Improvisation In Classical Music

You have a lot of questions about progressions, rootless, all you stuff about your musical vocabulary (#5,b9,11,13 and so on), but, I think it is easier if someone train himself when taking care of sound combined with adapted fingering (which should be allways almost the same until it is automatic)

Concerning the piano, I believe that the finger memory helps a lot as it gives the freedom to more expressivity playing the lead voice…even without thinking about harmony.

The only problem is that takes a lot of time practicing a lot of voicings and playing complex structures.

Jazz is really difficult…

by the way… until before the 2nd world war, Classical musicians were able to do the same (variations… impros on a theme … Baroque to Liszt to Rachmaninov and others)… and that stayed only in organ classical music classes…

it seems that ability of improvising is coming back in all styles (classical or contemporain, jazz, electro, afro, latino and so on)

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I agree with this Marc.

This summarises my logic behind my post on minor 251 formulas:

For minor 251s, when I can find either the 1st or 3rd inversion of the -7b5 chord, my ‘finger memory’ or ‘muscle memory’ finds the other chords in the progression almost subconsciously.

As you correctly point out, this allows us concentrate our attention on the lead voice.

Yes I’m intrigued by the prospect of improvisation in the classical eras.

The tuplet-notated fioraturas of Chopin, for example, have always given me the sense that improvisation was just as alive back then as it is now.

It’s a shame that the written score was the only was to preserve the music in that time.

About improvisation in “Classical”
• first of all, all these guys (Bach, Chopin, Liszt and others) where known to be improvisers and, of course, they never considered themselves as “classical” ))))
• for example : Liszt was not so otfen playing his compositions and the “classical” concerts of Liszt where not as we can see today. The public (who was fond of Operas and songs) was asking him to do something on a particular song and Liszt was showing his ability to give immediatly a transcription, or variations, or developments.
• I am fond of the ability of barroco guys, classical period, romantic, post romantic, modern, jazz, contemporary music to be able to do either variations or "à la manière de"or some developpment.
• I can give many precise example (Beetoven, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Lourié etc… and I think, there are not so much difference between artists (jazz, classical, ethno…

By the way ))) Rachmaninov at the end of his life appreciated very much the young Thelonious Monk )))


Marc, although this may not relate directly to your discussion, I thought an article on the latest work of Brad Mehldau might be appropriate here.

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infact… all theses guys have something in common : talent )))

There was very often an other commun point they were sharing : exile or being exclude of a part of the world or the society.

  • Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Lourié …
  • Black jazzmen

… and also : struggling for money and to be wellknown (Bach, Mozart, Prokofiev, Jelly roll Morton, most other black jazzmen and so on)

These good improvisors were able to take risks… in their life… and in their music

(a too far digression about rootless chords ))))) sorry

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Interesting stuff!

It’s fascinating to learn about music history and how the different styles and eras are interrelated.

No problem, I have created a new thread keep the discussions focused :+1:

it would be a very long job to speak about music history and private life or society pressure influence on the music of all these great artists.

but…let’s have fun and imagine Liszt nowadays, at the exit of a jazz concert where he felt in love with the beautiful bassist girl, listening to Ariana Grande while driving home…

What would be the variations of the song ?

I guess… there would be a lot of #5, b9 and other mysteries that Hayden teaches )))

(that kind of thing Gabriel Fauré was improvising then writing to keep it)

Ps : technically not too difficult, so, every one can have a try and enjoy these harmonies)… and, why not… try to make it swing ))))

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That was truely beautiful and so inspiring. Talking about classical music and improvisations, I’m working on improvising around Bach’s ‘O scared Head sore wounded’ at the moment.
I agree about finger memory, so important as it give you freedom to enjoy playing. I’m also becoming much more aware of my listening skills. Rather than trying to memorize every note or chord sequence or getting bogged down with ‘which scale over which chord’, I’m continually asking myself, ‘where does my inner ear say I should be going? This is also very freeing. I’m enjoying learning this new skill. Sometimes it even works! :grinning:


Simply beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

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the improvisation classical classes in conservatory of Paris still exist but almost only for organists. Organists never know how much time will take a ceremony at church ))) so… they are able to play variations, developpments and so on…it is part of their job.

There’s also special classes in Ircam (contemporary music mainly with any kind of computors, instruments) because most of time there are a lot of improvisation in their music (within special frames bases on sounds, math, computer programming and so on)

Concerning pure classical improvisations or variations, very often the frontiere between jazz and this kind of classical is very tiny nowdays as all great young artists have lessons in all domains (barocco, classicle, romantic, post romantique, modern, different jazz styles, ethic music and so on)
of course… many of them are focused only on a style))) but… not all

I’ll post some videos

by the way, because of all theses precious teachings, I really think young guys and girls are much better than old generations )))

ps : they are better also because of some technical improvement (silent keybooards so they can pratice with no issues with neibourhood, they can work any time via internet with others, they can record themselves and listen and so on…)
it is now integrated in lessons…

in a way, Hayden gives a lot of keys (harmonies, styles, ways to work) as these prestigious shools which are reserved to very talented people.
Here, in pianogroove… “we come as we are” ))) that is precious

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and to see how it works in a concert, theme chosen by the public

I listen to a lot of Gabriela Montero’s improvisations of Bach music. Even though it’s more classical I use her as one of my sources of inspiration for some of my jazz playing (I’m a newbie so I’m humble about my jazz abilities)
I’m a huge Bach fan and also enjoy listening to the jacques loussier trio. Here is the group playing Bach’s Italian concerto. I’m learning this piece straight and I’m so impressed with what Jacques does with it and how he plays it.


I allready posted on some pieces by jaques… as he his the great master of this kind of thing.
What he does is really difficult to reproduce…
I admire him

Hi Marcus,

I’m accompanying a recorder player next week. She’s playing part of a Handel concerto. I’ve got the full music but it also has the figured bass with it. It’s years since I’ve worked on figured bass but I’ve had fun trying to look at the notation and not the notes, ‘figuring out’ what the chords are. As you know, this is improvising and reading lead sheets baroque style. For those of you who might be interested the entire music would not be shown, only the bass and melody. The numbers and signs are directions and guidelines for early keyboard players eg harpsichord, to improvise around.
I’m hoping this is a photo…


Many thank’s for this !
(the “piano” part you have to play will need
quite a long time master it, not so easy to play well)

Basse continue (of continuo instruments) and the special case of ostinato is the same problem that jazz faces )))

these bass gives harmony, the same way Hayden is using a walking bass or rootless (considering a bass player would play the bass) or structuring harmony chords (especially 3 and 7 on a left hand voicing)

infact… we can consider that while playing alone, the piano is a small band of continuo instrument on the bass side and a band on the right side (choir, singers, other instruments…

))) then… the problem is to add or turn all this in a nice typical piano sound by phrasé, touch, expression))

so… Hayden… infact you’re a barroco guy who likes swing )))

ps boogie-woogie is an example of XX century Ostinato

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wow this bass lines very hot … bon courage Anne :sweat:

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is it Concerto grossoen si (B) bémol majeur, opus 3 no 2 , HWV 313 ?
Haendel… fantastic musician but very hard man…
allways shouting, bad tempered ))))