Playing Musical Improv with Jill Gibson
Welcome to Zeitgeist Radio. I'm your host, Morgan Roe, founder of the Zeitgeist Academy. Zeitgeist means spirit of the times, and it is the collection of cultural forces that all contribute to what it feels like to be alive and part of a dynamic culture. Every episode I speak with someone from a unique musical subculture.
We dig into their passion and explore how music is a powerful force that brings people together.
**Me:** My guest today is Jill Gibson, a music teacher and musical improv coach from San Luis Obispo, California.
**Morgan:** Jill, welcome to Zeitgeist Radio!
**Jill:** Thank you!
**Morgan:** I'm very excited to talk with you. You do a very specific thing, or at least I know you in this context of this very specific musical thing that we both do. But can you share a little bit about yourself with people? Cause you have a background in music too.
**Jill:** Yes. So, well, we're going to talk about musical improv today, but I have... Kind of an extensive, I guess, background in music, like my earliest memory is doing a mommy and me music class at four years old. Yeah. It's all like percussion instruments and the rest is history. Yeah. Yeah. You want it from back there?
**Morgan:** no, I'm just just some basic background. Like you do have a music background yourself. Yes. Yeah. And you have a degree
**Jill:** as well, is that true? I have a degree in music because that was a good idea.
**Morgan:** I feel like we might be the
**Jill:** same person. This is just me unloading my personal problems. Which I do a lot at musical improv shows, anyway yeah, I have my degree in music. I spent the first part of my music degree like doing jazz music, actually, and playing like jazz improvisation, I played saxophone a lot.
And jazz bands and big bands and stuff. And then halfway through college, I saw some production of Fiddler on the roof. Okay. And I was like, Oh, this looks fun. And before then I really liked the idea of singing and acting, but I was inspired to change from doing jazz to. Singing focus in music. Wow, okay.
I already had so many credits in music. I was like, better finish it out. Yeah. It took a long time. though. But like, I finished out my music degree with a focus in voice and so did choirs and classical singing and musical theater. Singing. Singing, which I really loved. Yes. And acting stuff, like acting classes on the side.
And then kind of at the end of college, I found out what improv was and I was like, what is this? It's fun. I had seen whose line is it anyway. Yeah. I thought it was fun. Did a little class in college for like an improv class and then after college I found the local improv group here and joined up with them and like have been doing improv ever since and I think I don't remember how long or like how far into improv I Learned how to, like, do musical improv, but Sabrina, who owns the Central Coast Comedy Theater was doing a musical improv class, and I was like, hey, well, I love music.
I've been doing music forever. I like singing, and so what is this? And so basically just started doing musical improv,
**Morgan:** too. So it started in a class. So you took the class. Yeah. That's so cool. I don't know
**Jill:** how that happened, but it happened, and here we are. So. Yeah, and I'm never like, I'm not like the expert.
I guess I would just, this is the disclaimer. Okay. I'm not the expert on musical improv. Like, I'm trying to like practice more and get better at it. But yeah, it's fun.
**Morgan:** So for someone who's never heard of musical improv,
**Jill:** how would you describe it? Musical improv is making up a song on the spot. With, with sometimes you get a suggestion and then you just make it up from there.
Yes. So, yeah.
**Morgan:** Yes. And there's what's been interesting. So I have been, I've joined this group as the like accompanist. We did recruit you. Piano player. Yeah. So, from my perspective, and I know you play piano too,
**Jill:** so you understand
**Morgan:** well, but it's like this back and forth, so like, you have, if you're singing, you make up a song on the spot, but then I also, like, we're kind of making it up together, and there's this like guessing of like, What kind of genre are we making in like a split second and feeding off of things?
So it's been super interesting to be like, okay. Well, I'm definitely because I'm making it up to most of the time. Mm hmm
**Jill:** yeah, no, I think what you do is a lot harder actually because Because you have to know what chords you're playing or you know, just to figure it out on the spot like oh, okay I'm just playing like a Underscoring the scene and then repeating a structure and all these things and then also playing it in a pattern Yeah, yeah, that's great.
**Morgan:** Man, I feel like the hardest part for me is the Genre. Yeah as like figuring out. Yeah, cuz you could turn almost any scene into almost any genre So it's just feeling into like like maybe it's this sweet scene, but you know what? I'm feeling like a punk vibe coming on right
**Jill:** and it's like how do you play?
I mean I don't know, but you probably know how to play a punk vibe thing on a piano by yourself. Like that's crazy. I am definitely learning. I am.
**Morgan:** We were, I was recruited by our friend Tanya and I was very much. She can. tell you I had a several mini almost meltdowns before I actually agreed
**Jill:** to show up to class.
No, you're awesome. You're doing so well. I was like,
**Morgan:** I can't do this. I don't know what I'm doing. She's like,
**Jill:** nobody knows what they're doing. They're amazing. Like I've talked to some amazing piano players and they just like refuse to do improv and they're amazing at piano. I'm like, you could do this. It is scary.
It's like, you're just making it up. It's so vulnerable. Musical improv is super vulnerable because you're stepping out there without a script and without a song or a sheet music and you're just doing it. Yes. Almost, a lot of improvisers don't want to do musical improv because you're singing and people get really scared about their singing voice.
Yeah. And yeah, so, I mean, I was, so. And you majored in voice. I did. I don't know. And you teach voice. I teach voice now, but. I don't know if I've told you this story, but like, I've always loved singing, but when I was, I think like 12 or 13 in middle school, I tried out for choir and I had to, because of the way the scheduling worked in middle school, and I was also in band, of course I had to be in like the advan If I wanted to do choir, I had to be in the advanced choir.
Huh. So I auditioned for that, and I had never done choir before, so I didn't make it in. And it was such like, I don't even really remember, but it was probably one of those auditions where it was like, repeat after me, la la la, and then you repeat that or something, I don't know, I was just nervous. So I didn't make it in.
