Monday, November 7, 2011

Beginning Improvisation Part 2

Two new elements
In the first post about learning to improvise, I introduced the basic idea of improvising simple rhythms in time.  In the following exercise we will start to deal with two new elements.  The first element is the eighth note which will change the density of the rhythms you are playing.  The second element is dynamics which will allow you to change the volume of your rhythms.

Dynamics add drama
Because drummers are restricted to using rhythm and can't really interact with melody or harmony, the importance of using dynamics to add drama can not be overstated.  In the last post I compared improvising on the drums to speaking a language.  This analogy is also very useful when talking about dynamics.  One of the main techniques that people use to communicate effectively with language is volume.  Listen of any of the great orators in history and you will find examples of this.  Despite the central role of dynamics in effective improvisation, they are very often completely overlooked by drummers. 

Exercise #2
In this exercise you will play lesson two from "Syncopation" on pages 10-11 with improvisation in the fourth bar.  This exercise will feature the element of improvising with dynamics.  In order to keep yourself focused on using dynamics, restrict your options by keeping the rhythm the same and improvising exclusively with dynamics in the fourth bar.  See how much difference you can make to the sound of this rhythm using only dynamics.  Some possibilities to play with include: playing every note quietly except for one, using a decrescendo or crescendo, or alternating between soft and loud notes.  Here is what the lines 6-9 of the exercise will look like written out:
Syncopation Improv 2

Here is a video of me playing the exercise and demonstrating some different ways to improvise with dynamics:

Playing Tips
Notice that in the video I am counting eighth notes out loud.  I would recommend counting to help keep yourself oriented in the measure and focused on lining your playing with the metronome.  Lining your playing up with the metronome is particularly important when improvising with dynamics as playing at different volumes can really mess with your sense of time.  Think of the metronome as a musician that you are playing with, and try to make the groove feel good.