Energies involved in improvisation

As musicians we channel energies being brought to expression and these have an effect on us and above all on the audience listening to our music. Our responsibility is therefore considerable.

If one were to divide human qualities into three main aspects they would be

1. the vital (short: gut feeling)
2. the emotional (heart)
3. the mental (head)

ad 1. The vital element includes rhythm, a strong sense of expression, the joy of playing, generally everything that gives music its power, energy and rhythm. It is the material with which the other elements are constructed. Seen in a negative way, the vital can be destructive when it becomes too loud, rough, elementary or trivial. On the positive side the vital element is inspiring, exciting, stimulating and gives strength leading even to the ecstatic.
ad 2. The emotional element encompasses the spectrum from fine to powerful feelings in music all of which can be expressed through rhythm, melody and above all harmony. If the negative qualities predominate then too emotional music becomes kitsch or sentimental. If positive, we are elevated, deeply moved and gladdened. Enormous power can be liberated within us through strong feelings. A beautifully played melody can bring tears to our eyes.
ad 3. In the realm of the mental we find structure and construction inherent in rhythm, melody, harmony and in the relation of the musical parts to each other, the sequence of form and composition even when these come about spontaneously in improvisation. Seen from a negative point of view a piece becomes too constructed, mental, dissonant, intellectual even cool. If the positive aspects predominate is music satisfactory, interesting, accomplished, often surprising and we feel enriched by the novelty and are full of admiration.

In concerto

If all these aspects are in balance, we hardly think about the music. Everything feels correct and we are quickly one with the music and what is central to the piece being played. If the elements are not in harmony, then we begin to speculate about what is not correct, what makes us feel uncomfortable, leaves us cold, what is too drawn out, too shallow, rough, however it is manifested.
Each individual perceives this in a different way. There is, however, something common in the way a feeling of aesthetic beauty comes into being in the majority of listeners.
It is particularly difficult to structure the course of a concert in such a way that the music can increase in intensity up to the end, not only regarding virtuosity and volume but especially in the way the listeners are led through increasingly fine and powerful levels of feeling culminating in spirituality. Finding the necessary balance is not easy.
It can be very hard, after a fulfilling and rewarding concert programme, to play an encore, especially when improvised music is being performed, and everything has already been expressed. The danger is the desire to spontaneously achieve new pinnacles of music expression, possibly through extreme virtuosity or volume and in doing so, one can easily destroy everything achieved in the course of the concert. The finer moments are deleted in such a situation and all that remains is the last potentially coarse impression. Even when the audience is ecstatic in their recognition, this last impression can leave a feeling of emptiness… an unpleasant taste in the mouth. If the music, however, is a success, the audience and musicians alike, go home fulfilled and with new vitality. This is highly gratifying.

As musicians we must be aware of the energies that we are using in expression and in what way we do it. We must become conscious arbiters of these energies and masters of our own.


Gentle stimuli resolve
moderate stimuli strengthen
strong stimuli impede
and intensive stimuli destroy
Hugo Kükelhaus

Life is continual practise
Hugo Kükelhaus