It seems to me that they are talking about improvisation and also ornamentation, which I think of as something different. Maybe I’m wrong … (who … me?!).

Anyway, it’s a fun little segment.


  1. Hi, this is Eric Edberg from DePauw. Ornamentation can be improvised or worked out in advance; same thing with cadenzas. Most people work them out in advance, so maybe that’s why improvisation and ornamentation seem different to you, because they often are.

    People who like to improvise and who are really on top of the language of a particular style will improvise ornamentation and/or cadenzas. Robert Levin, who’s mentioned in the WSJ article, does this with Mozart and Beethoven. I’m not sure if the ornaments Brad sings in the video are something he’s worked out with his teacher or if he improvised them while he was being interviewed (I’ll ask him when he gets back).

    Great blog, by the way. My blog is at, and my improv-specific blog is at

  2. Nice to hear from you, Eric! Thanks for the comment.

    I do know ornamentation can be planned out or improvised, but I guess I just think of that as different than “complete” improvisation. But I’m just an oboist! ;-)

    I have my students “improvise” although of course it’s just simple stuff. I do it myself, having gotten in a pickle once with water in a key and needing to work around a note, and having had to add music to a prelude at a wedding and not having any music I really wanted to play; it was easier to improvise. I do it with my students partially because I think we “classically trained” folk are too stuck to the page, and partially because I found that when I improvised I rarely missed an attack. Somehow improvisation frees me from fear in that way.

    I’ll be checking out your blogs. Thanks!

  3. I still remember looking forward to eighth grade, since I could then play the cool trumpet solos in jazz band. So, of course, Joe Hinds (the music director) introduced new pieces – sort of introduction-to-improvisation pieces, where a set of notes (vs. chord changes) were provided and you were supposed to use those notes to improvise solos. I pretty much tried to do something new each time, but one of the trombone players took it home and came up with a set thing he would do every time we played that piece. In any case, by the time we were seniors he was quite adept at improvisation (these days he makes beer – he’s the “Gordon” part of Gordon Biersch – hi Dan).

  4. I KNEW IT!: improvisation leads to drinking.

    Gee … you know half of Gordon Biersch. Cool.

    I guess I should have YOU improvising now, eh Tim? I have the young’uns do it. So I guess a “middle’un” could do it to. ;-)