And then I just decided I wasn't a good singer for like, 10 years after that. I didn't like, try again for a while. Right, and when I first got a voice teacher in college, I learned that singing is like an instrument. Just how you can play like piano and whatever else, saxophone, flute, whatever. But you can't see.
What's going on when you're singing? It's all internal. You have to feel it. Yeah, you have to feel it. So I kind of gained confidence the more I learned like how to sing and how to breathe and stuff like that. This is turning into a singing podcast. No, that's fine. No,
**Morgan:** I, I, that's, I fully agree and I, I know you teach and I teach too and, and especially adults when they come in they often have a lot of like kind of anxiety around singing.
And so every single first lesson for me is the same, where I just I ask them like, Do you know how the voice works like tell me everything you know about how the voice works and they'll kind of like tell me a Little bit and then I'm like, okay and start piecing in the gaps and yeah I think about the whole system top to bottom and that can take like 40 minutes We often yeah, make sure we sing a little bit on that first lesson, right?
I want them to see like this is a complex system and there's a lot of stuff going on. Yeah, so yeah It's of course you're anxious like To control all of this and not be able to see it and just like it's a very intense like right internal Yeah, I feel very passionate about adults learning how to say no.
**Jill:** for this exact reason. Yeah, it's really cool I'm like I pull out some diagrams to I'm like, this is what you're Did I say diagram? Yeah, because I was gonna say diaphragm. That rhymes with diagram. That's already we're doing musical improv. Okay, no.
**Morgan:** Oh man,
**Jill:** throw that into the next game. Diaphragm is your diagram for your diaphragm.
Okay. So yeah, I have diagrams of diaphragms for the body part. I love that.
**Morgan:** It's so helpful though, and I think that's part of something that's been really fun. I let's bring it back to musical improv. Something that's been really fun is. The people at least the people who are currently in the group I've been working with so far They don't necessarily have that training.
No, they're learning. Yeah, like it's intense like again I know you said that my job's the hardest but like I think that like what some of these people like I have such mad respect for some of these people who are doing this because they like some of them have Either never song or rarely sing they can they can all hold a tune Mm hmm But like to just jump in like that with the system that they don't always like understand the whole like it's complicated Right, I don't understand how it all works, but they're willing to give it a go right jump
**Jill:** in I just feel
**Morgan:** like these are some of the bravest
**Jill:** people Yeah, it's cool.
It's the willingness I think to put yourself out there and just be Just make all the mistakes or whatever. Yeah
**Morgan:** publicly because the first performance was within what like three
**Jill:** weeks. Yeah Yeah, yeah, it was pretty quick. Well, we're doing improv. So yeah, I mean, but we do practice like the games Yes, you know and some of those structures of the song there is like a structure Yeah for some improvised songs that we yeah So let's talk about
**Morgan:** some of those because I think I didn't realize that Games like that not coming from a background of improv at all.
I wasn't familiar with some of these Terms, so like the games. Let's talk about some of these games. Can you tell people about some of them?
**Jill:** Yes, so for musical improv some of the more Common games are like hoedown and Irish drinking song and those two games are played a lot on whose line is it anyway?
So they were like televised a lot of people have seen them It's
**Morgan:** really funny because so those two have like actual chords like yes, for example Hoedown. There's a very specific chords and because it's from that show, whose line is it anyway? People know like, like there's also kind of a melody, like a riff part that people expect to hear.
So I had to look that one up rather than just playing because I'm like, okay, I have to actually learn a song for this one. And it was really funny because it was like something, something, something, something, something else. Like just looking at the words, it's just like something, something, something, something, something, something.
Right. Chorus. Right.
**Jill:** Yeah. You know, well, that's, and that's like the structure of the game that was like, just The words change each time, but the melody and the chords are the same. Are the same. Yeah. And the rhymes, rhyming scheme is the, I guess the point of the game is to like, make sure you hit your rhymes.
Yeah. That one is fun. Irish drinking song is like harder because you have to rhyme with other people. Like you throw out a rhyming word and they have to hit your, they have to like pay off the rhyme that you came up with. Yeah. So. Which is insane. So they
**Morgan:** have, I mean, that sounds like. Hard just without music.
**Jill:** You have to, yeah, there's some with all improv, I think, but especially musical improv, you have to be kind of in a group mind to be able to do it. Yes. Or listen really well, at least. Other musical improv games, there's the Duran, which is based on the old 50s song, the Duran, and that one is a rhyming elimination game.
So if you, like, mess up your rhyme, then You get called out by the host and the audience screams at you. It's really fun. Yeah, that one is fun. Lots of like the rhyming. And rapping games, like the Beastie Rap, which is fun. Yeah,
**Morgan:** I think that's the first one I ever saw. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it was the Beastie Rap.
Can you describe that?
**Jill:** Okay, so, I'll try. So, the Beastie Rap is where you have two teams of four, and You have one person step out and the three other people are behind you. So there are two teams like that and the person in front like sets it up like I went outside and saw and then the people Behind you would say like tree like you're the Beastie Boys cuz that's how the Beastie Boys like yell Yeah, and then the other group would have to be like the first, the person in front would be like, And then on a flower I saw a, And the people in the back would be like, Bee!
I, I, I like made those rhymes really obvious. Like I was setting up tree and bee. Right. And then you go back and forth. Like rhyming tree, bee, he, I don't know, etc. Until you can't. Until you can't. And it's also kind of an elimination game. Yeah. So it's kind of competi It's a little bit competitive. It's mostly for fun.
Of course. But yeah, that one is a fun one because you just really get into it and you're like trying to be the Beastie Boys. Yes.
**Morgan:** No, that is fun in the it's fun to listen to like as because again the first time I ever saw it I was in the audience and I knew immediately like oh, yeah, that's totally the Beastie Boys.
