Tag Archives: creative process

Four Tips for Improvisers

1 Feb

Many have reacted warmly to my Seven Tips for Composers; thank you all!

Here are some ideas regarding the unique art of improvisation.

1. Learn Languages.

If you want to improvise, study what other improvisers do. It is essential.

It’s surprising to see how many young players seem to believe they will be able to get ahead without it. I think that’s impossible. Also,why would you want to skip it? Why not tap into beautiful universes filled with musical ideas that were created on the spot by masters?

Most improvisers want to be original, and look for general concepts that will allow them to shape their own ideas; That’s fine. But avoiding learning the common and/or obscure vocabulary of improvised music (be it in the realm of Jazz or any other musical world) is not practical.

Why? Because you can only create something personal if you know what you’re doing.

Imagine someone who wants to express profound and beautiful ideas using the Spanish language, without having learned Spanish vocabulary, grammar and so on – for fear of becoming less original.

Now imagine a great poet, who, out of her deep knowledge and understanding of the language and its contexts, can eventually create singular, personal and powerful work.

2. Record and Analyze Your Improvisations.

An invaluable process. When you’re improvising, you’re so busy coordinating all the various musical elements, that you hardly get a clear picture of what it is you’re doing; especially in the beginning of your life as an improviser.

If you never record and listen back, there’s no way that you will be aware of everything that was going on; there’s no way you’ll be able to say that you liked what you just played, and be sure.

Listening to recordings of yourself can be cruel, but it’s an effective way to understand – according to your own taste and judgement – what are the things you want to improve.

3. Separate the Elements.

Let’s say you’re listening back to a recording of a solo you just played, and you’re not happy with one of the elements in your playing.


1. Your time rushes when you get excited.

2. You tend to begin your phrases at the same place in the bar.

3. You don’t go out of the prescribed harmony enough, to your taste.

4. You’re not using various dynamic levels in your solo.

And so on and so forth.

Now is the time to work on an element that lacks quality, according to what you hear in the recording.

To do that, the best approach is to begin by working only on that single element.

For example, you practice beginning your phrases in new and unexpected places rhythmically. You work on it, disregarding all other elements.

While you practice this concept, you don’t care about anything else: quality of melodic ideas, using various registers, anything you would normally care about – you stop caring about it for a while. You play as if the only important thing in the world is to begin phrases in interesting places.

Then, when you feel you’ve made progress with this topic, you isolate another element and work on it.

Later you can combine two of these; now you’re worrying about two things – where you begin your phrases, and playing more “out” harmonically, for example. Slowly but surely you bring those improved aspects into your general playing, and actually hear yourself becoming a better improviser.

4. Why are you playing?

This doesn’t have anything to do with music per se. It’s a human, spiritual, existential idea.

Practicing can be a technical activity. The actual playing of music, once you’re performing, rehearsing, or even practicing ‘real’ playing, should not feel technical.

The situation: You are creating music on the spot, on a given day and time, at a given country, city and venue, in front of a given audience, and with given collaborators.

The uniqueness of each event is what lends improvised music its incomparable magic.

It shouldn’t sound the same every night. You are never in the same exact mental state, and if you sound the same, that means you’re ignoring that fact.

Some of your current emotions, ideas, thoughts and so on, should find a way into your playing on a given night. There should be a reason why you’re playing what you’re playing tonight. It has to be that you must play what you’re playing. What story do you have to tell?

When a good friend asks you how you’re feeling these days, you always have something to say. Improvisation can have some of that quality too.

For me, this is crucial in generating a great, even a needed, improvisation.


Seven Tips for Composers

9 Jan

Since I’ve been asked about this often, I’ve decided to pile some composing tips and share them with you. I’ve used all of these ideas and they have proven to be very beneficial to my creative process.

1. Repeat.

If you have a good beginning that doesn’t tell you how it wants to proceed, or a complete tune that seems like it can get better and more interesting, try repeating it many times. ‘Many’ can mean 10 or 20, but also a 100 times, until you get what you’re looking for. I’ve done this. The point is to be open for new things to happen every time you repeat the tune. After several times I usually start repeating the music in different keys, meters, tempos, registers, etc. There’s a tape of John Lennon working on Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s startling to hear how loose he is with trying extremely different ways of playing the same song.

Trying other keys is especially effective for finding the continuation of a melody you’re stuck with. Musicians come up with different ideas when playing in different keys, and you will find that the C minor melody that got stuck at bar 8, will miraculously find its next bars when played in Eb minor ,for example.

