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Artikel Tagged ‘education’

Where good improvisations comes from

by Morten Mosgaard, Songs of the moment

Morten Mosgaard - Songs of the moment - Weekend 58

On the 20th of June a special Songs of the Moment Nordic concert will take place. On this occasion we bring you a short blog post trilogy by singer Morten Mosgaard, inspired by the work within the context of the group Songs of the Moment. The project is a collaboration between seven singers from Rajaton, The Real Group, and Voxnorth focusing on group improvisations and is funded by Nordic Culturepoint. Read more about the concert and support the world-wide livestream project here.

We know a lot about many things in this world, but there are still things which we can’t really understand fully. One of these things is the process underlying how our brain takes in information, stores this information for later use or how it makes use of this information in the present. This raises a lot of questions about inspiration, creativity, cooperation, communication, learning and so on. My favorite question is this: Do ideas come from within our minds, from outside or from a combination of the two? I see this as a very important question when doing improvisation; therefore, I will try to provide an answer in this article.

My experience

I see myself as a creative person, and through my work as a songwriter I have been trying to figure out where my ideas come from so as to make sure I can be creative when I need to.

It seems to me that I’m most inspired when I know what I want to do. You can say that having a mission makes it easier to be creative. Another thing I have learned is that when I want to get ideas, it helps searching for inspiration. It’s important to take in impressions to support the creative process. When I have a mission and I go to find inspiration, getting ideas becomes an easy task. This means that getting ideas has less to do with “being in the right mood” than with creating the right conditions for myself to be creative. Therefore, my answer to the first question is the following: Ideas come from a combination of what I know already and the inspiration I get.

To help creating the best conditions, I’ve invented my own little 3-step creativity model inspired by a lot of different learning and design theory combined with my own experience. The three steps are as following:MMoosgard pic1

1) Set the frame – what are your goals for the process?

2) Find inspiration – search the web, read magazines, talk to people, listen etc…

3) Combine the frame with the inspiration and what you already know to act upon it – for me, this part functions a little like Lego: I see which parts fit together in order to let it become something new and usable.

The musical creation

When I do group improvisations as we do in Songs of the moment, the model above is close to how I think my mind works during the sessions, except the movement between the steps seems to be very fast and often out of order – let me try to explain.

MMoosgard pic2Everytime we start an improvisation, we try to set the frame by “finding” a common sound. This happens through singing, acting, or playing. You could say that finding a common sound is also to find inspiration by searching through sound – therefore the first step in an improv seems to be step 1 and 2 combined. Sometimes the inspiration can be a genre, a movement, a lyrical subject among other things. When the first inspiration has been found, the frame is set and then the improv really takes off – we combine & act. This is the part where you combine the frame you have set with the inspiration you’ve got; you should always relate to these elements throughout the whole improvisation. At this point in a good improvisation, every singer will start to explore the frame, the inspiration and the possibilities. This works just like the “responsibility” method I talked about in the last blog. Be aware that even though the frame is set, it doesn’t mean it can’t change during an improvisation.

To visualise how this works, I have created a model inspired by Humberto Maturana (among others). The model has three circles which can be read as domains or elements in improvisation. You can choose to be in one, two or all three of the domains at the time when improvising. To make a great improvisation you need to use all domains. Some might say that “when you achieve to be in the middle, you experience flow” – and yes – this model could be a way to describe how everything can feel like coming together in the present, where we as a group become one with the music.

So where did the good improvisations come from again?

The good improvisations come into being when a group is able to find a common “understanding” of what is going on in the music, or at least when the group members are not working against each other’s ideas – this requires that the group members are able to both listen and contribute to the music in relation to what is going on at the same time. As I see it, the most important part is finding the frame; from there the improvisation will grow, and this frame should be able to chance all the time depending on the music created together.

To show an example from our last Songs of the Moment Nordic project, we have uploaded a “song” which is a really great example of having already created a common ground, a musical framework, from where a song can grow.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this subject, and feel free to experiment with the creativity / improvisation model.

