Simon Reich

Simon Reich on Improvisation: Part 3

Improvisation in Action – A Video!

In this series, I have written many words and imparted knowledge from my experience. But merely in print form.

I have mentioned a few times though, that you need to dip your foot in the pool and go for it yourself. That got me thinking about videoing myself noodling around until I “found” something that constituted a tune.

I’ve never done this before, so it was quite interesting for me as well. I put my phone on a shoe box and started taping in my music room. I only did one take and had never consciously heard this tune before.

Here’s the footage:


00:12:00  At first I played a few chords in various keys or inversions, until I found something that felt right. Mistakes and some miss-hits suddenly gave way to a “rabbit hole” I decided to chase down.

And so began the main motif of the piece, which I had tentatively called “Chrysalis”, which obviously points to transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and finally, adult. It also means a transitional stage. This summed this project I was attempting, in a nutshell (or cocoon as it could also be).

00:31:00  So now I was off to the races and enjoying the new melody I was hearing, but around now started the angst of where I was to head for a contrast to this main motif. This is sometimes where the wheels momentarily can “fall off” and I need another bit of fumbling to find a companion section.

00:57:26  But in this case I stumbled straight onto a lovely addition, that sat nicely with the preceeding section.

01:21:00  This is where I stumble a bit to get the run i am hearing in my head, but i try not to stop, so I don’t loose the flow.

01:26:00  Here is where I find a way out of the “verse” back to the “chorus”, with a descending run. As I watched the video back, I could almost hear myself thinking how i was going to end this verse section, without jumping back into the chorus. As I mentioned earlier in this text, sometimes my mind kicks in and knows what notes I want to play and “on the fly” I reach for those phrases and hope my ear helps me to land on the right places. If they don’t, I’ll quickly play it again and continue on.

1:53:00  Now I’ve realised that dyads (two notes chords) are what is nicely reinforcing the melody, so this now affects the rest of this improvisation, as I like what I hear and continue to use it for effect.

1:48:19  Back to the verse section, but bringing in a few dyads again.
I continue on this road for a bit longer, enjoying listening to this tune for the first time.

2:38:26  I now go for a slight twist on the verse and add other melody notes to break it up.

3:16:18  Once again, looking for a descending run with a few variations.
More of the same for a while. A few little mistakes in here and there.

4:19:19  This little spot was quite thrilling to stumble on. A descending run with a few choice notes. It became the favourite part of the tune for me.

5:00:00  This time code was also another favourite of the tune. It just fell off my fingers, but listening back, was a joy to hear.

5:27:00  About now, I can hear myself deciding it’s time to wrap things up. So I go for the descending line with a gradual ritardando and know that when I return to the chorus / verse, it will be my last time. So I slow it down considerably.

6:08:00  My final windup and finish. I really didn’t have an idea of how it was going to finish, so I hoped I would select notes / chords that would give me a suitable ending. I “chased the rabbit down the hole”, using a descending line, but realised I’d boxed myself in a corner, so I rode the run back up and finished it on the root chord.


For me this was a hugely enjoyable experience to video and review. Pretty much all my piano tunes are composed this way.

After all the text and now video, I hope I have inspired you all to get out there and try your hand at this wonderful, pure form of composing. It would also be a great thrill if fellow musicians could send their improvisations, so we could compile a Soundcloud playlist of them.

Getting back to this tune “Chrysalis”, I decided to keep 99% of it and release it as a tune on Soundcloud. Rather than try and create the whole tune again. I edited a few of the errant midi notes in Pro Tools and then used the Native Instruments “The Gentleman” upright piano VST with a lot of reverb to give the tune an ambient contemplative wash. Here is the finished track taken directly from this one pass improvisation you just saw on the video.

If you have any questions, please submit them and if there are enough, I could write a follow up article addressing these topics.

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music
Simon is a regular contributor to Pianodao.

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