Children’s games and improvising on songs

I was walking in NYC’s Central Park today and saw a group of kids playing ball. Actually, it looked like they were playing an elaborate game of “Capture The Flag,” using a football instead of a flag.

They were running around energetically and reallyenjoying themselves, and what impressed me the most was the fact that all they needed was a ball to make it all happen.

Actually, that’s not quite correct.

They needed a ball and one more thing: a set of rules, or parameters.

That’s all kids (or adults) need in order to play a game. A set of parameters. It can be as simple as a guessing game, or as complex as chess, but the main thing is the set of parameters.

“I’ll say a statement and you guess if it’s true or false.”

“Your team will try and score a goal by kicking the ball into the goal behind us, and no one except the goalie can use their hands.”

“Each of these chess pieces moves in a prescribed way, and we alternate turns until one of us captures our opponent’s King.”

There may or may not be “props,” but each game needs a set of rules, which I’m calling parameters here. Parameters are what make it a game, and not a chaotic free-for-all.

Songs are like this. No matter what the musical genre, each song, or tune, presents us with a unique set of parameters into which we voluntarily enter into.

“These are the chords to “Autumn Leaves,” and we’re going to keep a steady beat throughout.

“When we play The Beatles “Let It Be,” we’re not going to playing anything avant garde.”

“The melody to “Amazing Grace” goes like this, and let’s play it in 4/4 time with a piano solo in between verses 3 and 4.”

The nest time you sit down to do some piano improv, view it a game. If you want to expand the musical parameters, that’s fine. You can do this too. The game is what makes it exciting, for us pianists just as it was for the kids I saw playing in Central Park today.

Oh.. and I almost forgot: Make sure you have fun!!!

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