Links:

3-step Model – http://cl.ly/image/0p1i1l0b0e2P

Improvisation Elements Model – http://cl.ly/image/1D2O0j1W1I14

Humberto Maturana – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humberto_Maturana

Article #1 – http://vocalblog.acappellazone.com/2013/06/why-everyone-should-do-group-improvisations/

Why everyone should do group improvisations

by Morten Mosgaard, Songs of the Moment (DK)

Morten Mosgaard - Songs of the moment - Weekend 58

The 20th of June is the date for the next Songs of the Moment Nordic concert. On this occasion we bring you a short blog post trilogy inspired from the work done in the group Songs of the Moment. The project is a collaboration between seven selected singers from Rajaton, The Real Group, and Voxnorth focusing on group improvisations and is funded by Nordic Culturepoint. Read more about the concert and support the world-wide livestream here.

 

I truly believe everyone can become a better singer through working with group improvisations. At least I think I have become a better singer because of my focus on improvisation. That’s why I want to share some of the reasons, as I see it, as to why everyone should do group improvisations. This is the first post about the subject, focusing mainly on what improvisation can teach us and how we can use this knowledge every time we sing.

One of the things I’ve experienced as a choir singer is that if the music should really come alive, everyone needs to take the full responsibility for the music. It took me some time to figure out what this responsibility meant for every single singer, but the answer came through a discussion with a friend of mine who is a classical pianist. I told him that I thought classical music lacked the inspiring energy from improvisation, which was the reason I loved jazz. Luckily for me, my friend disagreed and told me that classical music has a lot of improvisation in it – it’s just in another form. When you play a piano piece, the notes you need to play may be written all the way through, there may also be expressions and a convention about how you “play this composer” – but within that framework, you have all the room you need to make your very own interpretation. This perspective made me realize that improvisation doesn’t have to be free improv or a solo between two choruses, it could also be the exact way you chose to play one specific note.

 

 

This approach to improvisation inspired me to start working even more on detail than I did before; not in the organised way where the whole choir decides “to be quiet here”, “to make a crescendo here” and so on, but in the “I’ll try to listen and see what the others are doing, and I’ll make my voice do what the music needs to grow”-kind of way.

 

The Voxnorth experience

If you see every sound you make as a chance to improvise just a tiny bit, then the piece you’re performing comes to life in a whole new way. When I was still a part of Voxnorth, this was the very exercise that I was doing in “The Four Loves”; that is, to stay focused and mentally present throughout the whole piece (A Roger Treece Suite thats 24 minutes long). This was also the approach we were working on when we were performing my tune “Frit Fald”. The idea with the arrangement was to have a kind of musical framework for the tune, and nothing else than this framework (notes) was decided beforehand. The dynamics, tempo or sound could then change from venue to venue in this different approach to group improvisation. “Frit Fald” was by far my favorite tune to sing in Voxnorth because it was never the same and therefore always gave the impression of a living organism. Every time we would sing it, we would start “the framework”, and, like a true explorer, I would work my way into the song to see where it would take us this time. As far as I can recall, we always turned up the volume on the last part of the “ah”-piece in the interlude, but it just seemed to make sense every time. Some of the times I was thinking “let’s not go up”, but I would let the music and not my thoughts decide where to go. When the tune was at its best, it was the result of a great collaboration between me, as the soloist, and the guys who accompanied me. Sometimes it would be like an unpredictable roller coaster where you never knew what was going to happen. For this to succeed, the tune required full attention from all of us.

 

Ways of practice

There are different ways to practice this “responsibility” for the music. First of all, the responsibility is all about singing what seems right for the situation. This is not necessarily what you decided at the rehearsal, so the responsibility entails being aware of where the music is going and making sure that what you sing is what suits the music better. This might sound a bit challenging, but it’s most of all about listening to the music and making sure that what you sing fits what everyone else is doing in terms of timing, pitch, loudness, sound, and expression.

