Improvise for Real
In this episode of the Lean Musician podcast I have David Reed on. David is the founder of Improvise for Real - a methodology and library of materials that allow anyone to start and improve their improvising in a unique and natural way.
This interview was really great and I know you’re going to enjoy it.
And much more!
What people really need I think is an experience of learning music that actually involves music.
David: 00:00 He would do this at parties and people would just sing around the piano all night long. He can play any song you could think of in any key, and even he didn't really understand how he was able to do it through talking with him later, we, we sort of figured out kind of how his thought process goes and how he pictures from this note to the next and how he imagines wrapping the corridor around it, but it was a mysterious ability certainly to me and even to him to a large extent and, and that just always stuck with me as just a glimpse into this idea that you know, another way of understanding music as possible, that there are, there are, there, there is a direct vision to that kind of internal logic of harmony that either he wasn't able to articulate, but he was able to see it. It might've been a little blurry, but he could. He could picture things there that I wasn't able to picture.
Jack: 00:50 That voice was the voice of David Reed, today's guest on the podcast. David is the creator of improvised for Real Dot Com. A method that empowers musicians to really learn about music through their own creative explorations rather than, I suppose rules and guidelines. It's a, it's a, not necessarily a unique approach, but, um, it's uh, it's unusual to say the least. And since, uh, during the interview, which was actually a couple of weeks ago now, I've really gotten into David's work in, provides for real. I've started implementing it myself and putting it into my teaching and I think it's fantastic. The value of this interview lies in really a David being such an authentic person and teacher, very experienced teacher, having done a lot of work to create an entire, uh, I suppose a trajectory for a student. One of the other beautiful messages behind the whole thing is really for anyone who feels they may lack a natural flair or ability in improvisation or even flat out say they can't do it. I guess David's stance on that is really that it's not true. It's just to do with how you weren't prepared to do it.
Jack: 01:59 So David, thanks so much for coming on the lead musician podcast today. Really appreciate you taking the time. How are you doing?
David: 02:06 I'm doing great. Thanks for having me on the show. Great. Great.
Jack: 02:10 Well your, you're most known, at least to me anyway. Dave Swift told me about your book and that's how I first found you and I've been perusing your site and things like that recently and um, thought you'd be a great person to get on the, on the podcast for various reasons. I'm sure that will become clear to everyone as we go through this. But before we dive into kind of your background, your history, what you've been up to and how you've gotten to where you're, what you're doing today, I'd love for you to kind of give an overview. Say you were at a dinner party and someone said, you know, what do you do for a living? What would you kind of say? What's your purpose?
David: 02:44 Right. Okay. Well, I'm the creator of improvised for Real, which is a complete practice method that guys, musicians through. Really a fascinating journey of learning to improvise their own music. And I've tried to do with improvised for Rio, is to lay out the entire world of modern harmony in an organized way so that students can actually enjoy the process of getting to know these sounds and learning to create their own music. So like if you imagine if you imagine starting with a very simple musical accompaniment, very simple musical situation, and you have the nodes of just one single scale to work with and, and imagine that, that the scale that you're working with harmonize was beautifully with the accompaniment that's going on behind you. And so literally every note you play sounds gorgeous. And now imagine just really taking the time to get to know these sounds and to fall in love with each and every one of them.
David: 03:44 That's really how improvised for real works. The idea is to immerse the students in the sounds of our musical system through singing and playing and listening exercises. And, and through those experiences, you learn to recognize these sounds and the music all around you. You're going to create these sounds in any key on your instrument. And most importantly, you're going to express your own music with the sounds. So at the end of this process, what happens is a student ends up developing a very comfortable mastery of these sounds and they become familiar to the student. And the whole process feels very easy because it is easy. You're just jamming with the sounds and, uh, in a variety of ways and getting to know them very intimately in the process. And so at that point you can move onto a new harmonic situation and you can begin to explore a new set of sound.
David: 04:30 And again, you're just jamming with these sounds and enjoying the music, but you're also developing a deep understanding of the fundamental harmonic environments that make up our music because of the way that the method is organized. And so what I'm really trying to do is to create a method that allows musicians or empowers musicians to learn about music through their own creative explorations. So rather than learning, um, you know, rules or guidelines or tips and tricks and, you know, try doing this and your solo and play these notes and memorize this lick. And all that kind of thing. What I found is that if you just help the student to kind of get in contact with the musical material itself, we already know how to improvise. We're already very playful and very creative and everybody immediately, you know, takes off improvising in his or her own way.
David: 05:18 That's absolutely unique to that person and that's a really beautiful thing. What people are almost universally need help with is just getting to know these sounds and learning to kind of recognize them and organize them in their mind. It doesn't happen, for example, with other aspects of music like rhythm. If you're feeling a musical idea that you want to express rhythmically, let's like let's say you're feeling like a triplet rhythm in your mind. You don't need any help decipher that there is no translation that has to occur for you to be able to play on your instrument in that triplet rhythm. Right? Like if you're feeling eighth notes, you play eighth notes. If you're feeling one slow note, it doesn't even really matter whether it's a whole note or a dotted half note. It doesn't matter. It's just, you can play that just the way you feel it, just the way you hear it in your mind where people, uh, they face a barrier is with this harmonic component to music that you hear a melody in your mind and you don't know what the notes are and really that's just a symptom of the fact that you haven't had the opportunity to get to know those sounds calmly and to learn where they exist in any particular octave on your instrument.