**Jill:** That's how they are. Yeah Some people don't know and i'm not just saying like younger people don't know the Beastie Boys. I'm saying some of our Like older people don't know the Beastie Boys. Well, it's
**Morgan:** It's very, if you know the Beastie Boys at all, it's very obvious
**Jill:** that this is what it's Yeah, it's obvious like that's what the game is like, trying to be like, but yeah.
**Morgan:** And then kind of just While we're talking about rhymes the other two that I think I don't remember which one was played in that first show But since then we do that a lot of times as a warm up, but there's both good rap and
**Jill:** bad. Oh, yeah Yeah, yeah bad rap. Bad rap is a game where it's kind of more of an exercise where It's similar to the Beastie rap because it's about setting, setting up and paying off.
So you may, like, people may have heard in comedy you have a setup and a payoff. It would, like, stand ups do that all the time. And in terms of rhyming, you have your setup rhyme and your payoff rhyme. So like, going back to when I said tree and bee B is the payoff rhyme because that was the second thing I said and tree would be my setup, right?
i'm like setting up to rhyme with that right word, bad rap is Intentionally not rhyming with your setup word so like I don't remember what I said before but if I said I went outside and saw a tree and on a flower there was an insect instead of saying bee. And we go bad rap, bad rap, bad rap. So that one is really fun because it like works your brain into like thinking of that payoff word but intentionally not saying it.
Right. It can be hard. If you do say bee. And you can pass it. You can, yeah, you pass it to someone else. So like.
**Morgan:** So like I would say tree and then you would have to not
**Jill:** say B. I would have to say insect. Which is
**Morgan:** hard actually turns out. It's so hard. Like your brain wants to go to that rhyme. Yeah.
**Jill:** Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah, so then if I accidentally said B, it would be a good rap. And then we say good rap, good rap, good rap. Yeah. That's what
**Morgan:** I've loved about improv is like there's virtually no consequences to anything. Like, yeah, like
**Jill:** No, not really. If it's a bad
**Morgan:** rap, then it's a bad, or if it's a good rap, then it's a good.
**Jill:** it's, exactly. There's no consequences. It's... Exactly. There's no consequences. Yeah. It's
**Morgan:** great. Yeah. Even for the elimination games, like, you're like, yeah, the audience is screaming at you, but like somehow you guys are able to like make an environment where that is still fun for the performer versus like anyone else.
If you picture being on stage and the audience starts booing you, like you would completely melt down and lose all of your self confidence and just melt into a puddle.
**Jill:** You have to make everything, I think, like a bit when you're doing an improv show. Or like, yeah, you kind of had to keep the energy up.
Yeah. Cause the audience will like, I don't know, I've never been booed though at an improv show. Did that happen?
**Morgan:** No, no, no, just like, like if they like scream at you cause you like did the wrong, like they noticed that you messed up. Like you made a mistake on stage. Like in front of everybody and and they're vocal about noticing that.
**Jill:** Piano recital and like start booing at the person who made
**Morgan:** Well, I hope none of mine I would probably punch somebody if yeah, that's rude But I have seen students make a mistake and be really hard on themselves oh, yeah, like want to quit because they were like so like about making a mistake and I have not seen that at all in any of the improv
**Jill:** stuff that I've been on.
Interesting. Yeah, I guess you're right. It's, it, it does feel like, like in the more traditional music world and stuff, it feels more higher stakes or serious or something, which I mean, not that it's not a musical improv. It's still kind of like that you could make the stakes high, but it does. Yeah, it does seem like people are a lot harder on themselves, like learning traditional music or something.
Yeah. Yeah, interesting. Yeah.
**Morgan:** Yeah, let's talk about a couple more games just because I think okay fun. Can you describe? Hey bartender.
**Jill:** Oh Yeah, singing bartender. Yeah, so I like calling it. Hey bartender because everyone opens the the thing with hey bartender. So okay, this is how I, when I host this game, this is how I describe it for the audience.
So I say, hey audience, so we're going to play a game called singing bartender. And just like in real life you go to the bartender with your problems because therapy is too expensive. So you go to the bartender and ask for advice. So true. Yeah. I'm a, I, I believe in therapy though. So. Yes. Okay, so but anyway, that's how I like set up the game and I get suggestions of problems for from the audience members so that the players can sing their problems at the bartender and Then the bartender gives them advice and usually how this game is played is the problems are Really not problems.
They're like first world problems are just really pet peeves something super small Like I lost my sock in the dryer And then they go in the bar and sing their problem at the bartender and the bartender, I like to tell the bartenders to give it bad advice because it's funnier. I think that's like the, the structure of the game and you also sing it over a blues, like a 12 bar blues because you always sing it like your problems to blues.
So that's kind of like the setup of that game. It's really fun.
**Morgan:** Yeah. I really liked that one. A cause I like playing the 12 bar blues. And then. Be it's just it's so funny the stuff that people come up with it's amazing Like literally these ideas are just like shouted out Yeah And then and then the players will they get all into it They get all into their like it is the work like their day is falling apart, right?
Because they lost their sock in the dryer.
**Jill:** Yeah, whatever it is. Yeah Like they play the emotional stakes of like something else maybe right? Yeah, I
**Morgan:** really like that one.
**Jill:** That one's a good one. Yeah,
**Morgan:** so it seems like and again I'm new to this whole thing It seems like we gig a lot compared to like in a lot of the traditional music world that I'm used to, including what I've taught before, like you have a recital twice a year, and that's when you perform, you practice and practice, you work up a set, maybe a couple songs, and then you perform.
Yeah, a couple times a year. Yeah, but I've only been with this group for Three months. I'm, not sure when we started and we've already Performed three times.
**Jill:** Yeah, almost four almost four.
**Morgan:** Yeah, we have one coming up here So like is that normal with an improv or is that on purpose?
**Jill:** Yeah, so with improv and I think like Because we're like a smaller town here.
We're really lucky that we get so much stage time in bigger cities like LA or Chicago You have to as a student In a class what I hear is you kind of have to really work your way up to get more stage time but we're so lucky here to be able to perform like pretty consistently and I do think that Performing more often is like also part of the practice, if that makes sense.