My favorite way to practice the responsibility is through group improvisation. Group improv only works when each singer takes responsibility for the whole piece. This could also mean not to sing if that’s what the music needs. As I see it, the goal is to make each other sound better within the group than we sound alone. It’s my impression that this happens in lot of the improvisations we do in Songs of the Moment. I was amazed by how well every singer would take the responsibility for each tune during our last concert and amazed by how well it worked with people shifting in taking the lead when it was needed. It was the perfect example of “The unpredictable roller coaster”.

Take a (small) look at some of the musical moments at the last Songs of the moment Nordic concert in this video made for our coming project:

 

Links:

IndieGogo – http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/songs-of-the-moment-nordic-goes-world-wide-web/

The Four Loves – https://vimeo.com/24276162

Frit Fald #1 – https://soundcloud.com/voxnorth/frit-fald-live-i-musikhuset-i

Frit Fald #2 – https://soundcloud.com/voxnorth/frit-fald-recorded-live-in-g

Vocal Edu Series (4): Make the most of your expensive voice lessons: Practice!

by Tine Fris, Postyr Project (DK)

Rehearsal Methods for Individual Singers

Taking voice lessons can be an expensive pleasure. In this blog, I would like to share some tips and tricks for you to make the most of the time in between lessons, so you will improve more and faster from lesson to lesson and ask better and more precise questions during your lessons. How much you want to practise is of course up to you. The amount of practise time needed depends of course on your skills and resources and on the goal or level you want to reach within a certain timeframe. No matter your goal, level or timeframe, there are some things you could consider.

 

The Room

Make sure that you have a rehearsal room, where you can actually sing out loud, and where you are not disturbed. To practise you need to be focused and to feel free to make mistakes without being judged.

 

Duration and frequency

Studies have shown that most people find it difficult to stay concentrated for more than 45 min in a row. The longer you continue after that, the less you remember, the more mistakes you make and the more exhausted you will be. This means that you are likely to not rehearse again later the same day or maybe even the day after. In the worst case scenario, you might actually get worse and not better, if you push yourself for too long time, because your muscular memory will “save” all the mistakes you made when you were exhausted in the end of the session and not all the rights you made in the beginning, when you were focused and well-rested. Studies have also shown that you learn more from practising 2 x 45 min than 90 in a row. This also means, that you could consider splitting your rehearsal time during a day up in two or three laps: 30 min in the morning and 30 min in the afternoon and maybe 30 min in the evening.

 

Breaks

A break is not checking your cell phone, answering emails, watching television or things like that. A break is something where the brain can be unfocused and your thoughts can wander. Make a cup of tea. Go for a little walk. Or even better: Take a power nap! Studies have shown that the best way to save things from the short-term memory to the long-term memory is to sleep.

 

Structure

  • Make a plan of what you are going to rehearse. Make it a mixture of different disciplines, so you don’t get bored and lose your motivation. It could be:
  • Physical excercises to strengthen and stretch to improve posture and decrease involuntary/compensatory tensions.
  • Breathing and support excercises
  • Modes/different sounds in different ranges and volumes
  • Some kind of effect like vibrato or creeking you want to improve.
  • Improvisation over a vamp or a jazz standard. Give yourself assignments like: legato/staccato, change the first note of the phrase or don’t ever sing on the first beat of the bar.
  • Work on a song or two. Focus on different parameters: Rhythm/time/groove, sound colours, pronunciation, dynamics, interpretation etc.
  • Remember to take breaks every 45 min.

 

Observe – Consider – Take Action

Here is a simple model to help you analyze the observations you make about yourself and help you take appropriate short term and long term action:

  • What do I hear? What do I see? What do I feel?
  • What could possibly cause this?
  • What could possibly change this to the better here and now and on longer terms?
  • What should we do here and now, and what should we do on longer terms?

