Free Improvisation Guitar and the Mind Behind It

Playing free improvisation takes a lot of courage, it’s one of those controversial genres that can either turn heads or leave someone completely cold. Especially if the musician plays it solo, alone on a single guitar. In that case, he needs to fill up sonic space in a meaningful way. And while it’s usually called free jazz, it involves a lot more than just jazz.

What does music mean to you?

I might not be too original with the answer, but music to me is the creation of moods, emotions or even imaginary forms with the succession or simultaneity of sounds. Taking my own emotions into consideration, music, at least music that I like is certainly a positive thing. It’s something that’s able to help me if I need to relax and dissolve anxiety. Besides that, it’s a constant accompaniment to my life, because unless I’m asleep, I hear music inside all the time, even if it’s in the background. It’s like there’s a constant soundtrack going on. Other than handling negative emotions, situations, this music I hear inside is also present when I experience positive things, and these are the times when I usually have creative musical thoughts and ideas, which sometimes come to the surface in the form of soft humming or singing.

You play free improvisation on guitar. Is free improvisation really free? If it is, what is it free from? What kind of freedom does it have that other genres don’t?

It can only be truly free if people treat it as free. I do. And in spite of that, I try to keep a kind of control over it, introduce certain limitations that I consider important. I do this because even though the music that I output is improvisational, I still want it to sound the way I find acceptable and aesthetically pleasant. In this genre, one doesn’t have to follow predefined chord progressions, and the rhythm, the tempo can also be varied. Whatever one’s instincts dictate can be done, because there are no strict rules to follow. With total freedom though, there’s responsibility as well. If someone is “faking it” in the free improvisation genre, it tends to stick out like a sore thumb, at least to me it certainly does. I’m not all that sure about that regarding the general audience though. It’s rather easy to sell something as “art” for the clueless masses, even if it doesn’t have real, true artistic efforts behind it. As long as it’s well presented and well advertised, people will eat it up. It’s a lot like visual arts in these regards.

In your opinion, what can improvised music offer to the listener that’s more or different from what composed music can provide?

The power of surprise for sure, and if I’m in a focused state during improvisation, it applies to me as well. I consider my improvisation good enough if I can surprise myself with it. To a great extent, musicians will inevitably reveal their musical world, their preferences, their taste when they improvise, and in the worst cases, they at least give away their playing habits they got stuck with. Ideally, improvisation is composition as well. People who often crave new stimuli, new musical experiences will find joy in listening to improvised music as well. Even though repeated listening of a known composition will bring out the feeling of familiarity, a feeling of “going home” if you will, this kind of feeling is not absent from improvised music either. All kinds of music necessarily builds from the same elements, even if the ratio of these elements can be different from genre to genre. So certain melodic, harmonic or rhythmic aspects of free improvisation will surely remind the listener of something they’ve already heard.

From what do you build your music? Where does your inspiration come from?

Definitely and very strongly from positive emotions, positive experiences and effects on my life. They can have such an influence on me that apparently makes the borderline disappear between emotions and musical creation and expression. Under the influence of such emotions I can create things that truly make me wonder how on earth they could even get out of me. I remember a Tom Petty interview where he said he couldn’t write songs when he was depressed. I can completely understand that, I’m like that as well. But even regarding music, I take inspiration from the kind of music that have a positive effect on me for one reason or another, be it medieval Ars Nova or renaissance music, Celtic or Finno-Ugric folk music, 80s pop or rock music or bluegrass. Often it’s enough for me to just hear something in a song that really captures my interest, and then I have to do something similar as well. It doesn’t have to turn out perfect, I’ll just try to imitate the aspect I really like, and it’s often not even something obvious. For example it’s very rare for me to try to imitate or downright copy a guitar tone, especially not if the guitar is not in the spotlight, or there isn’t one playing at all in the music in question. But a melody line, a rhythmic figure or some other kind of stylistic element or ornament can often make me excited and get me in a creative state of mind. I will then keep trying to somehow replicate these elements on the guitar, until they finally become part of my phrasing.

What do you think, what relevance do the genres you listed (medieval Ars Nova, renaissance, Celtic & Finno-Ugric folk music etc.) have in these days and age, and what’s their role in the current culture?

I don’t think aesthetic experience depends on what era people are in.