Because, and I see it, I see it a little bit in our ensemble sometimes as like, we are doing something sometimes in rehearsal and then it just kind of is different in front of an audience. So the more you can get in front of an audience and do improv, the better you'll be, or like. Just the more rounded a performer you become because most of the most of the work you do practice like the structure of games and the structure of a song and all these things and practice rhyming and practice coming up with ideas for songs or whatever but like being At a show and feeding like off the audience is part of an improv show.
Mm-hmm. , I think like Sabrina could really speak to that. Mm-hmm. . But yeah, definitely it's more normal for improv to like perform more often for sure. Yeah.
**Morgan:** Yeah. Yeah. No, I think I, I totally agree. Mm-hmm. and I think that it's yeah. Terrifying and also important Yeah. To be performing. Yes. And also I think, Again, the audiences that come to improv shows, like, it seems like a lot of people have either done it before or have family members who have, like, they're familiar with the scene.
Versus someone like me who had never seen anything, I just happened to be friends with someone and then I went and, and it was really fun. But it's, yeah, I think that the audiences also kind of expect a level of messiness. Yeah. Like we were talking about earlier, like, I mean, yeah, they'll scream at you, but, but it's like, they kind of get it too.
**Jill:** They don't go to the improv show going like, I'm going to watch an aria. Right. And I'm going to watch the best mezzo soprano in this, in the world. Like no one's expecting that. No one wants that. It's usually at like places where alcohol is served. So like you don't go to the comedy show, yeah, expecting like the best thing or whatever.
Not that we're not good. Cause I think we are, but you know what I mean? Like super practiced things like you would do for a recital. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So.
**Morgan:** We've talked about some of the games that that we do, but there's also what you guys call scenes. Mm hmm. And this I think is where, like, as a, like, as the accompanist, I have the most fun.
So can you describe what a musical improv scene might look like?
**Jill:** Yes. So, a scene. So, we, we play a game called, kind of like, Sounds Like a Song, but I'll also talk about long form, too. But an improv scene is just two people acting, two people making up a theatrical scene on the spot. Yeah. There's true, like, dramatic stakes, usually and usually they're silly and comedic and things like that.
And at some point, like, in the Sounds Like a Song game, somebody hears a line that might be funny, or maybe it's... It's the climax of the scene and they say, sounds like a song, like, I can't believe you left mom. Like, I would say that's a, I want to hear a song about that kind of thing. Like that would be the hook or something or the theme of the song.
And then the two players would go into a song. So that. Can exist like a musical long form which you can just think about it like a musical like an improvised broadway musical Right shorter than a musical because like i've never seen people do an improvised two hour. Oh my gosh, two and a half hour What is the longest musical like three?
I mean, Harry, Harry Potter is not a musical. It was like a two day show, but anyway, okay. So I'm improvised musical. It's not like
**Morgan:** the ring, like the Wagner's like ring cycle.
**Jill:** No, it's not. What are teen hours? I'm going to go on a tangent though for a second, because there is like, there are improvised like Sondheim groups in Chicago and there's like improvised musical theater genre.
Person like Sondheim. I bet there's yeah Can you imagine like that? I don't know. I love Sondheim. I did my I did my senior project on Sondheim I just like analyzed a bunch of his music. It's magical
**Morgan:** the deeper you get you know, this is so genius. I got
**Jill:** in real deep
I can't even think about anything else because I'm thinking about Sondheim. I know musical theater. Okay So there's like improvised styles like that that people do. So it would all
**Morgan:** be in the style of Sondheim or it would be rips off of his actual music? No,
**Jill:** I think just like a in the style of, so I probably like a lot of...
Some patter singing probably or like, you know fast singing probably like really complicated complex musical Melody like tone rose. Yeah
**Morgan:** But he does that I remember he wasn't like in Sweeney Todd the yeah, he's reading the letter. Yeah, like And you don't even notice it. That's his genius is like you're like, oh this sounds weird, but also angsty, which is the letter Anyway, it was a tone row. That's cool. The whole song is a tone row. I know cuz he's he's the judge He likes order and things.
**Jill:** also he's the
**Morgan:** worst. He's the worst and it's crunchy
**Jill:** and I That's amazing. I did, I did all the female characters because I'm a mezzo soprano, so I did all the mezzo sopranos and he did write pretty well for those, but like I was like, so in Into the Woods, the witch sings this melody and then this melody comes back at this point in the musical and that's referring to the witch and like that's I don't know, I'm sure it was better than that.
I spent so long on that paper. So this is the Stephen Sondheim musical. Yeah, I'd be down for more Sondheim esque things, but yeah, like, okay. Going back to like a long form, a musical long form. It's like a run of scenes. You can do this in different ways. Like the scenes could be related to each other.
But you usually do a scene into a song, scene into a song, scene into a song. So Not exactly, I guess, like a musical. Like, musicals don't really follow that structure. Usually. You don't get that many songs, right? Yeah. Usually you do a scene, scene, scene, song. Scene, scene, scene. Yeah. Song. Though I did just see
**Morgan:** Six and it was basically that.
Oh really? Scene, song, scene, song. It was just like, just songs. In New York? Yeah. In L.