Thank you, Tine, for contributing a great article on vocal music education – again. Hope to have you back soon and safe travels with your wonderful group, Postyr Project! {FSt/Vocal Blog}

Introducing: The Vocal Edu Series (1)

By Katja Maria Slotte

 

Allow me to introduce myself -  I am Katja Maria, a vocal coach and new guest blogger for Vocal Blog. Partly singer and artist, partly “voice nerd” and pedagogue. Today I will introduce you to the teacher part of me.  As a vocal coach and Authorized CVT Teacher I work with singers of all music styles. One day I am working on fine-tuning the breath support of a classical singer, the other day I might be helping a jazz singer discover new sounds, or teach a rock singer how to use effects like distortion without hurting their voice. I also work together with choirs and vocal groups, and help them achieve the sound the conductor is looking for. My work with singers goes paired with teacher training and pedagogical coaching. I work for example with singing teachers and conductors who want to learn new techniques, need new tools for working with contemporary singers, or want new ideas and inspiration for their work.

 

THE TOOLBOX OF A VOCAL COACH

Aesthetically speaking, there is no ‘correct’ way of singing. My job as a vocal coach is to make sure singers can achieve the stylistic sounds they need and stay healthy through long tours, recording sessions, or teaching schedules. In my work with singers I draw from a big toolbox of vocal technique, body-work, interpretation, musicianship skills, and coaching in creative and artistic ambitions. I am specialized in solving vocal issues and problems related to support, range, volume, dynamics, sound color, and vocal effects. Other aspects of my job includes giving emergency aid, vocal rehabilitation, and teaching healthy (new) vocal habits to singers suffering from vocal health problems.

The “less nerdy part” of my vocal coach work consists of giving singing workshops to people from various backgrounds, and coaching singers or groups towards a performance. This is where technique meets musicianship and performance. In my singing workshops, I usually work with repertoire from contemporary music styles, folk and world music, jazz or other improvised styles.

SINGING IS EXPRESSION

When talking about vocal technique, it is important to remember its position in the big picture of singing. Singing is about expression, and technique is just one tool out of many that help us achieve the expression we want. Other tools include interpretation, rhythm, melody and text. Singers should not fall into the trap of being so busy “building their instrument” that they forget about expression or musicianship all together. Technique has to serve your expression, otherwise learning singing technique is useless.

Katja Maria teaching at a CVT masterclass in The Hague

It is also important that we connect vocal technique exercises to real-life singing situations, just like we connect grammar and spelling exercises to real writing and speaking. One of my teachers, the American music educator Doug Goodkin, often talked about “musical teaching”: making the learning situation a musical experience for the participants. This is a big challenge for all teachers, and something worthwhile striving for.

 

SINGING, RESEARCHING AND WRITING

My teaching jobs find balance in my work as a singer and musician. I could not teach if I would not make music myself. I perform as a singer-pianist, and right now I am working on a new project with theatrical influences – a music program around the songs of American songwriter icon Tom Waits. When I am not singing or teaching, I am learning new things or writing. Perhaps that’s why I just recently decided to embark on a research project that will hopefully one day result in a publication of some sorts!

 

For Vocal Blog I will contribute with a bi-weekly post in the Vocal Edu Series. In my posts, I will partly be sharing tips and information on vocal technique and vocal health, and partly write about other topics related to vocal education. Look forward to blogging and hearing your thoughts on the topics I will write about!

About the writer:

Katja Maria Slotte is a Finnish-born vocal coach, singer and music education consultant. She currently lives in The Netherlands and works as a vocal coach throughout Europe. Katja holds a MMus degree in music education and contemporary singing from the Sibelius-Academy in Helsinki, studied Brazilian music and Jazz at Rotterdam’s Conservatory, and graduated as an Authorized Complete Vocal Technique (CVT) Teacher from Complete Vocal Institute in Copenhagen.

