Mind the Gap – Cover the Action – A short report

Tuesday 12th September 2017, St Michael’s Church, Creech St Michael

John Bodiley and Ray Willis gave of their time and expertise on Tuesday 12 September 2017 to introduce a small group of us to the art of improvisation.  Many useful suggestions and techniques which are relatively simple in essence emerged.

John focussed on extending hymn-playing to cover awkward silences during services. The key to this is learning the hymns so that you can play them from memory and in different keys. He advocated making a practice of learning hymns so that you can focus on the words and in order to be able to use the tune to improvise in gaps.

When improvising, playing a single line in unison will enable you to finish on a note other than the tonic  and allow a key change. Also a different mood can be achieved by changing the key from major to minor or vice versa.  A tune in the same rhythm as the first line of the hymn will be recognisable but different. Practising modulations at a keyboard is a worthwhile exercise. Sequences changing key over a pedal note with the tune in the right hand and almost any combinations in the left will work on the organ, provided on soft stops.

Ray focussed on free improvisation of short pieces. He emphasised the need for form in the music – something like ABA. It is important to know keys and modes well. (Information on modes can be found on the Classic FM website.) Discovering and using chord sequences is necessary. Broken chords can give a different feel. It is worth studying favourite composers’ work to see what they do and to emulate it.

A number of members kindly offered to be “guinea pigs” and to try the suggestions made. The ladies of St Michael’s Church also kindly offered refreshments both before and after the event including tea, coffee and an array of cakes. Thanks to all involved and especially to John and Ray.

Report by Peter Cox