Composition and Improvisation on the Horn

By Evan Grulke


Importance of Piano Playing:

1. It is a visualization of theory.

-familiarity with piano will allow you to visualize, understand, and be quicker with music theory
-which will in turn, increase your understanding of music in general

2. Enough practice with chord progressions will give you a good ear for harmony

-with enough practice, you will be able to pick out most chord progressions in classical and pop music (especially pop)

3. Messing around with different chords and scales transfers directly to horn.

-things I learned on piano and then transfered to horn: blues scales, octatonic scales, whole tone scales, modes, diminished arpeggios...

4. It will enhance your understanding of style

-imitating styles on the piano (Classical, Romantic blues, jazz, Latin, etc) will give you a better understanding of that style: common chord progressions, melodic tendencies, common rhythms
-these new appreciations make you more excited whenever you hear these idioms upon listening to music


How Improvisation is Practically Helpful to an Instrumentalist

1. Synthesizing styles increases your affinity with them come time to play them

2. Improvising in a certain key puts you in “deep practice” with that key signature

3. You’re learning to listen in ways not possible through traditional playing

-in improv you have to use tonality, form, style, rhythm (everything) to make your creation, so you have to listen very intently, you have to know exactly what is going on

4. Overall, it will help you perform better

-In spoken language, the composer and performer are the same person. Why should it be different for music?


How Improvisation Helps You and the World

1. The act of creating without judging helps you to become a better person

-judge your piece after the notes are written down, not before
-trying to “filter” yourself when creating leads to writers’ block, and is the antithesis of art
-with more practice improvising, you’ll get better and better at creating without prejudging
-this process teaches you to be more spontaneous, free, and happy, an less timid and careful/afraid in life

2. Classical improvisation is a form of spontaneous, fresh, joyful performance practice that could serve as a root for a new trend in music
-the market for this untapped reservoir of music is very small
-you are creating something completely new, on the cutting edge!


How Composition is Practically Helpful to an Instrumentalist

1. Improves your ear for music

-your understanding of interval will increase, improving your accuracy
-your ear for chords and chord members (i.e. harmony in general) will help with your intonation, as well as your discretion in what pitches to bring out

2. Gives greater understanding and appreciation of what you’re playing

-gives understanding of the fact that a piece of music is a journey, a process, and metaphor for emotions
-this understanding leads you to be a better expresser of the piece’s idea/direction/mood
-this in turn leads to increased appreciation for all music while listening and while playing

3. Intimate self-expression begins to arise in your pieces the more you compose, and this augments your potential for expression in playing.
-once you tap into that emotional gateway, you won’t forget it come time to play


How Composition Helps You and the World

1. You are contributing to the pool of repertoire!
-everything you have ever read off a sheet of music was composed; you are giving new material to others!

2. Believe it or not, you will be advancing art and art’s progress towards its goal of ultimate human expression
-the better you become at composing, the better you will represent the current generation in art
-when making a piece of music, you are unknowingly combining everything you have ever heard into a conglomeration of expression
-your music will be a stepping stone for the next generation, just as Beethoven, the Beatles, and Balanese Gamelan was a stepping stone for you
-you will be helping music to become more and more universal as time progresses

3. Creatively expressing yourself is one of the most meaningful things a person can do
-creative experiences can express the deepest of human thoughts, feelings, actions, and spirit
-it is very gratifying to make something that is a sincere expression of yourself


Tips for Composition and Improvisation

1. Sit at a piano and learn your major chords (at least)!

-play a C major triad in each hand, and move up chromatically, until you can play every major chord in a chromatic “scale” up and down
- this will reduce finger-fumbling when you are messing around with chord progressions
-more importantly, it is a visualization of theory. You will be much more familiar with keys and arpeggios in horn playing, and quicker in music theory

2. Learn how to play “root-and-chords” style

-don’t get adjusted to just playing every chord in root position
-try to play things in inversions in order to make the chords sound more natural
-for instance C-E-G, instead of upwardly shifting to G-B-D, can go to the closer B-D-G, which is easier, and feels and sounds more natural

3. Listen to a lot of music

-when you compose or improvise, you are constructing things from music that you have already heard
-expand your mental reservoir of listened-to music will expand your mental musical palette in creating music
-you are composing classical music, so classical music should be included in your listening (along with pop!)
-following a piece of classical music will help you to better understand the process of making it
-try to listen to contemporary music from time to time! It is often experimental, and outside of your comfort zone. Listening to and absorbing it results in out-of-the-box thinking.