Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians

500+ Non-jazz Games for Performers, Educators,
and Everyone Else

Jeffrey Agrell

Jeffrey Agrell's "Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians" is one of the most inspiring and innovative books I have come across since reading John Steven's revolutionary "Search and Reflect" fifteen years ago. In a world where the musical landscape seems to change every minute and where styles, genres and performing traditions from every corner of the world combine daily in myriad 'unheard of' ways, it is clear that one of the most valuable abilities that any music can possess is the ability to improvise. For those musicians who have never improvised, Agrell provides a huge number of easily accessible and comprehensible ways to get involved with the process. Though the book’s title clearly suggests an audience of musicians in the classical tradition, I feel that the majority of the exercises would be equally challenging, effective, and educational for musicians from established improvising traditions such as jazz or Indian classical music. Many of the ‘game’ pieces could serve as both simple classroom exercises or as conceptual guidelines for extended improvised performances. The musical range and variety of games, exercises, suggestions and methods presented is astonishing in both breadth and depth. The book is a real ‘must read’ for music educators (either in private tuition or in ensemble settings) who want to open up their student’s understanding of the real creative possibilities of music. It will be equally useful to any musicians of any level of experience who wish to expand the creative and expressive range of their playing.
–Jared Burrows, PhD, author of Resonances:
Exploring Improvisation and Its Implications for Music Education

Jeffrey Agrell’s book, Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, provides simple and powerful activities which can open up whole new worlds to musicians of any level of experience. He really hits the right notes as it were, in giving students something, but not too much, to hang on to as they explore the world of improvising. It’s a fantastic compendium of ideas, a set of procedures which are fun to do and which lead to profound results. Bravo!
  – Stephen Nachmanovitch, author of Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians by Jeffrey Agrell is an amazing contribution to both the education and enjoyment of all who are interested in musical performances of any kind. The design, the content, and especially the manner in which Jeffrey has presented his wildly creative materials is brilliant. Add to that the fact that what this book addresses is the most neglected and, perhaps the most important aspect of classical musical growth. With this book teachers and performers alike have a wide open door to years of exploration and learning in how to express themselves through their music and free themselves from a total dependance on the printed page and the deeply ingrained traditions of the classical music traditions.

The book is a joy to read, and I can only imagine the impact it will have on students, teachers,and professional musicians who take the time to step outside the rigid confines of their limited training.
Douglas Hill
Professor of Music-
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Why don’t classical musicians improvise? Why do jazz players get to have all the fun? And how do they develop such fabulous technique and aural skills?
With these words, Jeffrey Agrell opens the door to improvisation for all non-jazz musicians who thought it was beyond their ability to play extemporaneously. Gently, step-by-step, Agrell leads through a series of games, rather than exercises. The game format takes the pressure off of classically trained musicians, steering them away from their fixation on mistake-free performance and introducing the basic concepts of playing with music itself instead of obsessing over a perfect rendition of a written score.
Agrell draws a startling analogy with sports that illustrates the absurdity of the traditional approach to classically-oriented music performance:

Imagine if basketball were played the way we perform music today.

The greatest games would be recorded and aspiring players would be required to learn a pro’s every move by reading a description of each move from a written chart.

Nothing unplanned or unknown would be allowed to happen. No invention in the moment. No individual expression of ideas. No risking a series of less-than-perfect moves for the sake of imaginative play.

 Starting with simple scale fragments, Agrell shows the way to break this artificial way of thinking about music making with an innovative approach to the business of creating melody, harmony, and rhythm, while working in tandem with others. This extensive collection of 566 games is for anyone and everyone who wants to learn to improvise, but has been afraid to try.
Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians can be used by solo individuals, groups from two to sixteen or more, and in classroom settings.

Jeffrey Agrell teaches horn, directs the Horn Choir, coaches chamber music, and performs in the Iowa Brass Quintet at the University of Iowa.

Edition # Title
G-7173 Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians
500+ Non-jazz Games for Performers, Educators, and Everyone Else