David: 06:26 Um, so it's really more a process of, of getting to know music for yourself and, and learning to create your own music with those sounds. It's really just part of that learning experience.
Jack: 06:37 Fantastic. So it sounds like I often find one and teaching that he was in the back of my mind. I'm always thinking how can I get in touch with the students? Natural ability. We're so used to kind of forms of education that kind of don't really trust your natural ability. So this is why I wanted to have you on for, for a number of reasons, but particularly because I just have this feeling that that improvised for Rio and the method that you've kind of built up over the years is kind of helping people to just get out of their own way in an improvised. Would that be a fair way of summing it up?
David: 07:10 Yeah. Um, you know, I just want to make sure people don't get the idea that it's some kind of psychological hang up on their part that prevents them from improvising. So for example, when I was, when I was a kid and I was learning music, people would often invite me to improvise something and they would say, well, just play whatever, whatever comes out. Right? And, and, and nothing ever came out. I had no idea what they were talking about, right? I didn't, I didn't have any native ability to even imagine a melody or a musical idea in my mind, let alone know how to express that on my instrument. And so, um, what's, what I think what a mistake a lot of people make is to conclude from that, that there's somehow something lacking in them. You know, there's so many musicians that go around with this negative self talk, right?
David: 07:57 Then, like, I'm not creative, I can't improvise, I can't do these things. And all that's nonsense. Everybody can improvise, you know. And again, if you go back to very simple situation that you can imagine like imagine, forget about, you know, going to the jam session and playing a solo over some jazz standard with a million chords to it. Imagine going back to kindergarten and, and there's a beautiful musical accompaniment or there's this band playing and it's very energetic and it sounds wonderful and it's all in the same key and it's very simple and you've got this little xylophone in front of you that only has the notes of one key and they all sound great. I think we all instinctively know that in that situation. Um, after we've got a couple minutes to sort of, you know, get, get acclimated to the notes of that instrument and kind of hear how they sound.
David: 08:43 We would naturally begin to have ideas. We would have ideas that we could add to the music and we'd be jamming right along with everybody else. And when you go see a really masterful improviser, I'm playing in a much more complicated harmonic situation. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that that person is, is more creative than I am, that that person, he's got some kind of natural ability to just express himself or herself. Um, and it's like I have to go to a therapist, right? And remove my psychological blocks, you know, to become that person. And it's not that, it's that that person understands harmony and music in a way that basically to him or her, it feels exactly like it would feel to you playing the xylophone that only has, you know, eight notes on it or seven notes on it. It's, it's an understanding of harmony that allows them to know exactly where all those sounds are that they, that they find pleasing or the or the sounds that they want to express. And so really what people need I think is just a more, um, a, an experience of learning music that actually involves music, right? Like not just talking about music with a theory and, and you know, formulas and things like that, but actually getting your hands dirty, working with the raw materials of music. That's how you get to know this stuff.
Jack: 10:03 Yeah. Great Point. Experience of learning music that actually employs music is a good quote. It's easy, easily, easily forgotten sometimes. So, um, well I'd love to dig into all of that and kind of the nuts and bolts of, of, of, of your, your kind of, your approach to teaching, but before we go there, I'd love to kind of hear about your journey and then how you kind of developed this, this new way of looking at things or rather your own way of looking at things. Not necessarily new. Um, so, so tell us how, what were your first experiences with music?
David: 10:40 My earliest experiences that were really memorable of music all involved listening to music more so than playing it. My Dad was a jazz trumpet player, so I grew up listening to albums by miles Davis and Chet Baker and Billie holiday and, and, and more, even more than, than getting exposed to this music and listening to it. I remember the image of kind of learning from my father, watching him the way he would listen to music. He would close his eyes, you know, it'd be sitting there with his eyes like very tightly closed. Just concentrating all his attention on listening to these albums by, by these musicians that he, he respected but also just truly loved so much, you know, and it was just kind of an urgent desire on his part to try to capture all that message and to try to learn from it and understand it and respect it.
David: 11:34 And if there was something about that that I think really showed me how much richness there is to enjoy and savor. And it's almost like, you know, it goes beyond just pleasure. It's not about being entertained, right? It's about, it's about listening to another human being who's trying to something and trying to receive that message. And there's something about that that I think has always stuck with me. And it's really the most important musical memory I think I have, you know, have of really just listening to music and feeling kind of the magic of that world. Yeah, absolutely. So did you learn trumpet then or did you? My first instrument, I started out with a guitar. I started taking guitar lessons when I was nine years old. And for the first few years I was very halfhearted about it. I mean, I didn't practice, I didn't really understand music or, or the guitar in any way.