2. Set an alarm.

Fred Hersch told me he sometimes just picks a pitch (Db, G# etc.) or two as a starting point, sets an alarm for 45 minutes, and writes a tune. The goal is to have something coherent, with a beginning, middle and an ending, by the time the alarm sounds. Then you can come back to the tune in the next days and fix what needs fixing. If you don’t like it you can always throw it away; but it’s a good way to get the creative juices flowing.

3. Have some other music in mind.

I’ve done this with Neila, which is based on an old Jewish ‘Piyut’ (sacred song); with Abutbul, which, being an homage to my friend and great composer Omer Avital, hints at some of his tunes; and with other compositions. It can be a nice starting point.

4. Avoid your instrument.

I compose at the piano a lot, for sure. But some of my music was composed away from it, and I believe it gives it freshness. España was composed on Guitar and voice. Yemen was just sung. The Wedding Song was composed by drumming and singing. Malchut was composed on a keyboard, toying with the (fake plastic) organ sound, which must have inspired the song’s atmosphere.

5. Record a free improvisation and find parts in it you want to develop into compositions.

This is a great method, especially if you are happier with your improvisation skills than you are with your composition abilities. It’s been said that composition is slowed down improvisation, and it’s partly true. But the downside in the process of composing is the fact that you have to stop whenever you hear something that you really like, from fear of forgetting it. Pushing the record button and just going at it for a while does that double trick; It allows you to go on without stopping, while the best moments are being captured for you.

6. Imagine an instrument.

It can be highly beneficial to imagine a specific instrument with a distinct sound playing the melody while you’re composing it. Of course you’ll do that if you’re actually composing for that instrument, but that’s not what I mean; my point is that imagining the sound of a certain instrument can sometimes inspire your melodic writing and send you in new directions. I wrote Oud Song from Introducing Omer Klein while imagining an Oud playing it, and ended up recording it on piano; but I wouldn’t have composed it otherwise.

7. Imagine specific musicians playing with you.

I’ve often composed with people like Omer Avital,  Ziv Ravitz or Haggai Cohen Milo in mind. I really hear the person’s playing in my mind and it immediately gives me a better sense of what the tune can be like and where it could go. I’ve also imagined players I’ve never played with. When I sat down to compose Shalvat Nefesh from Heart Beats, I knew I was going for something a bit more serious and profound. Somehow Charlie Haden and Brian Blade came to my mind. I never played with them but I know their playing very well. I closed my eyes and started playing the song, and their mature presence was just there – as a metaphor, as a guiding force for me to come up with something clean and sincere.

—> I hope this helps!  I would love to hear your input, your experience with these ideas, and other tips. Enjoy making music.

The Riddle

2 Jun

The act of creating something new.

Sometimes it feels like you’re inventing a riddle to which you yourself don’t know the solution.  You look for it for a while, then hopefully you find it.

This is something that might as well have been said by myself, including the exact age:

“Since age seven, I’ve been composing and have never stopped composing, yet, the creative process is as elusive to me as it has ever been.” – Lukas Foss

This happened to me twice last week:

“The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.” 

– T. S. Eliot

Sometimes you just have to keep working, and the work eventually brings the inspiration:

“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo

And this is by the persian poet Rumi, whom I mentioned the other day:

Birdsong brings relief

to my longing.

I am just as ecstatic as they are,

but with nothing to say!

Please, universal soul, practice

some song, or something, through me!

New music on its way to you.

Shwaye Shwaye

6 Feb

Last week I started composing the music for a very exciting theater production in Germany, at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus. I’m thrilled to be joining a great group of artists who will be working on this piece.

The play is called Lemon Tree and is based on the 2008 film of the same title, directed by Eran Riklis. (you can read about the film here ).

The film was adapted to the stage by Noa Kenan-Lazar and Anat Rosman, and translated to German by Ruth Melcer.

The director of the production is Dedi Baron; she is one of Israel’s most fascinating theater directors in the 2000’s, and I’m especially excited to be working with her.

I will compose and record new music for this production, playing most of the instruments myself, which should be a nice trip.

During the following weeks I will often share my creative process with all of you, writing posts about the ongoing work, uploading bits of music for you to comment on, share videos and more. It’s going to be an interesting ride and I would love to have you there with me.

On a different note, I recently went back to the recordings of a duo tour with monstrously talented bassist Omer Avital, which we did in the summer of 2009, right after touring Italy together with Avital’s quintet. We played 5 concerts in Israel and recorded all of them. One evening was especially magical, a show at the ‘Zappa Herzliya’ club, and we are planning to release it as a live CD.

Incidentally, that show was also videotaped! Here is a clip of the duo playing “Shwaye Shwaye”, a composition of mine.

FYI, Shwaye Shwaye is an expression in Arabic meaning ‘slow down’, or ‘take it easy’ – always a good advice. Have a nice week!