**Jill:** A. Oh my gosh. I was there this weekend. That's
**Morgan:** so cool. Through traveling. It was, it was amazing.
**Jill:** That's amazing. Yes. That's so cool. And it was just
**Morgan:** an hour and a half. It was a 90 minute show. Yeah. No, no intermission and just songs.
**Jill:** Well, I heard that as more like, yeah, more like a concert. It was, I felt like I
**Morgan:** was at a pop show. It was
**Jill:** epic. People told me it was like going to a Spice Girls concert. I
**Morgan:** felt like I was, no, legit, and that's what they were going for, like, yeah,
**Jill:** anyway. That's amazing. My friend did just see Josh Groban as Sweeney Todd in New York recently.
Oh my gosh, that was amazing. And you still need to get her opinion on it, but yeah, isn't that crazy? Yeah, it's such a good musical
The mission of the Zeitgeist Academy is simple. I want everyone to live their best musical life. If your dream includes singing with confidence, I got you. I made a mini online course so you can get out of musical drama and finally understand which vocal elements make you sound good. Banish forever.
Those fears of being out of key, off rhythm, and other assorted mayhem. Step into your best musical life my friends. Sign up for the free email@example.com slash radio..
**Morgan:** really fun.
So sometimes they're just
like, okay, Morgan, just Yeah, figure it out when it sounds like a song and that for me is really fun because I can kind of get a feel for like, okay, like one time they were talking about penguins and I was like, I start to think in my head like, okay, penguins will kind of, kind of had this weird, quacky sound and then their feet flop.
So I had this like, I'm like, okay, I got this little riff in the left hand. Okay. And then how can I make something actually singable, you know, and then I'm kind of like. tuning in and listening. And then when I, I feel like, like I get to give that prompt. So that's fun for me to, to be able to do that.
And I just kind of launch in and then they have to make
up a song. Yeah. No, that's a good point because sometimes you as the accompanist has, you have to just start playing the music and then at whatever point the actors will start singing. So you're also kind of giving your input into what this is about.
It becomes a
three person scene. Yeah, totally. It's like I become a player because I tell them, I tell them what the genre is going to be. Like I was talking about genre before. Like I, maybe it's like a womp womp womp womp, the penguin feet, but then I put like some country likes and then all of a sudden that changes their scene where they're like, by pulling in that flavor of like a country song or a pop song or just a ballad or like something really, really rocking, you know, like whatever it is.
It adds like a, like a third character almost that is the, the feel of the music.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean the composer is, is like part of the you know, like Stephen Sondheim is part of the musical when he writes the music. Or his lyrics but yeah, like the music is definitely suggesting what's going on in the scene as well.
So it's definitely an important part, I would say. Yeah.
Yeah. It's really fun. I like, I, again, I think that. That's some of the hardest for me, but also some of the most fun for me. And then last week, I don't think you weren't here, but we did this version of that where they'd repeat the scene and in a different
replay. So that was hard for me because I need to... to come up with riffs for, like, I'm like some, some genres, I'm like, Oh, I got this. And others, I'm like, I don't know how to tell just with a piano, how to make it sound like one versus like, like, yeah, the rock versus country versus like, you know, I need to, I just need to get better doing
that on the piano.
Yeah. I mean, and. That's a really fun game, but yeah, it's it's hard to communicate those all the different kinds of genres just like one is just one It's usually like country we think of like guitars and yeah, like that twang like I can't really twang. No Yeah, I know exactly what you mean But that was
really fun too because then then you really I really got to see like how much like I knew in my head That it changed the dynamic but like when they when they repeated it, I was like, okay, we're like, okay now I'm sure I'm I've got my little like electric piano.
I'm like, okay, I'm going harpsichord here. We're doing like French, you know, like we're doing a waltz, you know, or whatever. Those ones were really, really fun and how it completely changed where the scene ended up. Yeah.
Have you played a real harpsichord? This is just a random question. I
Really? Did they have one at your college? Yes. Are they hard to push the
keys? No. Well, they're just very different if you're used to playing piano. Cause they don't, there's no, piano has weighted keys. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So with a harpsichord it's all or nothing, either it feel like
a percussion, more of a percussion instrument?
That's crazy. Yeah. I've never played one before. I want to play one.
It's very interesting. They also go out of tune
really fast. Oh, I bet. Cause just like being caught, their strings being constantly like plucked, right? Yeah. Yeah. They sound cool, but yeah, they're weird.
Definitely. Yeah. Again, for me as the accompanist, it's fun to have a piano, an electric piano with the different sounds.
Yeah. Where I can pull in like, you know, church bells, like an organ, like a church bell chime. Like again, that'll be something different or strings or you know, the pianos that nowadays can make like every song, every sound basically. And that's also fun for me to play with.
I enjoy doing that. I know.
It's super fun. And it, and like as a actor, a actor, an actor, it's really fun to Like, hear what's going on with your music and then respond off of that.
I would love to know, like, what's going in your head. I kind of shared, like, what I'm listening for, like, in the scenes. Like, what are you, what's going through your head when you do a
When I'm doing a scene, I try to be fully present with my scene partner and just listening to them, like, completely as if I'm living in the scene. And just responding how... I think this character would respond and then when the music comes in, I just kind of let that emotionally take over and just play to the highest stakes, even if it is something dumb, like, where's my sock?
And, and the music is so nice because I think it does, like, resonate. At least in me, I think it does with everyone, though, like, music has a very, really powerful effect on everybody. And that's usually when the comedy comes in, too. It's like, you're singing, like, a really gorgeous ballad or something over, like, something so dumb, like, where is my song?
So, yeah, like,
like, I try to keep things very, because I also don't know where you're gonna go. Right, let's get meta here. I don't know where you're gonna go. I have to give you enough Chordal like structure that you have notes. I try to play like a handful of notes in a row Even just like three or so in a row up or down so that yeah shoes like do you want the song to go up?
Or do you want it to go
down? Sure. For me like I can talk about this cuz like I have Some knowledge and music like I know if you're playing like in a specific key. I'll just stay in that key What's interesting about improvising with singing is that you can't your voice doesn't know like which note you're gonna sing Yeah, so I don't know.
I'm confusing myself Well,
but you have the On the flip side though, you often have a little more time than if you were speaking it. Like when we do the rap stuff, like if I add a beat. Yeah. Or we were, we've been doing like the word by word exercises. And it's just like, if I add a beat, it actually tends to give people, like people, if they don't have that beat, speed up.