David: 12:27 I mean, I loved listening to music, not just the music. I would hear my dad's house, but also, um, my own music. I used to buy a little 45 records, you know, back in the day and play them on a little plastic record player in my bedroom. And I was just listening to pop music, but it was just so gorgeous, you know, these beautiful sounds and chords and melodies. But it was totally unconnected for me with this big clunky, a steel string acoustic guitar that I had in my hands. Um, I mean, it was physically painful to play. The strings were like razor wire, you know, I never practiced. I hated it. And uh, and I, and it just kind of tolerated this for like years and it wasn't because of any kind of discipline or merit on my part, it was just because I was, I was afraid to tell my parents that I didn't want to continue with this.
David: 13:12 So just out of like cowardice. I continued for a few years with this and there was a moment I remember very distinctly the exact moment. It was like maybe 13 years old. And it finally dawned on me that this big goofy instrument that I had been struggling with and taking lessons on for years was literally the same instrument that these rock guitar gods, you know, we're using on this, these stages, right on television. The early days of MTV. And stuff like that. We were all so infatuated by these rockstars and suddenly I realized that there was a social component of, of personal expression to, to music and to playing an instrument that had just completely escaped me in my first few years. I was just playing this, uh, I was learning this kind of folk method series. I don't know if people know the Mel Bay a series of method books for it gets hard, but I was going through and he teaches you basic stuff about reading the music staff and sheet music and it kind of introduces you to the technique little by little, but it's, there was just none of, at least, at least for me, I wasn't able to make that connection until several years later.
David: 14:19 And at that point I started begging my parents for an electric guitar for Christmas. Right. And, and, and, and as soon as I got one, that's really when my true fascination with music began because finally I had an instrument that was comfortable to play. It was much easier at a much wider range of expressive possibilities. The dynamics, the volume. I mean, actually today I feel kind of the opposite. I feel that I have more expressive range with a nylon string classical guitar than I could ever have with an electric. But when I was a teenager going from a steel string, acoustic to a, an electric guitar with distortion and being able to play rock songs and all that was an amazing new world of possibilities. And, and really at that point it became a total obsession that just out of selfish pleasure, this, you know, the same lack of discipline that made it hard for me to practice the guitar in the beginning now made it, you know, the only thing I wanted to do just because I enjoyed it so much now.
David: 15:16 I was playing for many, many hours every day. And did it stay like that to do. Did you stay in touch? Yeah, it stayed like that for, for several years at least. Um, at least until my early twenties, um, because I just, at least in, in, you know, all through high school and much of my college experience, I had a lot of time that I could dedicate to music. And so I was probably playing five or six hours a day on, on average. The other nice thing was that towards the end of my high school experience, I had lots of other musical opportunities. So by then I had picked up the trumpet and I was playing the trumpet in our school, marching bands. I was playing the guitar and our School Jazz Ensemble. I sang in the school choir. Um, I had a typical garage band where we played rock songs and played at bars and parties and dances and things like that.
David: 16:07 And, and also I guess a great learning experience for me was when I was about 16, by some miracle I got hired into a jazz quintet that was way over my head. Everybody else in the band was so much better than I was. And, and this band played every Friday and Saturday night for four straight hours for like two years while I was still in high school. And so I was up there on stage playing in front of people having to play Solos over jazz standards from the real book that we're technically beyond my capabilities. And I was also playing with other musicians who were far beyond my, my ability, so I mean I did the best I could, you know, I kind of got through it, but that was one of the most, I mean, I, I, if, if, if discovering the electric guitar and kind of rock music, if that was the first major epiphany that turned me onto the excitement of music, it was a few years later playing in the jazz quintet that really cemented my fascination for music because I was thrown into so many situations that I couldn't understand that.
David: 17:05 I think that really fueled my, my desire to understand harmony. That really carried me through most of my twenties. Absolutely. You presumably studying with people at a time with different teachers? Yeah, I'm kind of haphazardly, you know, where I could, where I could get access to great musicians. I would, I would take some lessons. But I grew up in a very small town in the northeast of the United States and kind of an economically depressed area. And this was before the Internet. So for us, I mean, you know, deciding that you're really passionate about music and you want to learn about it means subscribing to every music magazine there is, right? And going to the music store and buying books sometimes trumps transcriptions of Solos or, or whatever. Um, in a way I think it was kind of Nice, the scarcity of information because it created a nice balance because it gives me so much time to contemplate the few learning materials that I was able to get access to.
David: 18:05 You know, today it's, in some ways it's nicer because you have a wealth of information available to you on you just through Google and Youtube and whatever. Right? I mean, you could spend the rest of your life that's just digesting people's, you know, content and ideas. Um, but I think in some ways there are some aspects of the learning process that are, um, that are best served by silence and free time and just, you know, having, having time to lie in the grass and look up at the sky and, and, and puzzle over that thing that you've been trying to understand instead of, instead of just reading, reading, reading and digesting other people's content.
Jack: 18:41 Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of a connection to, I don't know what you call it, what would you call it? Hot Music, something like that. That's easily last. Do you have a word that you use?
