Our educational system often operates with the limiting belief that growth and achievement are testable and measurable. When this mindset takes hold of music education, we set a high bar for conformity and proficiency, but lose sight of artistry, expression, and courage.
Join us for a two-day improvisation workshop on the campus of Seattle Pacific University.
Last year, our inaugural adult workshop brought together a group of professional musicians, serious amateur players, and educators. Through prompts, games, and experimentation, we crafted a compelling 70 minute set of original music. I’m thrilled to lead the workshop with composer, vocalist, and Seattle Symphony Teaching Artist, Kaley Lane Eaton.
Registration is now open, and we only have room for 20 participants.
GSW is a mind-blowing improvisation experience. I left that weekend having made new friends and feeling so inspired! As a music educator, I was able to take GSW activities into my high school and college classrooms and see big results! I was practically knocking down Steve’s door to find out when the workshop was happening again. This workshop is so beneficial for classical musicians who are fearful of sounding bad and making mistakes during improvisation. My ears blossomed, my head exploded, and my creativity soared.
– Sarah Bost, M.A. Music Ed.
Flute and saxophone
I had the privilege of presenting six improvisation workshops at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho in February. The Lewiston Tribune reported on my “How to Practice Creativity” workshop.
Musicians take part in workshop during Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival
By CHELSEA EMBREE of the Tribune Feb 25, 2017
Saxophonist and educator Steve Treseler of Seattle (background, left) listens to students work on his ideas for improvising jazz during a workshop Friday at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho
MOSCOW – Drew Lyall knew he had to do something.
The 18-year-old from Kimberley, British Columbia, approached the piano at the front of the crowded room in the University of Idaho’s Teaching and Learning Center. He had been instructed to improvise a tune using only the piano’s A notes.
Lyall admitted later that there was “a bit of fear” involved, but he played anyway.
The experiment was part of a Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival workshop on practicing creativity Friday morning. Steve Treseler, a professional saxophonist and teacher at Seattle Pacific University, led the workshop, where he encouraged students to take creative risks and explore new ways of making music.
Lyall was grateful for the experience.
“I’m always keen to jump into a situation like that,” he said. “It’s just a little bit more experience of being in a situation that you aren’t well prepared for. The more often you do that, then the better you are when you’re in situations like that that really matter.”
Treseler focused on three creative practices Friday morning – experimentation, play and limitations.
Artists experiment in much the same way as scientists, learning as much from hypotheses that prove false as those that prove true, Treseler said.
“This might not work, but I’m going to try it anyway,” he said. “Having that kind of mindset is huge.”
Play, he said, refers to a childlike perspective of the task at hand. The goal is not to improve or to be the best.
“The goal of play is to just keep playing,” Treseler said.
Though counterintuitive, Treseler said limitations can inspire creativity. He passed out “creativity menus” to the musician-packed audience, including limitations like Lyall’s to play only one note.
There was one trio that was ready for the challenge. Trombonist Jay Panchal, 16, saxophonist Peter Lee, 16, and drummer Nivedan Kaushal, 17, came forward and promptly put themselves at the mercy of the crowd to pick two limitations from the menu.
The audience implored them to play in constant vibrato and in an 11/4 time meter.
Panchal told Kaushal that they could keep up that tempo if Kaushal could – and the trio from Nanaimo, British Columbia, played.
“That puts you out of your comfort zone,” Treseler said as they finished. “… This is the right kind of experimental mindset.”
Kaushal told the audience he had to “really focus” as he drummed. Afterward, he added that it was “cool” to be able to try anything he wanted.
“It’s one of the fears to get over, actually, just getting up front,” Kaushal said. “Let’s be honest – you’re never going to see anyone here again. Why not completely mess up if it means learning something?”
The trio was most excited, though, when pianist Lyall joined them for another improvisation game. The newly formed quartet played their music in a call-and-response format, with each instrument using only three pitches.
“I really enjoy playing with people I’ve never played with before,” Panchal said. “… Being thrown up there and seeing what happens when you mix different groups together was so cool.”
“The cool thing is it actually works,” Lee added. “It just works out.”
© Copyright 2017 Lewiston Morning Tribune, TPC Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.
New article for private teachers on the Teach Well blog:
Even if you have little experience with improvisation and composition yourself, you can make a big impact on your students by helping them get off the page and create their own music during your private lessons.
The process nurtures creative, independent, and fearless musicians. As teachers, it helps us break out of our standard routines.
I’d like to share a few prompts from my new book Creativity Triggers for Musicians, which you can download for free here.
Fear and anxiety are the biggest roadblocks to creative music making. The good news is the right strategies can ease the most profound phobias.
(Warning, there are a few swears. And I was a bit over-caffeinated, so I was talking much faster than usual.)
Download a free digital copy of my new book Creativity Triggers for Musicians.
Creativity isn’t a mysterious or magical gift. It’s a practice.
Creativity Triggers for Musicians will help you express your unused creativity, break through barriers, and create an abundance of original music.
– Eight creative practices that underpin idea generation in any creative discipline.
– Creativity Triggers: frameworks for improvisation that draw from creative practices. These are similar to improv theater games and creative writing prompts.
Gearing up to release my new eBook, Creativity Triggers for Musicians. Below is part of the introduction. Reserve your free copy.
Theater games help actors create new material and build trust. We can experience the same benefits from creative musical games.
Improvisation is the source of paralyzing fear and for many musicians, and community-building games help ease fears about the creative process. The novelty, unpredictability, and attainable challenges help drive our attention into the present moment.
Group activities engage everyone in the ensemble. The jazz education model of teaching improvisation puts musicians on the spot one at a time—musicians who aren’t playing tend to check out mentally, and many inexperienced soloists get freaked out when put on the spot.
Introduce Creative Practices
Games allow us to experience profound creative practices: experimentation, creative risks, and playing within self-imposed limitations. Although some of the icebreaker games are silly, the practices help us improvise and compose in other areas.
Creative games and activities are the foundation of the Game Symphony Workshop.
When refer to various activities of life as “games,” we do not mean to imply that these activities are frivolous or make no difference. . .Half the fun of playing games like baseball—or the kind that come in a box—is that they challenge us to adapt and hone our skills. . .Naming your activities as a game breaks their hold on you and puts you in charge. Just look carefully at the cover of the box, and if the rules do not light up your life, put it away, take out another one you like better, and play the new game wholeheartedly. Remember, it’s all invented.
Roz Zander, The Art of Possibility
Here are ten of my favorite games for musicians who may be new to improvisation:
Your next creative breakthrough may be all in your head.