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Blog posts : "General"

Buxtehude 2 - Fugues & Fughettas

Some more (tricky) fugue subjects and answers from Dietrich Buxtehude!

Fughetta subject in G major


Also this one in G minor and in compound time (12/8)


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Buxtehude - preludes

Using the Friesach sample set of Piotr Grabowski (see here for more details), am enjoying several break-throughs in improvising Buxtehude-style Preludes and free-style forms. These forms tend to mix short sections of declamatory, fantasy phrases with choppy fughettas and contrapuntal sections. The F…

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Focus on David Dolan

David Dolan stands out in the world of classical improvisation. Why?

He's an important pedagogue who specialises in teaching non-improvisers (classically-trained musicians at the highest level, who have experience only in interpreting written scores) to improvise. This means that not only has…

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Prelude schemas

I had a great time today writing out 'chord streams' for Preludes. These are rows of chords which might be used to structure a free Prelude. I've had many problems with improvising free Preludes - usually it's the first thing I do in church, just when I'm feeling a bit cold! I tend to have a good op…

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Managing consonance-dissonance in diatonic tonality

 When Joseph Fux (1660-1741) describes - in the Gradus ad Parnassum - that some consonances such as the sixth or third are less perfect than the fifth for example, I have at first to accept this distinction in good faith. The fact is, as a musician of the 21st century with ears accustomed to a high …

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Further discussion on learning (2)

All about learning - conscious? unconscious? What's the difference? Does it matter?

Previously I quoted from Nick Ellis's (2011) chapter: Implicit and Explicit SLA and Their Interface, which is found in Sanz, C., & Leow, R. P. (Eds), Implicit and explicit language learning: conditions, proce…

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Further discussion on learning (1)


When I improvise, what is it that I learn?

1. I will experience learning through implicit processes, i.e. unconsciously.

2. I will experience learning through explicit processes, i.e. reflectively, of which I am aware.

What do I then retain from these experiences fo…

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Problems of learning in improvisation.

My main motivation for starting this PhD was in order to improvise better. Better? Well, to learn how to express myself musically, to escape from the frustration and confusion I felt when I tried to improvise. The motivation was in this sense primarily musical. But, I realised that, in order to atta…

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Competence vs. Performance

Distinction between competence - performance in language and improvisation; presence of rules - are rules a good aid to learning? - contrasting the rules of theory and musical construction, vs. rules of production.

(image, Noam Chomsky)

One idea which constantly recurs in theories of langua…

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New lessons!

I recently started a new course of study with the composer, organist and improviser Jurgen Essl in Stuttgart.

This is a wonderful and salutary experience for me, having worked so much on my own, to bring my development as an improviser to the attention of someone with this level of experience an…

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The beginnings of learning to improvise

How do I begin to build a theory of learning to improvise? There are so many elements, so many sides to it, so many different types of experience..!

One thing I notice, even as I write, is that there are distinct stages to the experience. This is confusing and even exasperating in one sense, beca…

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Feeling harmony ... how? what?

Am taking a trip back in history, today, away from Reger - to Franz Schubert. This is partly because I'm hoping to programme some movements from the Deutsche Messe in a concert soon. The harmony of Schubert is so different to Reger (in whose harmonic language I've been kind of saturated during the …

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Back to Reger..

I guess the organ music of Max Reger is a bit of a puzzle for me..

Here I am again with a spot of analysis, this time of the pices Op.59, though I've only just started on the opening bars of the first piece. The fact is, the sound of these pieces is 'something else'.. exotic, bewildering, de…

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Are rules necessary?

A student said to me recently that he felt he "needed to know harmony" in order to improvise.

My first reaction was one of alarm, as my own harmonic knowledge feels somewhat piecemeal, the result of O and A-level work and a few classes at the RAM some years ago. Last year I became the proud owner…

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Composition vs. Improvisation

This is an age-old debate, under which improvisation usually has some explaining to do.. at least a bit of defensive ground to make up.

The fact seems to be that improvisers often feel at a disadvantage when it comes to the output of their art. After all, how can an improvised piece of music matc…

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Carl Czerny on improvising

A letter to a student ... Miss Cecilia, (1839).   

At present, as your execution is so considerably formed, and as you are beginning to make a progress in thorough-bass , you should attempt, sometimes when alone, sometimes in the presence of your teacher, to connect together easy chords, short …

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Daily fugue workout

This one comes from Dr Sawyer. Who he? .. well all my fugue themes come from a collection by Arthur  W. Marchant entitled FIVE HUNDRED FUGUE SUBJECTS AND ANSWERS (ANCIENT AND MODERN). A google search should offer various options for buying.

It's a great resource if you're interested in stud…

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Recommended! - video masterclass of Jurgen Essl

This class is a great introduction to baroque-style improvisation. Jurgen Essl takes the toccata form of Pachelebel as a model, explaining meanwhile how these compositions were interpreted not only as finished pieces but as models for further composition. JE also shows, in a straightforward manner,…

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Introducing Dissonance (a response to Glenn Osbourne)

Introducing Dissonance (a response to Glenn Osbourne)

I recently received an email from Glenn Osbourne's blog with the title "Introducing Dissonance" which got me thinking. As Glenn says, it's a common axiom in improvisation that "there are no wrong notes in improvising" and this theory - pos…

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NPR puts the case for classical improvisation

The following article is from New York's NPR (National Public Radio) website, publicising a broadcast with Robert Levin. More examples of the intrepid Robert Levin improvising can be found on the Audio page of this website.




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