David: 18:52 Yeah. Well, I don't know. I mean, I don't know if you know, kind of thing that you were imagining, but I think it's very easy to get so focused on the kind of superficial exterior, right? Like I've got to play these nodes in time that's different from really feeling the rhythm and just being able to naturally play them in time because you're flowing with the rhythm of the piece. Um, it's very different to be trying to force your body to hit those notes at the exact millisecond. That's correct, right. The same thing with playing a melody. You can play the right notes, but it's a very different thing to feel it as a melody and to express it as a melody and I'm not talking about improvisation, just any interpretation of a classical piece. There's kind of a moment when the student is when it stops sounding like quarter notes and half notes and it starts sounding like a melody and I think the same applies in a more metaphorical way to hear music practices self. There's, there's one way to do it which is all sort of directed from the outside in and people tell you what to practice and you're trying to do that to the best of your ability and there's another moment when when you kind of get it and you feel it and you have your own criteria, you have your own fascinations or things that you want to explore. It comes from within you and it feels. It just feels different.
Jack: 20:08 Sure, absolutely. And I think, I think basically everyone listening to this podcast would agree and, and really kind of understand a lot of the things that you said there. I'm sure they'd also be really interested in whether that's you've ever struggled with it, with, with that thing, whether you have a kind of a left, that sphere of kind of connection with your own music or whether you've kind of always had a sense of it in that way.
David: 20:32 Yeah, that's a great question. Um, I certainly wouldn't. I don't want to give anybody the impression that I was like, that I had this kind of spiritual flow going and that I was creative and authentic from the beginning of this, that far from the truth, as you know, you would, if you saw me play, like, you know, when I was a teenager, you would've seen me doing all the same clunky stuff that, you know, every other teenage musician is trying to cobble together. Sure. But I think that I just didn't experience it as any kind of an organized project or ambition. I never felt any pressure that I had to do something great in music or that I even had to play. Well, it was always just a passion of mine. So I certainly wouldn't describe any aspect of my journey as being a struggle, you know, like if you think about, uh, especially teenage boys will sometimes become very fascinated with things like a video game, right?
David: 21:22 And, and much to their parents' frustration, these kids can, can become obsessed, right? And they could play eight hours straight, right? Because they just, they're so caught up in, in the challenge and the thrill of mastering these abilities and they just want to get to that next level, but it's certainly not something they're doing as a struggle or out of any kind of discipline or self sacrifice. It's just the opposite. I mean, they're just having a blast and they're. And they're loving it. And even, even when I was very, very limited in music, I think it always felt that way to me. It just always felt like something that was really powerful, really fun, very attractive. And uh, you know, almost hypnotically attractive. And so, you know, even though my abilities grew quite slowly and I was, I was very clumsy and very limited, um, for a long time and in some ways I still am, um, but I just think I always felt pulled very naturally by something that I was just fascinated to do. It certainly wasn't something that I would ever struggle with or feel like I should do it more or anything like that.
David: 22:22 So when was the first time that you taught someone?
David: 22:26 Ah, great question. Um, well, when I was in high school I did some guitar lessons just to earn some extra money because I'd already been playing guitar by then for several years. Do you remember what you taught them in those lessons and how? Well, yeah, I mean, I taught the same method I had learned. I mean, it was just the blind leading the blind. I didn't have any pedagogical method, you know, that it's just, you know, especially with guitar is the bar is so low. I mean, anybody that learns four chords on a guitar feels qualified to be a teacher. Right? And, and, and I was in a different, um, but, but much more interesting was several years later after I had gone through this whole personal journey with a music, especially jazz music and harmony and improvisation and all that. Then I did get serious about teaching and I wanted to begin teaching music.
David: 23:10 I wanted to begin teaching improvisation specifically for all instruments. So I, I didn't want to be focused on the guitar or trumpet or anything else but, but just this idea of learning to improvise. And in the first classes I taught all the same stuff. Everybody else teaches about improvisation. I taught the theory, you know, I started with Chord progressions and songs and I taught a chord scale theory and what notes go with what core is. And then you're starting, you're really starting from that moment. You are doomed to fail because that's the wrong way to start. But if you start there and we just were almost everybody starts, then you have to start trying to put bandaids onto this, you know, injured student that you've created. And so as I would add on, like little bits of advice about how to think about it and how to plan your Solo and how to do this and that.
David: 24:03 And it was, it was through many years of doing this that, um, I had to eventually I got to a point where I felt that there was a very strong disconnect between what I was saying about improvisation and the way I was teaching improvisation. So what I said about in memorization sounded great, right? It sounded like this is a way for you to connect with your, your own genome, deepest personal voice. Right? And it's the spiritual thing and it's infinitely creative and, and all this. But, but what I was teaching was play this, play that, you know, do this, try to avoid that. And, and it was really my students more than myself that helped me to see this contradiction because it turns out my students were, were more mature than I was. They had a much, much more noble concept of what it means to study music than I had.
David: 24:57 And they just wanted to get connected with their creative side, discover their own music, truly a understand music, get to know it'd be able to enjoy creating it, and it was through their simple humble desires that I realized that what I was doing just did not serve them. It wasn't really designed around meeting their needs. It was just a way to try to transmit the information that I had in my head. And so with my students, I began to try to figure out a different way to lay out this journey for them in which I would get out of their way and I wouldn't tell them anything about what sounds good, what sounds bad, or what to think about this note or wind to avoid that note. Instead, what I would do is I would organize the experiences that would move them quickly to the same personal knowledge of these sounds that I have.
