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I recently watched a movie entitled "Frequencies" and there is a scene where one of the main protagonists, as a kid, is enticed to play the piano, he is told to play any notes in any order and in any time, at first the notes seem very random but then the person who told him to play creates a melody out of the previously random notes. You can watch this brief clip on youtube.

I'd like to know how this is done.

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Steps to improvising a melody from random notes:

  • Sing the notes to yourself. See if by singing the notes over and over you spontaneously create a melody. See if a counter-melody suggests itself to you that responds to this spontaneous melody.
  • Play the note sequence as stated
  • Play any melody or counter-melody. Add connecting notes between the notes of the sequence if they make it sound better.
  • Go back to the original note sequence
  • Determine the key or key centers of the note sequences
  • Based on the key, determine which chords fit the note sequence
  • Play the note sequences with the chords
  • Based on the notes and the chords start varying the original note sequences with variations and any counter-melodies that occur to you. Take little trips away from the original note sequence, returning to it often.

Varying a melody is a whole book but a couple of tricks you can try are:

  • Add notes in between notes in the note sequence based either on the scale or on the underlying chords.
  • A good rule to follow in improvising is "Big step up, small steps down." Or the reverse.
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The easiest way to do it is write all the music for the scene before you shoot the movie!

But seriously, this is pretty much the way that composing music has always been taught and learned. It's the same technique as learning a foreign language: you start by responding to simple musical ideas that only require a small musical "vocabulary" and "grammar", practice until you get proficient, and then progress to a harder level. Eventually, you invent your own "problems" to solve.

Whether you learn composition or improvisation mainly by playing your instrument, or by doing more formal written exercises, depends on what genre of music you are studying and what level you have reached.

Of course in the video, the kid is being encouraged to play the role of "teacher" in these exercises, and the adult isn't a "beginning student".

Here's an example of somebody doing it for real, and making a longer improvisation out of a few notes:

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Previous replies should answer a lot of your questions. The first three notes in your YouTube example are B, D and F. Those are the third, fifth, and seventh notes (chords) of the key of G. He is playing some kind of a G Major scale. It sounds like he plays G Major 7, D7 the V7 and the vii, F minor 7 flat V. It could be played as all 7th chords or other chord substitutes. I’m guessing he’s playing the traditional I Major7, V7 and the vii chord, F minor 7 flat 5. Using chord substitutes is improvisation. If it sounds good, it probably is, but when studying a new song learn as written before using substitute chords. First, find those notes B, D, F on your instrument. With the notes you can determine the scale in which it is played. Use thirds, 1,3,5,7, or, G B D F. Chords in any major key are usually 1 Major, ii minor, iii minor, IV Major, V7 a seventh chord, vi minor and the vii, minor 7 flat5. Find the notes, stack them in thirds. Stacking notes in thirds is a good start and how it is done. Take the other examples on your YouTube site and see what you can figure out from the notes and chords.
Study music theory as your questions are addressed in a good music theory book. One example of a good theory book, a text in some colleges and for reference is “The Jazz Theory Book” by Mark Levine.

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Great scene!

Well, it happens that those notes fit on some scale. I don't know, let's say, for example, A major. So, this scale is composed of the notes A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#. This gives you a framework to work with. With those notes, you can play chords and/or melodies. Each scale gives you a framework to improvise with.

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You can isolate each note one by one and find chords that sound well with it. Now the trick is that the next chord must 'flow' nicely while coming from the previous one so that it won't sound like some random chords, but chords related to each other.

There is a really interesting done by Publio Delgado here, that uses popular youtube videos and harmonizes the voices to fit to chords.

Imagine...if you can construct a 'song' out of internet video voices, it's really easy to construct a song that sounds melodic out of random notes.

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