improvise over the
So we look at the melody.
We look at the chords, and the harmony and
see how that all fits together and
what we do to fit in sort of refer to the
melody and
fit in with the harmony, while we're
And we can ornament, we can just rephrase.
We can harmonize.
We can develop parts of the melody.
We can take parts of the melody, out of
the melody and play with them,
move them around, do all kinds of things.
Or we can just play our licks over the
We have some licks that we have developed
and we, we like those licks so
we're gonna use them.
Or we could just completely go crazy and
play some random stuff and see what
happens, that's that's
very last option which should be always
your last option.
[LAUGH] Okay.
So let's start her up here, maestro let's
have a little.
Old McDonald one, two, two, boom, boom,
boom boo.
So I'm just gonna sing the melody.
One, a two, three, go.
sometimes this, this is good to talking.
It's like Rex Harrison, old McDonald.
Had a farm, E, I,
E, I, O, O, O.
Do the melody.
Think about the chords.
Okay, so here we are playing the melody.
I'm gonna ornament a little bit.
Here we go.
Again, a little bit more.
we could try rephrasing the melody a
little bit.
We could stretch it out.
Or we could compress it.
So stretch.
Harmonize it.
We could play both harmonies.
We could play the.
Phrasing a little bit.
Go low.
It sounds like that.
Okay we take a little bit of that first
Or we could take the last half of it.
All right, take up those kind of parts and
stretch it again.
Do all the stretching out, or compressing,
rephrasing with those little pieces in the
String them together, as you can see.
See, that's a pretty good one.
Or we can just play our licks on the
Right, just play this kind of
We can play different melodies.
Enough licks already.
Or we could do our random.
And it doesn't have to be completely
You could stay in the chord.
Always make a little story out of it.
Whatever it is.
And that's Old McDonald.
[LAUGH] Yeah baby.