Karst de Jong, ‘Navigating through Harmony’


Research question:

How can spatial representation of harmony contribute to the understanding and teaching of harmonic progressions in tonal improvisation? And does the application of the directional approach provide an effective navigation tool for the improviser while shaping the harmony?


Summary of results:

The navigation system can help in the choice of logical harmonic progressions while improvising. As a navigation tool it allows harmonic movement to be felt as opposed to calculated. As a tool for invention, the arrows challenge the obvious progressions one makes habitually as an improviser and one develops a sense of the basic movements in harmony: prolongation, movement and consolidation. It is clear that a simpler organization of harmony in the improviser's mind stimulates an active imagination, stands less in the way of the creative process, and leaves more time to anticipate what lies ahead. The research experiences have reconfirmed the importance of playing with one's ears wide open while improvising. As a teaching tool the directional approach is promising, although new materials have to be developed. This is work in progress. Clearly this research is not finished here. The next step is to take the results as a starting point for changes in the teaching of improvisation. One wish is to integrate the directional ideas with certain elements from the Partimento tradition. Then there is further research needed on the relationship between the upper structures and the underlying fundamental melody, dealing with stylistic elements such as chord forms and voice leading. The presentation has the format of a report (45 minutes) as it is in fact a portfolio of many activities leading up to this very moment, including a case study and experiments with teaching an ensemble. The presentation will consist of a summary of the theoretical background, followed by improvisations played on the piano and by an ensemble to demonstrate the ideas behind the directional approach.


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