The kind of people who liked to listen to and perform these pieces and music genres when they were brand new will do so today as well. The relative size of their population might not be near as big as it was back then, but even that is arguable. One thing’s for sure: as long as such people exist, they will recognize and embrace their own kind of music, they will often quite naturally gravitate towards it. Instruments can change, but the genres, stylistic elements, expressive methods probably repeat over and over throughout the ages, even if it’s currently hard to prove scientifically. Even though on the surface there’s a lot of variety and all kinds of different colors in music, in reality it’s quite limited in certain a way; it will always be a sum of sounds, melodies, rhythms. From the theoretically infinite and often subtle variations there will always emerge something recognizable that can ultimately be connected to a known and well documented musical style.
Some people try to utilize genres like early music or folk music to create some sort of (usually fake) cultural identity or even a movement, and with that, they try to manipulate people for all kinds of different, non-music related reasons. I don’t believe in that. If listening to or performing music for its own, direct aesthetic and emotional experience is not enough, then there’s some kind of dishonesty present.

What’s your opinion on form in music, rules of music theory and breaking these rules?

Even though in genres like most of classical music or certain styles of jazz there are serious rules of music theory that are virtually carved in stone, I think these rules originate directly from music that was popular enough at a certain place, in a certain era, so its stylistic traits were well liked and people kept imitating them enough times until they became rules. It doesn’t work the other way around; if someone tries to create music with following theoretical rules rigidly, something important will already be missing, and it’s usually related to creativity and originality. If things like these are not present to begin with, there ain’t no theory that can save the music from mediocrity at best. Theoretical instructions are handled best when they remain advisory but not absolute.
That being said, I can sometimes be irritated by certain things, but they are usually beyond breaking music theory rules, and have more to do with lack of taste or the lack of some kind of quality control. For instance, and not saying it’s a big deal, but there are very few examples where I could call something bluegrass if it’s got drums in it, even if it’s being sold under that label (even if the final results themselves are good, which can happen, albeit rather rarely). Free improvisation provides total freedom from this point of view as well, because one doesn’t have to conform genre specific or compositional limitations. If a Latin sounding, rhythmic motive comes to mind, I can play it without worries, switching to a polyphonic phrase in the next couple bars, and never have to be afraid of being judged because I rebelled against any kind of the tradition. I could of course do this if I was playing in a specific style, but in that case, it would probably be less accepted for what it’s trying to be, and people would be disappointed or even angry. Sadly, people can and do sometimes react that way.

I can hear that polyphonic music was a big influence on you, you keep trying to integrate it into your own music. How does someone like you who doesn’t play early music or classical guitar even find this kind of music? What are your goals with fusing polyphonic music with the kind of improvisational music you play? Where would you like to take the whole thing regarding your art?

One thing’s for sure, I have never distanced myself from early music, be it renaissance or baroque.

I always found these interesting when I heard them, but I never dug deeper. Then about 7-8 years ago, while I was searching for the unknown and pleasant as usual, I’ve stumbled upon Guillaume de Machaut, and his music hit home pretty much right away. Soon enough I’ve discovered Machaut’s predecessors, his contemporaries and successors as well, the whole Ars Nova, then the renaissance composers, the gems of the entire medieval polyphony. I really like the albums of Orlando Consort, for some reason they cover this era of music especially tastefully and I can feel that they put their heart and soul into singing this stuff.
Of course, upon listening to all these great melodies and harmonies came the urge to play it, or at least something like it on guitar, to at least reflect the mood and some of the stylistic elements that I’ve found special. It’s not all that simple to bring out the essence of polyphonic music on guitar, especially not when someone plays the traditional way, with one picking and one fretting hand (two handed tapping definitely has an advantage in this regard), even though some of the masterful lutenists and classical guitarists can do counterpoint with an apparent ease, even if the piece wasn’t even written for those instruments originally. I, however, didn’t want to restrict myself to just write compositions that utilize this playing style. I wanted to be able to integrate the important qualities of polyphony, in the form of certain grips and fingering combinations that I can recall and utilize at will when I improvise. Internalizing this playing style so it becomes second nature takes a lifetime or two, but hopefully at least some of the characteristics of polyphonic music are already audible in my playing. Of course with this playing style in my bag of tools I want to realize my own musical ideas, and those ideas are not necessarily close to early music, even if there are similar aspects and elements appearing from time to time. If during improvisation or composing a new tune the idea occurs that I want to switch from polyphonic style to some jazzy chordal or melodic figure, then hopefully I can create something new without getting labeled as tasteless. Certainly, if I do something like that, it will always be a kind of semi-conscious process and not a deliberate attempt to try to forcefully merge a couple of different genres. I simply just try to reflect all the musical elements and moods that I liked and that affected me positively for one reason or another.

You put the word “melodic” in the title of many of your improvised videos. Why is melody so important to you?

