Written by: Morten Mosgaard, Songs of the moment
When we do a live concert with Songs of the Moment Nordic, every tune we sing is brand new and made up on the spot. This doesn’t mean that everything happening is “brand new”, since we often use various things to help us get inspired and to help us find a common direction within the music. This is what I have called “Framing” or a “Frame” in my last blog-post: Where do good improvisations come from?. The frame could be set by the beat, genre, harmony, sound, story, actual exercises we have made at the rehearsals or from many other elements. In this case, Framing can be translated into “creating a common understanding of the active musical intentions”.
Framing is the most important
Being able to “negotiate” a good frame with the others in the group is the most important thing to practice if you want to work with improvised music. It is the frame that helps the group work together in music. It is in relation to this frame that we can try to make collective decisions without talking to one another, and thereby making ourselves able to create music together in the present. It is by combining our frame with what is actually happening that we can know when an improvisation can change direction.
To give you an easy example of a frame, it could be as simple as a 12-bar blues: within a 12 bar blues the chords are set beforehand, the scale is “easily” predictable and the form of the song doesn’t necessarily take that many turns – a frame as clear as that makes it easy to perform a good improvisation together with others. If every singer knows the blues, the frame constrains the next possible outcome and therefore helps predict where the music is going.
An open approach to practice framing
One way to practice framing is to focus on a specific part of the frame, which is what I experience we do when we rehearse in Songs of the Moment.
When we met the last time in Denmark, the first thing we did was to sit down and talk about our last performance in Helsinki. Based on this performance, we talked about what we would like to do better or be more focused on at our next concert. The talk was slowly made into a “set list”, or a list of things we would like to work with in the rehearsals. You can see the list on the picture to the right.
As you can see, our intentions were to work on things like endings, changing direction, singing in more ugly ways, using emotions as inspiration, and more. When we would practice one of these elements, we would make “rules”; for example, when we practiced to sing in a more ugly way, we were only allowed to use sounds without vowels. When we practiced changing direction, we would take turns on being the one who should break out of what we were singing and do something completely different for the others to join as fast as possible. Inspired by these first exercises, a lot of other exciting things seemed obvious to work on. Like working with subdivisions or with the energetic relations between us. One of these exercises, which randomly “made it to the stage”, was an exercise where every singer should have a huge imaginary ball around his or her body; when the imaginary ball would hit another persons imaginary ball, we would bounce and float until we hit a new imaginary ball.
When mistakes become music
If we always sing the way that comes natural to us, it’s hard to learn something new. But when we practice specific parts of framing, we can intentionally make music we would otherwise never have created – we make mistakes on purpose. Like the “changing direction” exercise, it might not be pretty at first, but some of the elements from that exercise can help us make the music we create more interesting when we perform at concerts.
But most importantly: When we do these exercises, we do not only practice in relation to our musicality and group dynamics, we also practice in relation to our common understanding of our musicality, thus making it easier for us to set the frame in improvisations. You can say that every exercise we do contributes more tools for our “Frame-making”-toolbox. For example, when we practice endings, we are focused on when the endings will occur, and we will search for these endings more than normally. This gives us a lot of experience relating to how endings can sound and can be created when we improvise.
I believe it’s easy to see and hear a difference in the concert when we have been working on specific things. Sometimes some of the exercises we have been doing, even happen on stage. To show you an example of this. We found a little video clip of an exercise we did in Helsinki, who “made it” to the concert. Lene is improvising the lyrics and melody and Katarina and Soila are doing their best to read her lips and harmonize the song at the same time. It’s a fabulous exercise for practicing not only lyrics, but also to read what the others are doing as fast as possible.
So, to sum up: when you are making your next rehearsal program for your improvisation group, find inspiration in the improvisations you already do and ask the question: What would you wish you were better at in your improvisations? – Write the answers down and make up rules for an exercise that could help you work on what you wished you were better at.
And now – go have fun!