Connecting with Online Musical Improv
A blog from The Maydays, Rebecca MacMillan.
You know that friend who constantly pesters you to try an experience you haven’t had before, and then you reluctantly try it thinking you will HATE it but however you manage to move on from there with your friendship, at least that will stop the pestering? But then SURPRISE! You love it! This also has implications for your friendship because how the heck do they know you better than you know yourself, and why didn’t you try it earlier…don’t you TRUST them?
Let me now be that friend to you.
Maybe you are my friend who is in a choir or community singing group, but feels nervous about Covid and wants something of the connection you get at choir.
Maybe you are my friend who’s an improviser that ‘doesn’t do music’.
Maybe you are my friend who has never improvised before in your life.
Maybe you are my friend who ‘can’t sing’ but would love to.
So, whichever friend you are, let me tell you. At the beginning of the pandemic, it took me a while to warm up to improv-on-Zoom (or Zoomprov as it’s now known) and even longer to approach musical improvisation, by which I mean improvised singing, online. I just could not see how that would work. Then I tried it. Both as a participant, and then teaching sessions. I had thought it would be a pale reflection of real life, but reader (and friend) I was wrong and now I’ve married it.
Not strictly true, but I’m going to say it. It is my favourite online improv thing. I bloody love it. It’s heartfelt and emotional, but also joyful and downright silly. It’s both challenging but also weirdly easy at the same time. I’ve improved my voice and my technique and my understanding of what makes music work (both improvised and not). It attracts a wonderful bunch of people, from all over the world, who are so supportive of each other and the class itself. It really feels like a choir or something similar – and my regular drop-in friends go to lengths to promote the classes themselves as they are so keen to keep them going.
So what happens in an online Improv Music class? Well. There are two teachers – an experienced stage improviser well versed in leading musical improv sessions for all levels, and most of the time you’ll also have one of the best improv musicians in the world. Literally. People chant his name at improv festivals. If it’s not him it’ll be another extremely talented and lovely individual on the keys. We warm-up, which is normally mics off so you can only hear yourself over the keys. We do some skills-based exercises to work various muscles such as singing mini-duets in gibberish. It is very supportive and all types of voices are welcome.
We then create some improvised songs, as pairs or in groups. These might have structures or be more free form. As an example, in one recent session we discovered what some of our favourite songs were, then created new improvised songs inspired by what we liked about those original songs. Even if you are scared to sing you can end up doing some backing for someone else’s song…it’s really suitable for everyone, whether they have improv experience or not and whether they ‘can sing’ or not.
I asked some regulars from our online music drop-ins and here’s what some of them have to say:
“I was a little skeptical about Zoom classes but feel they have helped me keep my sanity during the pandemic. I have met some wonderful people from all over the world and learned a great deal from some excellent teachers. I feel like part of a warm, welcoming community who are also a lot of fun!!!” Mary, US
“As a musical improv addict, I was desperately looking for options during Covid, and I was happy to find it through the Maydays! For me it has been a breath of fresh air. But what really surprised me was the quality of bonding that you can get through zoom. It’s really funny that we got to know each other and a strong sense of each one’s personality and how their minds work – sometimes without having a single one on one interaction. Magical group cohesion from afar just by listening to each other singing…” Clotilde, Paris
“The musical drop-ins and courses have really been good for my depression” Philip
“The Maydays Musical Improv classes, workshops and drop-ins with Joe, Heather, Liz, Lloydie, Rebecca and Jennifer have been my favorite place to be for the past year and a half. When lockdown cancelled our local musical improv class I couldn’t imagine the social and creative life I would find online! Now I can play with folks continents away and we find ourselves resonating as if side by side in the intimacy of song. Sign up! It is a safe space for beginners, the people are wonderful and the music will carry you along. I hope to sing with you soon!” Christine in California
“My Name is Phil, I joined the Musical Improv course in May 2021 and was really amazed as to how much I got from it, I had done normal Improv but had never attempted Musical Improv this was something new I was very nervous at first and I met the teachers Rebecca and Joe who were totally amazing and I really enjoyed the course so much so that I started doing the on-line Musical Drop-ins every Sunday and is the best decision I made. It’s 2 hours of fun every Sunday. I then decided to do the 6 week course in September 2021 Improvising Genre Songs with Rebecca & Joe, they and all the Maydays Teachers are such an amazing inspiration.” Phil
“All the Maydays teachers provide a safe, fun environment for all players to truly unleash their creative potential. They talk less so you have more time to play. They encourage you to not plan, just play. Most recognized improvisation institutions will have two musical improv teachers, at most, if any. The Mayday has at least seven great musical improv teachers. The teachers collaborate to provide a consistent methodology, so any workshop you attend will provide the same high standards. Beginners and terrible singers work along with the most experienced players, and it doesn’t matter. Everybody shines and feels good when the workshop is over. Surprisingly, terrible singers can have the best scenes. The musical director, Joe Samuel, is a world class musician and among the very best Musical directors. You will leave feeling like you are the lead actor in a musical. He can do magic on the keyboard. One time I heard him play the sounds of a jungle of monkeys. But the best part of the Maydays is the fellow students. The Maydays attract the most kind, supportive, generous players who have your back, and truly connect with you. This makes the best ensemble. I have made friends that are now soul mates.”
So come on.
If you are my friend who is in a choir or community singing group but feels nervous about Covid and wants something of the connection you get at choir. Try it!
If you are my friend who’s an improviser that ‘doesn’t do music’. Try it!
If you are my friend who has never improvised before in your life. Try it!
If you are my friend who ‘can’t sing’ but would love to…you get the picture.
Come on. Just once.
Author Rebecca MacMillan
You can join Maydays, Rebecca MacMillan and Joe Samuel for our ‘ONLINE COURSE’ A little less conversation a little more music please: Song and Silence in Improv on Thursdays for 5-weeks from 13th January to 10th February 2022, 6-8 pm UK Time.
Or TRY IT just the once at one of our ONLINE weekly musical improv drop-ins, every Sunday 6-8 pm UK Time with 2 of our Musical Maydays!