Conclusions, recommendations, future plans
The main research question at the heart of this research has been:
How can harmonic awareness for violinists be enhanced by (tonal) improvisation on their own instrument?
This question yielded a rather explosive field of possibilities, opportunities and ideas, that – after being contextualized with a vast amount of books, personal expertise of colleague musicians and experimental work on the subject – resulted in the educational material and practice suggestions presented in this paper.
The conclusions that can be drawn from this collection stretch much further than the area of the research question – they touch on the roots of the present way of educating classical violinists (possibly: of classical melody playing instrumentalist or possibly: of classical musicians) and they touch on how classical music can survive as a living language, shared by a participating public.
The effects of the pilot sessions, the new and different concert format experience (Badkapelconcert in Scheveningen) and the partly transformative musical growth experienced by the author through the contents of this research support the following conclusions:
- Tonal improvisation on the violin can have a transformative effect on how the repertoire performed, is experienced and expressed, especially in sense of harmonic colors and structure of the music.
- An addition/enhancement of the way in which a new generation of classical violinists is educated, is desirable: alongside the ‘traditional way’ of educating violinists, working in the way presented in this research can significantly enhance the opening up of the channel to their creativity. It can raise their understanding on a deeper level of the music that is performed especially through a more internalized awareness of the harmony that is at the core of it, (possibly) resulting in different interpretations of this repertoire. It can enable them to develop a different relationship with violin technique. It can fuel their enjoyment, of the creative moment that is at the core of all music. It can offer them a strong sense of personal expression and ‘ownership’ of the musical language they speak.
- Improvisation and improvised public participation in classical concert situations can be a means to foster classical music as ‘a living language’ and to help ensuring that it is – and will be - shared by a public that will feel connected to this music (possibly: experience a sense of 'ownership' of it).
Recommendations flowing from these conclusions can be categorized touching on different fields:
- The education of violinists
- The teaching of ‘general musicianship skills’ (previously called: theory classes)
- The creativity that is at the core of classical music
- Harmony and violin technique
- Concert practice in classical music.
Recommendations with regard to the education of new generations of classical violinists:
- Improvisation should be a part of the violin curriculum from an early stage and age. This improvisation should include tonal improvisation as well as ‘free improvisation’.
- Violin students and violin teachers should be encouraged and engaging in writing their own material – for example writing their own etudes, or writing ‘tailormade’ etudes for their students.
- The teaching of Bach’s repertoire for solo violin should be completed with working in an improvisatory way with this repertoire, hosting a strong focus towards the bass line underneath. Only when doing so, the deep musical layers at the heart of this music can be transmitted, understood and performed.
- Violin technique and scale study should not only be taught in the conventional way, but also in an improvisatory way – for example the teaching of arpeggios should not only happen in one fixed format or order (for example the Carl Flesch sequence), but also improvisatory on a harmonic progression. Double stop octaves should not only be taught in a scale going up and down, but also in a ‘double stop octave improvisation’.
Recommendations with regard to the teaching of ‘general musicianship skills’:
- General musicianship classes for violinists should strongly involve the playing on the own instrument. Only by doing so, the connection between the theoretical content of these classes and the musical identity and music making of the student is ensured. This approach is already being tested and implemented in the 'aural skills and improvisation classes' in the framework of the new theory curriculum for classical music students at the Royal Conservatoire.
- It is desirable that violinists/violin teachers (and other melody playing instrumentalists) gain more expertise towards the contents of general musicianship classes and it is desirable that they embark on teaching those classes as well. When general musicianship classes will be taught by a teacher playing the same instrument as the students, the translation of the theoretical content of the classes to the instrument specific characteristics and repertoire can be transmitted more clearly and vividly.
- Improvisation should be a part of general musicianship training. Only by improvising alongside ‘gaining knowledge’ on theory, the theory will be incorporated as an essence of ‘living music’, instead of as a static collection of principles. This approach is also central to the above mentioned 'aural skills and improvisation classes' at the Royal Conservatoire.
Recommendations with regard to creativity as the core of classical music:
- Practising music should focus more on developing creativity. Different practice strategies are needed here than the conventional practice strategies that focus mainly on repeatable precision.