David: 25:47 So in other words, I can't just summarize what I think about these sounds and tell them in words, but I'm also not just going to abandon them and make them go through the same 30 year journey that I had to go through to get to know all this stuff and just began to imagine a different learning path that would consist of, of getting to know these sounds, but in an organized way so you can move through it much more quickly and make sense of it, and form a mental model in your mind in which you can picture where all these sounds are and really understand how, you know, what our musical system is, but having the opportunity every step of the way to get to know these sounds for yourself and develop your own way of expressing music with them. And that's really what the improvised for real method ultimately is. It was created over the, over the course of about seven years of working with private improvisation students of all instruments in Barcelona, Spain. Um, and, and about five or six years ago, I stopped doing those private classes and began to shift my focus to the methodist self and how to turn that into a set of materials that I could share with a broader audience.
Jack: 26:53 And so what were the, what were some of the first exercises or ways that you started developing this, this new approach with students? What would kind of the early kind of Beta kind of tests that you did with them?
David: 27:08 Yeah. Um, okay. So if, if your goal is to be able to improvise music, there's a time component to that that is not involved in composing. So for example, if you just want to understand music and be able to compose it, you've got all the time in the world to put the notes exactly where you want, but improvisation happens in time. And so that means there's a physical component to it that we need to develop the ability to quickly apply all this stuff to our instrument, right? Visualize where all these notes are on the instrument and comfortable to play them. And so some of what we need to develop is just that physical scale. And, and if you're starting with an adult musician who already has the ability to play his or her instrument, then it's really just a new set of exercises that will kind of make that technique more agile.
David: 27:54 Um, a great example is string players, right? Because like violin and cello players, they, um, the way that they learn to play the notes is so it's so driven by this need to try to, uh, use your hand properly to produce a good intonation that they end up having a very specific fingering for every scale they play. So if you, if you tell a violin is, for example, to play the note, c sharp, most likely the person will use a particular finger. And then if you ask the same musician to now play the note d flat and the exact same octave, suddenly you'll see their hand moves and they're using a different finger to play the exact same note, right? What is it c? I mean the even tempered system, right? Like a c sharp and the d flat or you know, it's essentially there's at least two piano players and guitar players and those of us who are not involved in string quartets, we think of these as the exact same note while the string players.
David: 28:42 They're not at all the same note, right? There's the c sharp, that's the major third of A. There's the other c sharp and the you know, relative to a minor key and so forth. So their intonation things happening, but also when you call it c sharp, your automatic automatically assuming you're gonna, play other notes of one of these sharp keys so you situate your hand a certain way. If you're thinking of the note as d flat, you're going to situate your hand a different way because you're imagining that you're about to play. Other notes have a flat fee, and so all of this technique is really tied. It's intimately tied to the repertoire or the the musical tasks that you're assuming you're going to be asked to perform well in musical improvisation. You don't know what musical task you're going to be asked to perform because that comes from your musical imagination, right?
David: 29:27 That comes from your inner composer. That's just imagining the next musical phrase as a series of sounds and we don't have six weeks to figure out the perfect fingering. Right? And how am I going to play that phrase? And so there are some physical exercises that are very helpful and very easy to do, but it just puts you in that situation where from any node on your instrument, how do you go to any other node and you don't have to be a virtual so you know you don't have to fly all over your instrument because that's up to you. You can play within your means. You can play very slowly, you can play whatever you want, but it gives you an opportunity to experience that, a free movement around your instrument. And for many people, for the first time, many people who have been playing their instrument for 20 years and they've never just freely wandered around the instrument moving from any note to any other, um, they've always been playing either scale patterns or, or pieces.
David: 30:19 And so there's that physical component which is kind of the lowest layer that we, that we start first, but as, but very soon, like within the, you know, second, third week we want to be using that to get into the musical sounds right to get into the sounds of our musical system, which are all based ultimately on the major scale. So that's kind of our starting point where we learned to create tonality on our instrument and we learned to create it again and in all 12 keys freely anywhere on the instrument. So this isn't about learning scales or scale patterns, it's about understanding musical shapes and being able to paint them anywhere on your instrument. And from there began to be much more interesting journey, which is getting to know these sounds and kind of deciding what you think about them, right? Discovering the melodies that you find most beautiful, discovering, you know, all, all the world of chords and bodies, different harmonic environments that occur in modern music. The real musical exploration can begin as soon as we got a little basic ability to gather on our instrument that allows us to go anywhere we want and create any musical concepts we want. So those are, those are kind of the first three layers of, of the method.
Jack: 31:28 Right? And so presumably there's an accountant, there's a huge accompaniment side to this that you're, you're kind of creating a better sound for each of the students to get to know that key, that cord, that tonality. Um, in your, in your first lessons were you kind of, would you play guitar just accord and, and, and ask them, invite them to kind of play a number of the note.
