In learning to improvise a first logical step is the techniqie of figuration or diminution.

In Oxford Music Online figuration is described as: 

"A kind of continued measured embellishment, accompaniment, or passage-work. In principle, figuration is composed of ‘figures’, or small patterns of notes occupying a beat or two of time; often, however, the term is used loosely for passage-work not readily divisible into ‘figures’, such as scales or arpeggios."

The great age for figuration and diminution was around 1600 for example in music of the English virginalists, German colorists, Italian violinists and singers of all nationalities.

A famous example from the Netherlands is of course Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), for example his variations on well known melodies like "Mein junges Lebens hat ein End", or "Est-ce Mars?" and several others.

A good exercise to learn to improvise is to add embellishments to the partimento prototypes presented.

Learn to play them on a keyboard and start with the two-part prototypes.

Listen to the figurated audio examples. Memorize and play them in several major and minor keys

For some general info on ornamental tones check 11. ornamental or non-harmonic tones





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