- Improvising music is a strong means to connect with the personal musical imagination. It is of great importance to nourish this connection, because only when this connection is intact and blossoming, a student or a musician will be able to express/communicate the intrinsic energy and beauty of classical music.
- It is needed to foster a different attitude towards the habit of ‘wanting to avoid mistakes’ when playing music. This habit stands in the way of creativity and playfulness.
Recommendations regarding the relationship between harmony and the violin:
- It is desirable that violinists explore how the violin can be used as a harmony instrument as well as a melody instrument. Doing so results in a broader range of and more personal connection with violin technique (especially left hand technique). It might offer a more harmony based inner visualization of the finger board, which might result in more ease in tonal improvising and in playing repertoire as well.
- To free the possibilities of playing harmonic progressions on the violin, it is needed that scale study happens in other ways alongside the conventional way (for examples: see above)
- Bow technique and sound production are developed in a different, often more effective way, when done through improvisation alongside the traditional methods. Therefore, the relationship between improvisation and the development of violin technique should be investigated further.
Recommendations regarding concert practice and the involvement of the public:
- Improvisation should be a part of classical concert programmes more frequently. This could even become a way of profiling ensembles or individual musicians in an increasingly competitive professional musical environment.
- Violinists and violin students should investigate how the public can be encouraged to participate actively in classical concerts they give. One way to do so, is to develop formats that allow the public to participate singing. This can happen in an improvisatory way.
- Violinists and violin students should explore what the differences are from the perspective of the public when comparing a programme with only conventional repertoire with a programme that has improvised elements in it as well.
Future plans flowing from the present research are:
- Continuation of exploring the challenges and possibities of playing harmony on a from nature melody-instrument – in my case: the violin. This will involve: a different attitude towards scale and arpeggio practise (for example, as mentioned above: practising arpeggios on harmonic progressions next to the 'standard' sequence). A more indepth look into how fingerings can be closer connected to harmonic functions. How can violinists provide an 'unambiguously leading' bass part for improvisation? More experimenting with how violinists can express both bass line/note and chord progression while mostly using only one note at a time (Bach's solo movements offer great examples here). Continuation of exploring how to improve listening skills in this respect. How can the four strings be used most efficiently to express chords? Can a different tuning of the four strings be helpful at some occasions?
- Exploring ‘writing etudes myself’ and exploring ways of how to stimulate students to write their own etudes.
- Extending the pilot-sessions towards a series of sessions, building up the enhancing of harmonic awareness with violin students in a more ‘structured’ way.
- Exploring how ‘practising’ in between those sessions can be guided and effective. How can this practice happen in the most efficient way and how will students react to this aspect?
- Working in the way presented in this paper on the movements of Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas in a more frequent way for myself and together with violin students in sessions.
- Working in the way presented in this research on a more regular basis with young students – age 7-18.
- Experimenting (together with colleagues) with a different concert format – a format that will include public participation and improvisation alongside performing repertoire. A concert/happening with this purpose that is planned already is the concert in Amersfoort (Aegtenkapel) on March 25th, 2018 – together with bassoon-player Mieke van Dael and pianist – Jan Willem Nelleke.
- Looking into ways how the material presented in this research could transform into an ‘elective’ class in the Bachelor curriculum.
- Exploring the possibility of transforming the content of this research into a ‘teacher’s training course’ for interested colleagues, also from other areas of violin teaching that conservatoires or junior departments. On the moments that there has been contact with colleagues from music schools or private teachers, these colleagues have repeatedly reacted with interest and enthusiasm to the ideas presented in this research. Therefore there is the assumption that a course like this might be desirable. This course could be a very worthy addition and prolonging of this research (one I would be looking forward to strongly), as it will probably teach me new aspects to the research: learning from more colleagues, how to translate the content to various areas of violin teaching and to different ‘target groups’ of students.
- Continuing the inspiring collaboration with colleagues who have already been part of the project.
- Continuing the fascinating and transformative exploratory journey of (tonal) improvisation – and what it does to my relationship with classical repertoire/classical music.
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