Improvise Using Ornaments

I was adding upper neighbouring notes to the melody of When the Saints Go Marching In today. Then I thought, why not go back to the original note after the neighbouring note? Oh, we end up with a mordent played slowly.

I was then adding lower neighbouring notes to the melody. And then I went back to the original note after each neighbouring note. Ah, I ended up with lower mordents.

What if I add an upper neighbouring note followed by a lower neighbouring note? E.g. on the note A, I would play A, B, A, G, A. I end up with a turn!

It occurred to me that I was adding stuff to the original melody. Pretty stuff. Which is exactly what ornaments are.

Sure, adding ornaments can’t exactly be called improvisation. But for pianists who have been taught the traditional way i.e. note reading for years, surely this is a little win for them (and me)? You may pooh-pooh at the idea of adding ornaments to a melody and dismiss it as simple and easy. Simple yes. Easy no, at least not to me. It takes an open mind, ears and heart to consciously add ornaments to a melody (unless you are a skilled baroque player).

I believe adding ornaments to a melody is one of the simple ways to get classical musicians improvising. Go on, make the tune pretty. Play the pretty notes!

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