Or you try to talk fast, but like if you're singing it, you have a little more space.
I'll say like in general terms that when I'm like singing a song, I think the best rule is to like kind of copy what normal songs are doing, which is you start kind of in a lower space, whether that's volume, whether that's like your range or your pitch.
And you just kind of build and with comedy and comedy songs, I, instead of like pop songs, I guess, kind of have like a rise and fall, but comedy, I think you just go up, up, up, up, up, up, up till the very end, like you just go up a mountain and that's how like, Improv scenes work too. It's like you just keep building up and the stakes you just go higher and higher and higher with the comedy and I think so like for singing a comedic improvised song I would do the same thing where I would just keep building with like maybe my pitch, maybe my volume, maybe how dramatic I'm singing it.
Yeah. Until like I get to the end of it and well, okay, let's talk about
that. Okay. Cause that I think is also one of the hardest things for me. When does it end? How does it end?
Right. It's. It's definitely a silent, like, this is a weird way to describe it, a silent negotiation. Yeah, it feels that way, yeah.
You know, like, in bands or whatever, when I was playing like in jazz bands, like, maybe one person would be like, I just, wow, I just did a visual for a podcast.
They'll make a big motion to be
like this. This is the end. I did a big motion. I was like, lift up your head and then like go down which you can kind of work that into your scene or you could as the, as the accompanist, but I mean, there's probably, there's probably other ways to figure out ending.
Like if you kind of set up a chorus with a repeating section, you probably do that chorus like. Four times or eight times and then you're done. Yeah.
Or. And that's something that I think we're working on as a group right now is getting choruses to be more chorus y. Yes. I think people, especially, I think a lot of the people in the group have done improv before, which is like you're constantly using your brain, you're constantly thinking and with music you actually have to go the opposite way where you simplify.
Yeah. Like music is actually. Really simple most of the time like yeah What was it? Someone said like they were listening to imagine by John Lennon and realizing like it's really only so many words Oh, yeah, and then yeah, the chorus that comes back over and over is just a sentence And that's it. And yet it's a really driving song that's gone down through the ages.
So like that's almost challenging for I think The actors to be Yeah. To, to not overcomplicate. Yeah. And to make an actual chorus that's like
simple. Unless you're doing Improvised Gilbert and Sullivan . Yeah. You're doing all patter songs now. . I'm just kidding. Yeah.
But yeah. Well, 'cause the other thing with some of these games is, you've mentioned, you've described for, for folks, like there's a group involved too.
Mm-hmm. , the scene work is just one-on-one. But if there's people behind you, oh yeah. We have to remember your chorus. Like, yes. They have to remember that yeah
Yeah, so when you're doing like a long form so okay forget musical improv for one second when you're doing a long form with just Like an improv group You usually have two people in a scene and then you have what are called sidelines or sometimes a back line and they're the other improvisers that will come out and edit your scene and take over and do a new scene or Do a bunch of different kinds of things and one thing they can do is Adding to your scene from the sidelines or back line by like making sound effects or doing all sorts of like supportive things to make The scene funnier.
I don't know etc in music doing the can can yeah Okay, so in musical improv when you have your sidelines or back line They become your background singers or backup singers or like yeah dancers, which is So fun, so fun. You don't want to distract from like the main two players, but whatever you can do to like add it So usually when the chorus is established Then you'll have your the rest of the ensemble be like singing that when the chorus comes around again for like support and stuff Yeah, yeah.
Yeah a group mind has to work for that too. I'm listening. Yeah, right,
right so when you're making up your chorus, you have to think not just like Can I remember this next time I have to sing it right, but can they remember it? Yeah when they're backing me up Yeah
yeah, and what's interesting about choruses is like you're they're usually like the hook of the song or like the main theme of a song and usually That will also help you remember what it is when it comes back.
That's why I remember, like, when I'm thinking of pop songs, I only remember the chorus. I don't really remember verses. Yes. Because it's, like, generally what the song is about and they're pretty simple and stuff to remember. So, yeah, it's kind of hard to simplify it sometimes. It's hard to simplify.
I think, I think, like, again, we've been working on that the last several practices.
Just trying to get. A chorus like that's the hardest part like the the verses people don't seem to have they they just go yeah They do their thing and they sing. Yeah, and then the chorus Like, I'll play a chorus, and they'll just keep singing their thing. It's like, but you have
to sing this back later.
Right. And that is something that you could practice, not you, but the royal you can practice with musical improv, is like practicing singing a verse into a chorus. And for people who are like, musically trained Verse is usually 8 bars or 16 bars, and a chorus is like 4 bars, and usually you repeat the chorus, so like, usually the structure is like 4 bars and then you repeat another 4 bars and the verses are longer.
And then you also have a bridge. I don't know if we've even practiced bridges yet. Oh no, no. In
musical, so, so far in the improv I've had, because I have had to really know all these chords and I'm like okay, time to pull out the music theory. No, no, we have to keep it super simple. Because, because you, as a singer, are making up all of the words, all, like, you're doing all of this other stuff, you're acting, on the spot, trying to think of rhymes, trying to think of all these things.
Like eventually like also coming up with super complex. Yeah, you
can throw five, nine at me. I won't
But generally just
like two chords in the verse and then I will change keys for the chorus and I'll do two chords there And then back and
that is it. Yeah, and that's great. I think like For improvisers, it's nice to have that differentiating music of like the verses versus the chorus because sometimes it can be hard to know when do I start singing the chorus or when do I start singing the verse if it's all like the same four chords over and over.
Although people do it, people do that in a lot of pop music, so.
Right, yeah. I mean, pop music, people make fun of it for being simple, but it's also accessible.
