CLAVIER COMPANION (January/February 2009)

Well written and presented, this volume guides players through straightforward exercises that quickly become interesting and sophisticated.  The text is lively and balanced with musical examples, charts, and periodic summary comments that engage students of all ages.  The chapters discussing how to choose the right scales when improvising above a harmonic structure will help those who have a little experience but need help to give more control.

The musical examples are based on excerpts from the classical literature, and there are chapters covering jazz examples and topics.  Ways to voice seventh and other extended chords will answer questions that accomplished pianists, inexperienced in jazz, will have.

- Karen Kan-Walsh, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)


AMERICAN MUSIC TEACHER (December 2007 Issue)

Did you ever wish you could simply sit down and "play something" without the aid of written music? In this book, the authors tackle the fascinating subject of improvisation with clarity, humor and an earnest desire to demystify the learning process for the uninitiated.

Usually beginning improvisers learn their craft casually by picking out tunes by ear, "noodling" around on their instruments and exchanging ideas with peers prior to more serious study. Here, the reader progresses systematically from simple one-note rhythms through more complex concepts, including melodic manipulation, modes and harmonic improvisation. Whether the first time improviser is better served by free wheeling explorations or this more formal, sequential approach probably depends on one's personality and learning style.

Ideally suited to the student with a serious interest in improvisation and the capacity for disciplined self-study, this book will find many other users. For example, piano teachers could readily utilize many of the simpler concepts by adding short improvisation segments to their lessons. Classroom theory instructors will find a ready-to-use textbook that provides a practical application of their subject. Experienced improvisers who find themselves "in a rut" will enjoy investigating the wealth of new ideas presented here. Since composition differs from improvisation only in the speed with which one makes decisions, student composers could also benefit from the many suggestions about how to create variations from simple melodies. Even readers with a passing interest in improvisation will be interested in the final chapters, which include an overview of jazz and a brief history of improvisation reminding us, for example, that "all medieval musicians were expected to improvise.

All readers will appreciate the format, which lends itself to easily assimilating concepts through labeled paragraphs, numbered lists and a review of key points at chapter endings. Along the way, colorful analogies, such as comparing improvisation to "a snake slithering over and around notes" or "trying to steer a kayak through swift rapids with shifting currents," make for enjoyable learning. Scholarly, witty and thorough, the authors urge us to view improvisation "more as an exploration than a discipline." Whether readers choose to merely dabble in the many tips and insights presented here or diligently work through all of the exercises, they will expand their listening skills, increase their melodic vocabulary and gain a deeper understanding of the process of creating music.

- Bradley Sowash, Independent Music Teacher


This is probably the most effective (best) book I've read for any acquired skill.  I'm a pianist (currently working on my masters at a conservatory) and was searching for a book on improvisation within the classical medium. I was frustrated because I couldn't find any book with the exception of this.

Thank God that I could only find this book. Yesterday, I read through most of it. The exercises are brilliantly isolated to help acquire rhythmic, harmonic, dynamic competence, etc. It demonstrates how to recognize the modes within a passage of a few to several chords, recognize how closely related they are, etc...

You definitely have to have a good background in theory to understand this whole text, but even if you do not, the first 20 pages or so will stretch your mind and greatly improve your competence (in terms of improvisation).

The balance between demonstration and exercise is just about perfect. Because they include multiple demonstrations before each exercise (and there are PLENTY of exercises), the exercises are never confusing or misunderstood. Within the demonstrations, great (basic to more advanced) improvisation is shown over the bass-line or whatever backing you’re going to play in your left or right hand before you must do it yourself. They make sure to include certain key ideas within these improv demonstrations, such as outlining a certain chord with embellishment, emphasizing a certain tone, etc.

I plan on dedicating some of my time every day to this book because I believe that we are living in a time where musicians are not well-rounded like they were in the 20s-60s... we cannot transpose at sight, improvise, understand theory like we used to.

Books like this are truly a savior to this art.  The authors Brian Chung and Dennis Thurmond demonstrate ways of improvising over classics such as the bass lines to Fur Elise and Mozart's C Major Sonata, and then changing them to the relative modes etc. This book will help you understand the theory behind music, which in turn helps memorize and understand the composer's compositional style/intentions. More than this, it will do wonders for the ear and the ability to recover from mistakes in performance. I believe that it has potential to cut a performer's memory slips at least in half if not much less during any given performance. With proper improvisation ability comes proper ear training comes a more thorough learning of the music and less of a chance to rely on muscle memory, etc.

Great stuff! I rarely write a review on Amazon but this book is truly deserving. I plan on teaching this text to my more advanced students as well.  I applaud the authors of this book. Mastery of an instrument should not just entail a replication of repertoire, but the ability to sight-read, transpose, improvise, and know your way around the instrument backwards and forwards. If I am able to conquer this text, I will finally be able to say that I have true mastery of the instrument.

S. Ranney – Chicago, IL (June 24, 2009)