I remember watching a Wayne Krantz interview where he distinguished between four main types of musicians, each having a preference for one of the four main elements in music: rhythm, melody, harmony and sound. I’m apparently a melody person, for some reason melody is my favorite musical aesthetic aspect, it’s the one I seem to gravitate towards instinctively, even though I would never neglect the other three either. But if someone can come up with a melody line that’s interesting, memorable and recognizable in spite of it being complex, and it makes me want to hum it over and over, it’s always a very positive musical experience to me. And since for better or worse I try to realize the same melodic quality in my own music as well, I think it’s only fair if I put this as a keyword in my titles, to sort of “warn” people. This way they won’t be surprised and not going to expect it to be some of the noisier, more dissonant or downright cacophonic free improvisations.

In your opinion, who, what kind of people like listen to your music? To whom do you dedicate your music?

I really wouldn’t want to say I play only for this and that kind of people.

That being said, I would be happy if the kind of people who’s got an honest preference for both improvised and melodic music would find my creations, especially if they already like some or all of the previously mentioned genres, styles. I dedicate my music to all the people who are genuinely interested in the kind of music that’s born in the moment, with all of its imperfections and immediacy. People who seek new or undiscovered aesthetic experiences, just like I do.

Besides aesthetics, what do you look for, what do you find, and what else do you try to express in your music?

To be honest, if it all happened on a conscious level, it would be easier for me to answer this question, but that’s not the case. The truth is, I don’t even look for aesthetics deliberately in music, it’s simply this instinct that was “programmed” into me or I was born with that attracts me to music I like, and the moods and emotions it inspires in me. Everything that appears to be quite obviously my deliberate, conscious decision is really the product of the fact that I was born to this world to be the way I am, and this fact was not determined by myself. But if I would need to put it in words, I instinctively look for the feeling of constancy and sureness, sincere and straightforward expression, and some kind of deep and pure quality in everything, including music. These happen to be the kind of things I very rarely find in most people, but I often find them in music I like, in a way that it’s able to inspire strong positive moods in me. I think I ultimately want to express these very things in the music I create: all these strong and positive moods and emotions.

Out of your compositions, improvisations, which ones do you think you were able to express this sincere, deep and pure quality the most?

I definitely captured this in the song titled “Kicsim”. Out of the improvised videos I posted so far, I could play with more abandon and I was more “in the zone” in no. 2, 14, 15, 19, 21 and 24 (no, those are not the lottery results). Whether or not it will be apparent to the listener, I have no further control over that.

What role does humor and playfulness take in your music?

Well, you are free to laugh if I play a clam or miss a note for sure. Even in my life in general, I can only open up humor and playfulness wise if there’s a “receiver”, someone who gets my peculiar silly jokes. Without such a receiver it pretty much gets soaked up inside of me without anyone noticing anything. If there’s such an audience though, I become much more open and reckless in my music as well, without taking myself too seriously. Playful or humorous sounding things can occur in my improvisation from this musical recklessness or risk taking (don’t worry though, I try to avoid the dreaded jazz staple called “The Lick”).

What are your future goals regarding your music, what do you still want to achieve with your technique?

There are always new goals. Musically it’s perfecting the ability of expressing the above mentioned positive moods, and to be able to kind of radiate the same or similar emotions with the music that I myself feel, both in my compositions and in my improvisation. My goals regarding my playing technique is to be able to play more and more accurately and immediately, so I can reproduce the exact music I hear in my head on the guitar. The latter one got more complicated since I added polyphonic playing to my box of musical tools, but I’m not going to give up, it seems to be my musical path to keep discovering this playing style. To be able to play cleaner and with less mistakes is always a goal of course, especially since I switched from playing with bare fingers to fingerpicks and a thumbpick in my fingerstyle. If something really bugs me in my playing technique, I invent exercises for it that are basically puzzles to solve, to help figuring out the most effective and fastest hand- and finger movements to play a particular phrase. The winning motor movements eventually get ingrained and become second nature.

If a fairy told you that you could have any two instrument, what would you choose and why?

I don’t really believe that you need some kind of extra special or expensive instrument to express yourself.

Even if I have my own peculiar preferences, so I try to modify my guitars that they sound and play the way I like. But you asked me about a fairy… if I could really ask for any instrument, I would like to have a good sounding round neck dobro or resophonic guitar, one that can be played in the regular guitar playing position by fretting the strings against the fretboard, so not like a regular, steel guitar-like dobro. I love the sound, the tonal character of the spider cone system, and the acoustic volume of it is impressive as well. I would also be very happy to get an original Steinberger L or M series electric guitar with a TransTrem bridge. These headless guitars are both practical and aesthetic (even though some people hate them), and the special bridge can tune the strings up and down in a way that they keep intervals, which means one can tune double stops or even full chords up and down with the trem.