David: 31:48 Yeah. Or piano. I mean, that's the challenging thing with teaching anything I said, even once you figure out kind of a good way to do it. That works for most people when you're there present with them, it's very different to try to turn that into materials that they can, that they can use in a, in a self study course. Right. Um, and so the, the, the form of the method changed a little bit when I turned it into the book and the materials that, that we, um, that we provide today. It's much more heavily dependent now on activities that the student can get into in order to get, get to know the sounds without my being there, when I was doing it in the classes, it was much more interactive and yeah, I would play the piano to accompany or the guitar. But now what we have is so, so there's the main elements of the method or the book and provides for real.
David: 32:36 Um, and the complete method is contained in the book for all instruments. So many people are practicing the method with, with nothing else just with the book. And that'll get you into all the experiences and lead you through the entire world of modern harmony and show you how you can explore these sounds and get to know them on your own. But then we also have a series of what we called jam tracks, the Ifr jam tracks, which are musical accompaniment. They go hand in hand with the books so that with each harmonic environment that you're getting to know you've got a musical example, a recorded example of a like a, like a song, right, like a three minute track that only uses that chord or that harmonic environment. And you can practice soloing over that and really get the feeling of, of creating your own melodies in that context. And that harmonic material evolves progressively begins to combine chords into progressions and eventually becomes like the music you hear on the radio. And then going beyond that like you know the chord progressions. You'll hear in jazz standards. We even have one set, one, a jam tracks product, which is the IFR standards workout, which are five, five complete jazz standards analyzed in the tonal language that we use with musical accompaniment in all 12 keys.
Jack: 33:49 Cool. So I'm really interested. You've given us a really good idea about the kind of deep principle behind the way that you're teaching this and also the first early stages of a student, but what is the normal trajectory of the whole system kind of look like? How, how do they, how do those first kind of, let's call it two years? Look?
David: 34:10 Yeah, that's a great question. And I think that the, um, I think the perfect model to understand it, what I'm trying to do with improvisation is one that you already know and probably most of your listeners know from their early music education, even if in, in classical music or just or just related to learning an instrument. If you think back to how those experiences were structured, you know, you first start out and, and you have all these experiences, all these lessons and all this teaching and nurturing, that's all focused on you, right? It's all designed around your needs every step of the way, and so you learn a base of technique that's healthy and that will carry you like as far as you want to go into the future because you're learning the foundational movements that are correct and you're learning to read music. You're learning a lot of different skills, but you're learning them in a way that's been organized pedagogically with a view to what you're able to digest and process every step of the way.
David: 35:12 And you know, yeah, there are performances, but the performances or recitals are really only there to, to highlight and kind of celebrate the skills that you're learning. Now, if you compare that to the way most musicians are thrust into improvisation when they first want to learn how to improvise, if you think about it, like I have students telling me this all the time, they'd bring me problems like, well, you know, I'm in this improvisation course and I'm playing with a big band and uh, and I've got to do a solo over this song in two weeks. Right? And it's, and so they're are immediately thrown into songs with, with lots of different chords flying by and maybe they're given some scales or other kind of rules that they're supposed to follow or you know, some techniques or guidelines or whatever, but they're immediately thrust into this situation that's way over their head.
David: 36:00 They haven't had the opportunity to get to know any of these sounds, are understand what we're talking about. And the focus is always right away on performing. And I think it's based on an idea on, on the part of teachers that what we have to get these people turned on to is the pleasure of, of improvising in a group context and playing a solo and it's a lot of fun and that will kind of feed back into their motivation. But for most people it's not fun and it's not motivating. It's very traumatizing and it's terrifying. And if you think about it, like if we were to approach your classical education in the same superficial way that we approach the teaching of improvisation, you know, you'd be like 10 years old and they will tell you, okay, well six weeks from now you're going to be performing this string quartet by Bartok, whatever.
David: 36:43 Right? And so, you know, there's no time to learn a proper technique and there's no time to learn to read all the notes, right? You just got to learn these notes, right? Because you got to fake your way through this performance and you would never learn anything. And so what? I guess what I'm getting at is this sort of ironic observation that many people coming out of the classical world think that what prevents them from improvising and creating their own music is something that was lacking in themselves or in their education. I think it's some defect of their classical education that is somehow made them uncreative. And actually I would say the exact opposite where I would say as compared to the nonsense way that we teach improvisation, your classical training was amazing. Your classical training was wonderful, you had years or in some cases, decades of experiences that were lovingly designed and laid out for you all focused on you and what you needed to learn every step of your journey. And if you think about it, that's what the student should be entitled to expect pedagogically from the teacher or from the method. And so what I'm trying to do is to just bring that same focus to improvisation, but it's a different kind of a journey because you're learning to create your own music right from the first day, which is a whole lot of fun.
Jack: 38:00 And so do you, with the method that you've done so far, do you see it going further? You continuing to develop different ideas and further avenues for it, you know, down into more advanced advanced education?
