Where good improvisations come from

This article was first brought on vocal-blog.net, written by Songs of the Moment member Morten Mosgaard

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.

3 punkts kreativitetsmodelTo 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:

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

Within 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.

Everytime 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.

Skærmbillede 2013-06-16 kl. 20.21.40To 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.

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