Author: Connor Gaydon
Release Date: February 2023 (eBook)
Price: £12 (or £2 per stage)
Purpose: Provide beginner musicians a practical book to learn classical improvisation using the Partimento method.
For over a century, classical improvisation has been a lost skill, until now. During the 17th-19th centuries, improvisation was embedded into musical life: in education, composition, and performance. As a child, Mozart would astonish audiences with his improvisations of fugues and inventions. As an adult, if he was on a tight deadline for performing his latest piano concerto, he may forego writing out all of the piano part, and only write the important notes he would then improvise on in front of hundreds of people. However, it was not just the great musicians that could improvise, all classical musicians could.
How did these musicians of the past learn improvisation? Partimento was one of the systematic methods used primarily in Naples, Italy. This method has recently been rediscovered; kick-starting a revival of classical improvisation. However, much of the current literature aims at the Undergraduate, or Graduate level of conceptual and musical maturity. Additionally, only one of these books, Mortensen’s (2020) The Pianist’s Guide to Classical Improvisation gets close to providing a method where a student can go from a beginner of improvisation, to an intermediate stage. But once again, the technical level for the student is still demanding.
What has been missing, is a systematic, comprehensive method for Beginner improvisers, who may be at around ABRSM Grade 2-4 in playing ability, to learn Classical Improvisation using the Partimento method. This is the gap my new book, Partimento: A Beginner Method for Classical Improvisation seeks to redress.
During Partimento: A Beginner Method for Classical Improvisation, we start by getting to know the basics of music, covered in Stage 1: Prerequisites. Then, from Stages 2-5 we tackle the main ingredients of improvisation (what the 18th century, Neapolitans called Regole, the “Rules”). Finally, in Stages 6-7 we practise improvising with, and without, partimenti. Here are the seven stages below:
- Prerequisites – the things you need to know before beginning this book.
- Cadences – ending a musical phrase.
- Rule of the Octave – harmonising a scale.
- Sequences – extending a phrase over different harmonies.
- Modulations – changing key smoothly.
- Partimenti – improvising over a bass.
- Improvise! – creating your own improvisations.
We cover each stage through a four-part structure – providing a theoretical overview of the concept, providing practice techniques, prototypes (standard patterns to learn), and partimenti (basslines to improvise over) – we gain understanding of these Rules and, through practice, gain fluency of execution. The 40+ partimenti featured in this book have been newly composed by the author to be at an appropriate standard for the Beginnner. This is necessary as Job Ijzerman (2018, p.xii) notes that even “the easiest eighteenth-century partimenti … require a considerable set of musical skills, which a beginner may not have acquired yet”. These partimenti help apply what has been learnt in a practical way, closer to a piece of composed music.
Bu what is the purpose of learning to improvise in a classical style? The main benefit of classical improvisation using Partimento is gaining a practical understanding of counterpoint, which, over the past century or so, has been taught theoretically. This practical understanding imparts in you the mechanics of classical music in an enjoyable, transferrable way. In turn, this gives you skills such as:
- Classical improvisation
- Stylistic composition
- Music analysis
- Historical performance
- Aural (listening) skills
- Accompaniment through figured bass
- Practical understanding of:
- Harmony – the note/s you could play over a bass
- Counterpoint – the note/s you should play over a bass
- Melody, diminution, and ornamentation
These skills make for well-rounded musicians who can speak and understand the language of music, rather than performing music ‘exactly as written’ (whilst being ignorant of what was intended). This enhances many aspects of your musical life, such as playing with others, composing music in a style you enjoy, or creating music on the spot. These wide-ranging skills are easier to acquire with the study of Partimento. I am confident you will see the benefit of the time and effort you spend learning the content of this book.
Why did I write this book? The reason is that I fundamentally love common-practice classical music. I want as many people to enjoy it as possible. In my experience of learning piano, violin, and music theory as a child, I found there to be a lack of creativity in traditional methods of teaching classical music. If one was to improvise, one would be taught jazz; and if one were to compose, one would have to do so in a contemporary idiom. However, I loved tonal classical music from the common-practice period. I wanted to learn to improvise and compose in this idiom as this expressed my emotions most truthfully; it was the style of music I cared most about. But whenever I spoke to any teacher, they could not advise me on how to improvise or compose, or even where to start. This is no criticism of any of my teachers – the teachers themselves had not been taught. If they had been taught improvisation, then those methods were very different from those methods taught to the composers I revered.
While at university, I discovered Partimento. This was the missing piece of the puzzle. Partimento was one of the methods taught to young musicians in the 17th-19th centuries; teaching theory, counterpoint, form and composition through improvisation. This was a reversal of what I expected, these musicians were not taught to improvise through theory, they were taught theory through improvisation. Additionally, improvisation was both a means of learning composition, and an end in itself.