Website: www.completevocalcoach.com               Blog: www.katjamariamusic.wordpress.com

Postyr Project – Time in the Rehearsal Room

by Tine Fris, Postyr Project

Tine in NYC, 2009

 

2012. A whole new year. It’s like a blank piece of paper, just waiting to be filled out with new adventures, experiments, and thoughts. I guess, it comes as no surprise, that Postyr Project couldn’t keep all that space empty for long. We had our first meeting and rehearsal this week, where we had a chance to talk a lot of things over, make some decisions and work with some new music. Already, there is so much to tell, but today I will focus on the one thing that both Line, Anders, Andreas, Kristoffer and I had on top of our wishing-list for 2012: Time in the rehearsal room.

While most of 2011 was spent in the studio and on the road, we have decided that at least the first half of 2012 should more or less be spent in the rehearsal room. Of course, there will still be time for a few concerts and some studio-sessions, but the main topic, the main focus, will be on the musical process and not the final product.

Rehearsals
We always start our rehearsals with a brief talk, where every one can get a chance to say what ever they have on there mind. Things having been the way the have lately, these brief talks have had a tendency of turning in to long discussions of both important personal and organizational matters. Necessary talks, but with the consequence, that there weren’t much time left to actually sing. As of now, we have decided to separate business briefings and rehearsals. We still hold on to the brief personal updates in the beginning of the rehearsal each Wednesday, but leave the business briefings to our new Monday-noon Skype meetings. So from now on our rehearsals are structured like this:

1) Setting up all the microphones, the computer, the in-ear monitors etc.
2) Personal briefing. A couple of minutes pr. person.

Five voices, one laptop...and one guitar.

3) Warm up.
4) Working on new material.
5) Working on old material pinning out particularly challenging phrases focusing on one parameter at the time, just like we have been taught by The Real Group;-)

We try to keep our cell-phones and pending emails off, while rehearsing. The rest of the world can wait -at least until there is a break.

Now let me go a bit deeper into the warm up.

Warm-ups
At the moment one we focus on two things in our warm-ups:

1) Improving our physical posture.

The goal is to balance the muscle power and flexibility on the front and back of the body and on the right and left side, so we can

a) breath more easily
b) release muscles that had previously been used for keeping us upright to keep our breath control more steady.
c) maintain a steady intonation no matter the duration, volume or pitch.
d) gain a more balanced and rich resonance.
e) connect with our inner power and find peace and grounding, so we can open up to our feelings and emotions in the music without feeling insecure.

2) Improving our blend and intonation.

The goal is to balance the timbres of the five voices even more and to get a deeper understanding of the harmonies we sing, so we can balance the chords better. We do that by

a) improving or physical posture
b) knowing the songs and each other very well, so we won’t be too nervous on stage.
c) practicing with our in-ears almost every time we rehearse, so we can adjust with the special head resonance you get from the ear-plugs.
d) and of course by doing a lot of “classic” intonation and blend exercises.
e) singing the difficult phrases over and over again, making small changes, talking about what we hear, which notes should be louder here? And here
f) adjusting the sounds of the vowels, so they match the vowels of the voices we are linked to in a particular phrase.
g) adjusting the way we begin the note. Is it with air? Without air, but soft? Without air, but hard?

At some point we will change our focus to other areas like time, emotional expression or performance, and when we think, we are done, we will just start all over again. That’s the beauty of it, you can always improve as an individual and as a group. The sky is the limit, you just got to keep moving forward.

Best, Tine

Tine Fris is a member of the Danish vocal group Postyr Project, an very successful teacher and vocal coach and seems to be simply everywhere composing, arranging, teaching, singing and networking. It’s so great to have her as a co-blogger here on Vocal Blog to write hands-on articles of practical use with a little glimpse behind the scenes of a group of hard-working musicians from vocal music Mecca, Aarhus/DK. Be sure to check out Postyr’s website, Facebook fanpage and Twitter channel and if you are a singer, vocal group or choir, don’t miss an opportunity to meet Tine as a teacher and coach.