David: 38:15 Yeah. Um, although right now the direction is not so much going more advanced or higher, but just just trying to create a wider set of learning materials for people to learn the basic methods. So what exists today is, is the book and, and all of these jam tracks collections that accompany the book. But when we're also now creating video courses because for most people that's a more powerful medium for learning about music because you can hear the notes and, and uh, you can see other musicians practicing the exercises so you get a much more vivid picture of what we're really talking about. And there's one module of a, of a complete video course for guitar, which is already available at our website right now. I'm putting the finishing touches on the first module of a video course for brass and woodwinds. Um, and there will also be these video courses for, for piano and keyboards, for string instruments and for base. So we're thinking of addressing these five families of instruments with these video courses and that's, that's probably going to keep me busy for the next five to 10 years. Sincerely.
Jack: 39:14 Really? Wow. Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah, totally. So, so if you imagine like you have a student coming to you today or tomorrow, you know, and they are, you know, late twenties, early thirties. They've been playing there for a long time that they, they're kind of, you know, their opinion is that there are fairly experienced improviser, but they have a feeling that they've got some other things to learn. They want to kind of, they want to get more connected with their own playing. What if you want to take them through, you know, if they went to buy your book and go through that course, what are some of the things you might do with them in that lesson?
David: 39:49 Well, I think the important thing to realize is that being more advanced or having other knowledge doesn't translate to like skipping ahead to page 150 of my book and just doing the more advanced stuff. It's not like that. It's a much better way to think about it is as a complimentary practice in your life. So for example, you might be a star football player, but now you come to yoga class, right? And if you want to get any of the benefits at all out of Yoga, you start right at the beginning and you start your little yoga practice just like everybody else. Now, if you have through this other journey that you've gone through in life, you know, if you have a much more mature kind of knowledge of your body and relationship with the physical world and you're this wonderful athlete and all that, then you may have a deeper experience in your first yoga class, then the person sitting next to you, but that's where your knowledge and experience and mastery is going to come out.
David: 40:45 It's not going to come out in a form of skipping over the first 20 classes. It's going to come from being able to do the creative exercises that we do, um, in a, in a deeper way. In other words, if you, if you think of yourself as more advanced than the student sitting next to you, then I would, I would challenge you to really demand of yourself that you, that, that, that, that, that, that advantage that you have be reflected in your music. In other words, what you play and he's creative exercises should be the ideal example of how to study music. It doesn't have to be a performance. I'm not saying that it has to be beautiful, but it should be a great example of what great musical study looks like and so if somebody has already accomplished a lot in their musical career through other paths, then I think what they can directly and immediately apply to this path is what they've learned about what musical study really is, what it means and how to do it effectively, but I wouldn't want them to short change themselves by, by not taking the beginning exercises seriously because that's really where all the power is.
David: 41:48 It's learning to see our musical system from a different point of view and you just have to start at the beginning to do that. Yeah, absolutely.
Jack: 41:56 Yeah. No, I can see. That makes total sense. Um, over the, over the course of you developing all these products and also now the has it, how, how much has it impacted your own playing and your own connection to it?
David: 42:12 Yeah, totally. I mean, I've been playing music all my life and trying to understand that all my life, but there were particular things that always stood out along the way. There's a great line from the movie, the Matrix that they're saying, it just doesn't feel right and it's. And it's like a splinter in your mind, right? And it's like this, this little, this little thing in your mind, if you don't, it's almost like you don't even acknowledge it. Let me give you examples. So when I was a, when I was in college, I lived with a guy and a young piano player, a also play Bass Guitar. He sang in a folk group, very musical person, but not a very studied person. So he was impressed by, by my knowledge of like playing over, you know, jazz standards and stuff like that. So he didn't have the theory knowledge that I had.
David: 42:56 He always thought of me as the more advanced musician and yet he could do things that I could never do. I could never even dream of doing. He could, for example, you could sit down at a piano and starting from any note on the piano keyboard, he could make that the first note of the melody of any Beatles Song you could remember. And from there you can play the entire song chords and all and, and, and never make a mistake. And he would do this at parties and people would just sing around the piano all night long. He can play any song you could think of in any key. And even he didn't really understand how he was able to do it. I'm through talking with him later. We, we sort of figured out kind of how his thought process goes and how he pictures from this note to the next and how he imagines wrapping the corridor around it.
David: 43:37 But it was a mysterious abilities, you know, certainly to me and even to him to a large extent. And, and, and that just always stuck with me is just a glimpse into this idea that, you know, another way of understanding music is possible. That there are, there are, there, there is a direct vision to the kind of internal logic of harmony that, you know, he wasn't able to articulate but he was able to see it. It might've been a little blurry, but he could. He could picture things there that I wasn't able to picture. Another another experience that I had many years later was working. I was in Barcelona now in Spain and I was. I was playing with a female singer who had absolutely no musical training at all. She couldn't even find the notes on a piano keyboard, didn't know anything at all about music theory and we were doing mostly free improvisation, but sometimes we would play songs over a over a particular song form and I remember playing some of the most complex jazz music that I knew how to play at that time.
David: 44:39 Pieces by Charles Mingus, people pieces by a felonious monk that I'd really interesting harmony that moved around between many different key centers and used very, very interesting sounds. And she had this ability to sing perfectly precise, gorgeous melodies. That ad just weave their way through all of these chords. Not only the court knows, but I mean all those passing notes of whatever scale would you know, link all that stuff up together that, that I would have had to sit down and think about and analyze theoretically to try to understand what was going on harmonically and then just try to force my music to go to those nodes so that it would all kind of sound okay. She just heard this stuff right and she, she just filled in these missing scales in her mind without knowing at all how she was able to do it. And so that was another one of these little splinters in my mind, right?