It's so accessible. Yeah. Yeah. Like the four chord song. Like it's
just a bunch of Awesome.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Shout out to Access of Awesome. Yes. Bringing it back to 2010 or something. Yeah. I
don't know why they keep updating it. Oh, do they really? Tanya and I were going to do it as a get an open mic and then but we kept learning different versions and we're like, okay, cause you can literally put any song in there.
So we're like, which, which songs are we going to like?
That's amazing. Oh my God. What if you like could figure out like some crazy, like opera song that would fit in there, but not the whole thing. I mean, there. Now I gotta think about it. It's probably in there somewhere. Yeah, that's amazing. But
I also don't want like my, because I do on occasion play those same four chords, but I also don't want every single song to sound the same.
Yeah. So again, it comes back to like, how do I, how do I play with rhythm? How do I play with? All of the other elements of genre so that you're not bored and you're not, God, I just, I just sang this song now I gotta, you know while also keeping it super
simple. Yeah. I mean, I listened to a musical improv podcast and they, they have a little, little band.
So it's like piano. They used to just have piano and then they had piano, guitar, and now I think they worked their way up to piano, guitar, bass, and drums. And so that gives them a lot of variety, but I think they have kind of, probably the band has their go to's of like, kinds of music they play. I would
be so curious to hear how they do that.
Because in one show and then also one rehearsal someone came and played in the show bass. And just on the 12, on the singing bartender, because it's 12 bar blues, he's like, I can play bass. I'm like, cool. Awesome. That sounds great to have a bass with the blues. Yeah, totally. But even then, like, because people are making it up and this is something where I'm sure we're all getting better at, like if someone goes long.
I just riff with them. I'm not going to like force them to, you know, like you got to, but then the other person, like, that's not 12 bars anymore when you're playing with someone else. Oh yeah. And then how, and that's a structured song. So how in the heck, I just got to learn. Yeah. Would they do that with other,
Yeah, I mean, you just keep going, even if somebody takes, like, longer to do their song. I think it's, it's nice to have the structure, it's nice for everyone to, like, do it, the structure. But if something happens in, like, a show, you just keep going. I mean, I'm sure you learned that, like at least when I was, like, doing piano lessons, like, just regular piano lessons, I was taught to, if I make a mistake, to just keep going.
No one's gonna notice. But when you're with a
whole band, oh yeah, and the 12 bar blues, that makes sense. But if you're like doing scene work,
a drummer, I guess you could get
with that word? I don't know.
I mean, the whole band on the same page as far as. Chord like when you're changing what chords like
what genre like just jump into it.
It's jamming for sure. I did a little bit of that. It's I mean, it's like kind of like jamming. I did a little bit of that with When I was playing in like jazz combos and stuff Yeah, and we would just like have jam sessions which kind of turned into some like light free jazz Right, right. And I wasn't playing an instrument where I'd have to play chords, I was playing saxophone, so it was like a melody instrument, but I would have to find out what key they were playing in or like what chords they were playing.
And I guess you just like have to have a good ear and Yeah, have you really plugged in to your bandmates and? Yeah, totally. You just kind of. Like listen to each other and I think the longer you play together the better it is or like the more experience you have with like jamming and that kind of stuff the easier it is to do.
You just keep going I guess. Let's talk real quick about, so
you are leading, like I said, you took the class and now you're leading this class over the summer. Can you describe what this class is is for and kind of who it's
for? So this is the musical improv class and It's I guess anyone interested in musical improv, it helps if you have done an improv class before.
It's kind of a prerequisite to do musical improv. Just get an understanding of improv, what it's about, maybe some games and learning some of the basics of it. Because when you come to music improv, musical improv we dedicate a lot of our time to the skills of like rhyming song structure. You know, playing the musical games and we don't have as much time to dedicate to like scene work, which is what you really get into with a regular improv class is like, how do you have two people with nothing else?
And they just make up like an acting scene on the spot, which in the musical games, it's less about the scene work, but it's still important to like, be able to do that or know how to do it. Getting comfortable with rhyming. Yeah. Rhyming is a skill. It's like a muscle. Oh, also, I guess I didn't say this, but the musical improv class, I actually don't really teach like people vocal technique.
Right, right, right. You don't have to really be like a trained singer to do it. Yeah. And I don't, you don't even have to be whatever, like, good at singing is cause I don't like believe that, I don't know, like I said, like, I didn't think I was a good singer and then I found out like anybody can sing.
Yeah. That's kind of my philosophy. Yeah. Yeah. There's a lot of confidence that goes into it and anyway, blah, blah, blah. So the musical improv class that you don't have to be a good singer, you just kind of have to have a willingness to kind of step outside of a comfort zone, maybe, and just learn to rhyme and make up songs on the spot and be silly and have fun.
And it probably helps to have some musical knowledge, but you don't need to. Yeah. What else do I have to say about it? We're still developing the curriculum, so I guess like this is all this it's so exciting because writing curriculum All of that is
something I believe very strongly in anyway Yeah, a lot of what I'm trying to do with this project is bust people's minds open to like regardless of what you How you feel about yourself and your abilities there is a place for you in music somewhere.
Oh, absolutely Yes, so Music is for everyone for sure. I think. Yeah. And I
think that's why I love I have come to really love doing this musical improv is because it's it's so open and welcoming and Sabrina said it so well when she introduced and you might have to help me out like at our first show.
Yeah, where it's like, what's people's greatest fear? Mm hmm. Oftentimes public speaking. Oh, yeah, yeah. narrowing down that like what's most terrifying about public speaking, forgetting your lines are not having lines. Mm hmm. And then what's people's other biggest fear? Singing. Yes. What's your biggest fear?
Singing? Like forgetting your lines, having your lines. So it's like, yeah, there's so much bravery and overcoming of very natural fears that everybody has. To do this like it's so intense like 0. 1% of people Like as far as being able to overcome things that are so scary is like to get up and sing and not have life Right of an audience,
Yeah, well, I get stressed out though when I like have to sing a song and there's like a high note to the end I thought stresses me out. I don't know. I'm just kidding but yeah, no it is it is scary and but it doesn't mean like You know, people, anybody can do it too at the same time, which is really cool.