If it can be described with words, what do you visualize while you are playing, improvising?

Most of the time I visualize places or abstract, 3D forms, or a combination of these.

But if it’s the latter, it’s in a way that the imagined place is on a less conscious level than the 3D forms, so they are not in the same picture, so to say. The abstract forms are apparently the sounds of the music themselves, varying directly with the changes in the rhythm, tone, volume or duration of the sounds. The visualized places usually carry strong moods and emotions, though I usually couldn’t name the actual sunlit street, meadow or castle that appear in my mind. It’s probably more like something that appears in a dream, when memories of all the collected information get mixed, combined into something new. Other than these, I sometimes visualize real events that already happened, or imaginary ones, and these occur on a level similar to where the imaginary places would occur.

What do you learn about yourself by creating or playing music?

Regarding playing itself, I learn everyday that one can never practice enough and effectively enough when it comes to accuracy and speed. When it comes to the creation of music or even thinking in music in general, I learned that I have a much more direct access to expressing thoughts and emotions through music compared to other communication channels. It just feels more comfortable to communicate with using music, regarding navigating in my own thoughts as well. Also, and it may sound mystical or esoteric, there seems to be a currently inexplicable language or transmission channel that I appear to possess, that can transmit with great accuracy all the emotions, moods, feelings I feel and try to express with music to certain people who are sensitive to this.

What can still be considered music? Can anything be called music? If not, what determines whether it qualifies or not?

Yes, indeed, anything can be called music, because who else decides this but the listener?

There are people who can hear music in noises, in the sounds of nature and all kinds of different environments. And it’s quite likely that before radio, TV or internet existed, or before you could have just whistled for a Mariachi band to appear at the corner, people – besides their own innate musical thoughts of course – took musical inspiration from the previously mentioned, environment originated sounds. Especially if there were no other people around, which is something that was probably much more common in prehistoric times than one would think. Personal limitations, boundaries of aesthetic origin pretty much only outline what a person likes or dislikes, but they don’t by their nature define whether or not something can be considered music, as long as there are sounds present that someone decides to call music. Music is actually defined not by the performer, but the perceiving individual, the listener. Definitions that state that music is the sum of sounds and silence between sounds put together consciously miss the very important defining role of the listener. And even from the listener’s point of view, conscious perception of music is not always present, or only emerges long after the perception of sounds has happened.

So in your case, what do you base your music, your improvisation on?

I seem to have some kind of innate aesthetic system, a standard that determines exactly what musical qualities get ingrained in my mind that I consider positive. This system makes it possible that even if I hear music I’ve never heard before, I can still evaluate it and put it on an imaginary scale that spans between the absolutely negative and the absolutely positive, regarding the kind of effect they have on me. A musician that creates, composes and then plays music they don’t actually like is not an honest musician. It usually happens when someone desperately tries to fulfill the expectations of someone else, when they try to fit in and want to “sell” their music to certain (often elite) groups. Unfortunately it doesn’t only apply to pop musicians or performers, but happens in improvised genres as well. That’s when we have the “fortune” to experience what the emperor’s “new” clothes sound like.

When you play music, are you mainly a performer, a listener, or both? Or maybe something completely different?

When I’m in the “zone”, when I pay attention to what I play, I am both. The best music always comes out when as a listener I’m able to direct my full focus on what I’m playing; when I hear the sounds I play as music and not just mechanically executing motor movements with my fingers without the above mentioned focus. When I’m able to do so, the differences in the resulting music are obvious, and that’s when improvised composition can truly happen. I can’t say though that when I play music, I’m the same kind of listener as I am when I only listen to music. In the latter case, there’s no interactivity, or even if there is, it can’t be expressed without an instrument. Whenever I’m in the above described state of mind while playing music, the role of the focused listener gets combined with the role of the creator, and the musical information I hear will trigger the thought of the next possible musical step, in other words, the notes I’ll play in the next moment. Which is something that better happens fast enough, or I will end up not knowing what to play! In that latter case, my fingers, my hands simply take over and automatically play whatever phrases they’ve already learned.

To what degree is the creative process conscious in your case?

