I recently had an epiphany: I have been an
improviser all my life.
My earliest memories are of
spontaneously creating characters and settings for them to do things.
Yes, I suppose most of us did this --but most
of us forget this.
When I was about 10 years old I would make up my own melodies on a small
electric organ my parents had. I would do this for hours. Sometimes just
a couple notes, back and forth, back and forth -what joy! My parents
became interested only when I mimicked part of "Silent Night". They got
a teacher for me. He told what to do. YUCK. He was unimpressed with my
fiddling around on the keys. Why? I stopped the lessons. I went back to
my spontaneous adventure games. No one ever told me what to do there.
At 13 I wanted a guitar. I liked
rock music and the people playing it looked like they were having fun. I
got an acoustic from the department store. I scratched at the strings, I
pulled at them, I struck them with other things, and I played with the
tuners and so on... tons of fun! NO. This was not music I was told.
You need direction. A few lessons in I quit.
Years later the bug was back. I
was getting a little old (according to society) to play with imaginary
friends doing imaginary things, so I went back to the guitar. I worked
at it like mad. I got the basic chords and strumming together and now I
was off. I began creating my own instrumental pieces based on
improvisation. I didn’t know that it was improvising -I just knew that
it felt right! "Play a song” everyone would say. "Why?” I thought.
Everybody does that. Sometimes to seek approval I would compare my
improvisations to recognizable things for people. "Here is a train" I'd
say, "here is a spider". My English teacher in high school said I should
try drama class to get this creative energy out. Why act? I WAS getting
Eventually I learned to play
guitar quite well. Lessons wouldn't work for me, only listening would. I
listened to everyone and everything. I learned to play country, jazz,
blues, rock, punk, funk, junk you name it. I traveled and recorded quite
a bit for a number of years but I wasn't happy. The music was the same
night after night. I drank a lot –a real lot. After about a year off
and getting sober I discovered that there are so many other players like
me and I was amazed. When I quit worrying about how to make ends meet
with my music/gift it all seemed to make sense.
I am so grateful, and excited to
be an improviser at this point in my life. I now enjoy playing music
that I disliked for a long time. I perform and record regularly now as
an improvising musician.
teach guitar as well. I inform my guitar students about the beauty of
improvising freely. I tell them that despite what some people may say,
improvised music is traditional, basically the first music on this
planet. I see their eyes light up (in a somewhat joyous disbelief) when
I applaud them for sticking a piece of paper under their strings or