David: 45:33 That, that not only is it possible to understand music by ear, but it's even possible to create music by ear. It's possible to compose music entirely in the world of sounds and your own imagination and have that music be incredibly precise even over a very sophisticated harmonies. And so it was really to me, you know, these were things that that bothered me or that are contradictions. That again made me doubt my knowledge, my teaching and all that. And so as I was developing this method for teaching improvisation with my students and we began to focus more on getting to know the sounds and on really studying the basics and making all of it visual in a way that those two people that I just mentioned for them, it wasn't a visual process. They couldn't articulate logically or rationally what they were able to do, um, but first of all going into that world in which they were so comfortable but, but kind of turning the lights on and putting names on things and understanding what's were right.
David: 46:33 So this becomes something we can teach and, and something we can talk about that process. I was doing it initially just to help my students understand the few things that I did understand. But what ended up coming out of that was that I also now had a model that would enable me to go much farther and to really understand those abilities that, that I described. And so now I can do a lot of those things as well. I mean, I can play any song I know in any key. I mean, if I just hear a song on the radio, I know how to play it, you know, chords and melody and all that, and I can improvise melodies over it. I can also sing melodies over complex harmonies and I've learned to trust in those sounds that I can just imagine. Um, but all of that came through the method itself. So ultimately, you know, in the end I'm probably one of the most faithful students of the method because it's, it's the way I think about music and it's the way I practice every day. What did they say? You teach what you need to learn. Exactly. I'm guilty as charged.
Jack: 47:31 Yeah, absolutely. Well, David Lou, I'm looking at the time. This has been fantastic. We should probably start wrapping up soon, but if it's alright with you, I'd just love to ask you a few short, sharp kind of closing questions if that's okay. Sure. Yeah. Wonderful. Um, I mean we've kind of been talking about it, but would you be able to say what the one thing that's made the most difference in your playing is in a sentence or two or is that, is that, is that really just is the answer to that? Go to improvise?
David: 48:01 No, I can, I think I can summarize it very well. I mean it's what I try to give people with improvise for real.com. Absolutely. But the essence of the message is something that actually comes from another really funny place as some movie recently, an animated movie called Kung Fu Panda. And the message of Kung Fu panda is that the secret is that there is no secret and that is the most incredibly empowering concept I've discovered in any area of life and especially in music because when you understand that there is no secret, you stopped chasing the rainbows, you stopped looking for the answers in the theory and, and it allows you to center your attention in the musical material you have right before you. And that's where all the really beautiful discoveries take place.
Jack: 48:47 Lovely. Yeah. Um, do you have a or a few favorite musicians?
David: 48:53 Sure. Uh, the music that's probably most significant to me is that creative period in the 19 sixties when all these jazz composers kind of built on jazz standards and began composing their own music that was much more complex. So if you think about the music of the Miles Davis second quintet with Herbie Hancock and Wayne shorter and those guys, Charles Mingus, the loneliest monk, John Coltrane, but there's also a lot of other music that I love just as much, but I guess it doesn't maybe inspire my playing as much, but uh, you know, Blues Music, rock music, Flamingo, tango, music, I, there's a lot of beauty in, in pop music and folk music that maybe you know to, to be something I would want to play. I would want to have more freedom to, to concentrate that stuff together and be able to mix that stuff up and present it in ways that are more interesting to me. But each popular song always has at least one really beautiful musical lesson to teach. Right? That's the hook of the song. And so, you know, I, I guess that stuff influences me just as much.
Jack: 50:00 And lastly, um, I suppose professionally or in terms of your work, if you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?
David: 50:08 Well, I guess what I want to inspire people to do is to seek out their own personal relationship with music because that's what's given me so much pleasure in my life. So I mean, I don't really care that much about preparing people to play on a stage and impress people and sound really good. To me the magic is when you see your instrument and you see it as this doorway, the gateway to your own personal paradise, and you could spend hours and hours and hours enjoying that. That's what I feel is available to everybody. And it should be everybody's birthright. And then when you add to it the component that then we can play together. You've really got a cultural treasure that, that I'm, I think it's worth trying to, uh, to recover and really returned to people because in, in many places that, that, that habit has been, has been lost. So if there's one thing I want to be remembered for, it's that music exists to serve people not the other way around and I just want to try to help people to get into that same joyous relationship with music that, that I've been privileged to enjoy.
Jack: 51:13 Yeah. Beautiful. Well, David, thanks again for your time. This has been spectacular. Great speaking. And um, I'm sure if anyone, I'm sure a number of people that want to check out your site. Uh, you said it already, it's improvised for real.com. I know I'm going to be getting into it over the next few weeks. I know it's going to help me hugely in my teaching as well. It's a, it's a kind of missing piece. I know that IFA, that's my splinter. So man, thank you so much. No, thank you for the opportunity. It's been wonderful talking with you.