It’s hard to answer, because I think (and sorry, but I can’t recall the related neuroscientific information) there isn’t only one kind of consciousness. For example, the kind of consciousness that says that I have to play the E flat note on the A string, 6th fret during improvisation isn’t present. It just couldn’t be possible, because the process of playing improvised music is way too fast for such kind of analytic cognition. On the other hand, a kind of explicit control is very much present regarding what I should play. Regarding what note would sound best if I played it the next moment manifests as a kind of desire, an inner demand, if you will. During composition, there would be enough time for the previously mentioned analytical, conscious thinking, but even then, I don’t create in a verbally and visually conscious way; I rather follow my inner hearing and that innate aesthetic guide I talked about earlier, and that isn’t something random or accidental. While I do have those magically inspired moments, if you said I had to create, compose some music right now, I could do it, even if it wouldn’t turn out to be the best or most original piece of art. So I can start the above mentioned process consciously. What I’m not sure of is whether the process itself is conscious or not. If it isn’t, let’s just say that I can consciously get into a non-conscious creative state.

Realistically, what are your music related goals, either regarding yourself or the world as a whole?

To get as close as possible to the level where I can express my musical ideas exactly the way they emerge in me. I believe that the world is infinite and eternal, and the amount of control I have over it necessarily comes naturally and pretty much automatically from the way I am, my distinct qualities, including my goals like the one I just mentioned, and also to be able to create a pleasant experience. If this pleasure, this overall positive experience reaches other people as well, because they are they kind who are sensitive to such signals, it makes me happy, and in turn it inspires me to keep up the creative process.

What (or who) can hinder you in reaching your goals, and what can you do about it?

I have to say that so far nothing and no one could stop me from either trying to build a stronger connection between my musical ideas and their expression on the guitar, nor in the continuity of creation.

Circumstances do have an effect on my overall mood, but since it’s not my aim to relive anger or sadness in music, I will try to express happiness and joy with it whenever I can, even if I feel sad. The only control I have regarding trying to keep creating and making music is my previously mentioned innate instinct, creative urge, and it hasn’t let me down.

Besides the positive feedback you mentioned, what else can inspire you to create?

Other than the previously mentioned innate, inner instinct or creative urge, everything else “only” affects my mood, but they have no effect on the presence of the urge itself. It is this instinct that’s the root of all the creative inspiration.

If anyone wants to support you, how can they do it?

If they are interested in what I do, I invite them to subscribe to my YouTube channel and leave a comment or two under my videos. And if they really want to support me, they can also join my Patreon page.

What kind of other, music related services do you offer?

I will improvise a complete song on guitar, for any occasion or even without an occasion, if that’s what someone needs.

I offer Online Mixing & Mastering Service, if someone sends me the tracks of their recorded music, I will mix and master it with aiming for the good sound and a positive musical experience. In other words, I’ll try not to succumb to the trend of making it overly loud and killing all the dynamics and all the soul of the music. I try to highlight musicality and the expression itself. Of course there are genres where the loud and in your face sound is part of the style; I will gladly mix and master these genres as well.

I also make custom guitar and bass tablatures with standard notated sheet music parts included, in any genre, regardless of what kind of guitar music it is. If someone wants to learn the guitar solo of their favorite song but runs into problems, cause they can’t figure out what exactly the guitarist played, I will gladly create the tab for it, or even for the guitar parts of the entire song. I try to do this as accurately as possible, indicating the rhythmic and expression related musical devices in the tab, so the person who wants to learn gets the full picture regarding the parts they are interested in.

I have an online session guitar and bass playing service as well. If someone wants guitar or bass tracks in their music, I will play them, in any genre. If the client doesn’t specify otherwise, I’ll do my best to come up with unique and interesting parts by default, while remaining subtle and try to fit into the music as perfectly as possible at the same time.

If someone would like me to compose a fingerstyle solo guitar piece (including polyphonic tunes), I’ll gladly do so, for any occasion, or without an occasion as well, and I’ll include the song’s tablature (with standard notation) as well.

And if anyone would like a complete, fully arranged composition, song or other kind of musical piece or creation, even if it’s some kind of orchestral piece, I will create one for them. Be it music for a holiday, other occasions, film music, jingles or any kind of songs or music created for performing artists.

I’m sure you’re happy about every order, but what are your favorite services out of what you offer?

Of course I’ll gladly do the job whichever kind of service someone’s interested in, but I especially like the creative ones.

I tend to put my heart & soul into those ones, be it improvisation or making a solo guitar composition for someone. I love to compose music, come up with something interesting and create a complete song out of it, build the entire arrangement part by part. I also like to make tablatures if someone trusts me with a theme regarding an entire genre or playing style. If they allow me some freedom, I can really get creative and come up with genre specific parts, characteristic musical figures, melodies and rhythms.