And yeah, it's for everybody and it should be enjoyed by everyone. Music is. And should be for everybody and enjoyed by everyone because it's like a universal thing for sure. Yeah.
Spot on. I agree.
So I have one last question for you. Okay. And I ask all of my guests this at the end. So do you know what zeitgeist means?
Zeitgeist Radio. Yeah, I mean well, I just said yes without... You're like, yeah I mean, no, no idea. So you do know about the Zeitgeist is kind of like a collection of knowledge. Yeah. That... Humans all experienced. That's kind of what I know. Yeah, so it's
kind of like the the feeling of the times The spirit of the times as I'd like as I tweens time and Geist is like poltergeist Ghost time ghost is technically the literal translation.
But basically it's like the feeling of what it's like. And I was introduced to this in my music history classes, the zeitgeist of any particular era. And music is so like influential in shaping that and what it feels like. And you look back even just across the decades, like we're talking about beastie rap, like the zeitgeist of that.
era, like when you hear Beastie Boys, you're just immediately taken back to what it was like and like Pogs and all the other things in the 90s. So so I have what I call a zeitgeist moment, which is You are going about your day, you are doing something relating to music, and all of a sudden you just feel that connectedness.
Mm hmm. And this can be in, in anything. So
What was a,
either a recent or a very memorable zeitgeist moment for you when something, you interacted with music in some way and it just clicked and you kind of came alive and felt just like, you know that moment where you're just like, ah. Mm
hmm. What was a zeitgeist moment for you?
Okay, let me see. There's probably been a few yeah, first of all, I like Disneyland yes, and I have like a core memory of Going to Disneyland. I okay. I first of all, I go to Disneyland as an adult So there's that but I have a core memory of going as a child and walking in through the gate First gates you go in or like before you even get to the park and they were like blasting.
This is weird. It's not a Disney song, but they're blasting good vibrations by the Beach Boys. Wow. That's not what I expected you to say Okay, this is so weird, but it was like such a core memory for me and it was because they have California Adventure there Yeah, California Adventure Beach Boys and I just like Remember, and maybe it was an instrumental version or something, but I just remember like the feeling of walking into Disneyland and being like really happy and hearing the Beach Boys into the California Adventure Park, I guess.
Yes, yes, yes. I don't know. Well,
it was funny 'cause I thought you were gonna say a Disney song and I was like, they are unique because there's zeitgeist, Uhhuh is like timelessness or time timelessness. Mm-hmm. , right? Timeless. Timeless classics. What does that mean? It means you can't, I mean, you sort of can attach a movie to when it came out, but most of them are, they try to design them.
So there is no zeitgeist other than Disney. Disney's like their own. Yeah.
It's own thing for sure. But then you said Beach Boys and I was like, I know. Yeah. I mean, but all of it, they had also played the Indiana Jones theme as you walk into the park and then. Disney does like this thing where they do really control the volume and what music is played throughout the parks.
I have sneakers everywhere. You can't see them, but it's always playing. So if you're walking down, like, Main Street in Disneyland, like, the music is so specific to whatever. That area is, which is like 1900s, turn of the century, like the South where Walt Disney grew up, or if you're in like the future land, like tomorrow, I'm a fake Disney fan.
If you're in Tomorrowland, it will play like the spacey futuristic kinds of stuff. Retro futurism kind of music and things like that. So it is a fun place to go and just like experience all of it. What is your favorite?
Moment that you've ever had doing musical theater? Mm-hmm. .
That's question. Musical improv.
Musical improv. I actually do remember like more recently having kind of a zeitgeist moment, but also like a favorite musical improv moment where it did feel like I wasn't even there. . Yeah. That, that's the best I know. Yes. And I've had those moments doing improv and doing Music and stuff before that's like the I think that's the reason to keep coming back to performance.
Yeah, but when I was Doing like musical improv. I don't even remember what I was singing about but I just went into the flow state See, I can't remember. I'd like to tell you more. No, I remember I was doing a musical improv show I forgot what I was singing about And I was really just into it. I was kind of using more of my, not classical singing, a little bit more of my classical singing voice because you like vibrato and things, whatever.
But I was just in like full flow state and you playing to like the emotional stakes of whatever the scene was and fully just. in it. And that was really fun. I, those, those times are super fun for me just to like fully be present in the moment with like the music and everything that's happening around me.
Yes. Yeah, for
sure. That's, that's spot on. Yeah. I think mine, I remember the penguin one just because that was, that was the first time that ever happened to me in improv was when I was just like, I found something and it worked. Yeah. And then when you're playing and like the performers respond and they like.
They get into the flow state. Yeah, that feels amazing to me. 'cause
yeah, it's super awesome. It's a real magical thing. Yeah. And yeah, it's super cool. I love doing that. I, I wanna do more of that when I'm like coaching or teaching or something. I, I am like usually watching and I don't get to do it as much.
So I guess when I go to Disneyland and I listen to the music there, it's cool or something. , no, I dunno. That's how I like cope. With everything. Oh my gosh. Yeah.
Well, I'm so excited to continue working with you on this crazy journey that we've both stumbled into. Me too! Thank you so
much for being on my podcast.
Thank you! Woohoo!
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Zeitgeist Radio. To up-level your musical journey and become a music student for life. Join the Zeitgeist Academy by signing up for my biweekly newsletter. You'll get exclusive content, blog posts, and behind the scenes insights. I love putting it together and you'll love reading it.
Head over to zeitgeist academy.com/radio. That's Z E I T G E I S t academy.com/radio. Music for this episode was created by Ian Boswell. Please hit that subscribe button and tell all your friends you found a cool new podcast. See you next time.