These discoveries were life changing. Finally, we had uncovered a path to learning classical improvisation! Yet, there was still much to do. As mentioned in the beginning, the resources that have been produced are are aimed at the professor, the graduate, and the undergraduate. Nothing was created for the intermediate student or younger learner. Many of the currently available Partimento resources contain notational devices that have long fallen out of practice and are not on the curriculum for the modern student. In order to learn improvisation, it seems one would have to learn all of the clefs, figured bass, and significantly change how they think about music theory. There remained no accessible materials for the modern student who may read treble and bass clef, and understand pop chords or roman numerals.
This is the gap my book hopes to fill. Throughout this book I teach improvisation using the Partimento method in a comprehensible way by using contemporary notation and language that modern students will understand. I slowly introduce historical concepts like scale degrees and figured bass, and I provide many resources to fill the knowledge gap that today’s students and teachers may have. We are in a position where even the most expert of classical players may be beginners with classical improvisation. With this book, I hope to create an approachable method for classical improvisation using the same techniques by which the greatest musicians of the 17th-19th centuries were taught.
So how can you read Partimento: A Beginner Method for Classical Improvisation? Currently I am listing each stage separately for PDF download in the Books page of my website. You can add all stages to the cart to buy, or just the stages you are most interested in. In the coming weeks, I will be combining these stages into a single PDF for download. In the coming months, I would like to get this book published, and release additional versions as Audiobooks, or video companions to enhance the content of the book. In the coming years, I will be releasing subsequent books at increasing levels of difficulty. Work has already begun on the second book, Partimento: An Intermediate Method for Classical Improvisation where we learn more prototypes of the different Partimento Rules, apply more diminutions, and improvise longer musical forms.
In the words of Peter Van Tour, “there is a new era of music theory coming, that’s absolutely sure”. If you want be part of this new era of music education, and learn classical improvisation using the method through which the best musicians were taught, then you will enjoy Partimento: A Beginner Method for Classical Improvisation.
 This can be evidenced from the increase in Google Books Ngram Viewer, where there has been a spike over the past 20 years, compared with the last 219 years in the usage of the word, ‘Partimento’. Here is a link for Google Books Ngram Viewer which shows the use of ‘Partimento’ in English on the Google Books database from 1800-2019. The Y-axis shares the % of individual words that are “Partimento”. We can see there has been a growing production of content in this area, particularly since Robert Gjerdigen’s (2007) Music in the Galant Style and Giorgio Sanguinetti’s (2012) The Art of Partimento. Google Books Ngram Viewer – ‘Partimento’.
|Author||Year of Publication||Title||Primary Emphasis||Approximate Level Required||Price Range*|
|Gjerdingen||2007||Music in the Galant Style||Analysis||Graduate||Kindle – £18 Paperback £30 Hardcover £55|
|Baragwanath||2011||The Italian Traditions and Puccini||History||Graduate||Kindle – £8 Hardcover – £43|
|Sanguinetti||2012||The Art of Partimento||History, theory, practice||Graduate||Hardcover – £55|
|Van Tour||2015||Counterpoint and Partimento||History, theory||Graduate||Paperback – £108|
|Van Tour||2017||The 189 Partimenti of Nicola Sala (Vol. I-III)||Edition, practice||Graduate||Currently Unavailable|
|Ijzerman||2018||Harmony, Counterpoint, Partimento||Theory textbook||Undergraduate||Kindle – £31 Paperback – £34 Hardcover – £62|
|Gjerdingen||2020||Child Composers in the Old Conservatories||History, theory, practice||Undergraduate||Kindle – £21 Hardcover – £26|
|Mortensen||2020||The Pianist’s Guide to Classical Improvisation||Practical method book||Undergraduate||Kindle – £16 Paperback – £22 Hardcover – £101|
|Baragwanath||2021||The Solfeggio Tradition||History, theory, practice||Graduate||Kindle – £40 Hardcover – £48|
|Paraschivescu||2022||The Partimenti of Giovanni Paisiello||History, theory, practice||Graduate||eBook – £25 Hardcover – £70|
|Mortensen||2023||Improvising Fugue: A Method for Keyboard Artists||Practical method book||Undergraduate||Kindle – £17 Paperback – £29 Hardcover – £81|
 Ijzerman, J. (2018). Harmony, Counterpoint, Partimento: A New Method Inspired by Old Masters. New York: Oxford University Press.
 Mortensen, J. (2020). The pianist’s guide to historic improvisation. Oxford University Press.
 Pinkevicius, V. (Producer). (2017). SOP Podcast #69 – Peter Van Tour on Teaching Composition in Late 18th Century Naples [69th]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/vidas-pinkevicius/sop-podcast-69-peter-van-tour-on-teaching-composition-in-late-18th-century-naples.
Partimento: A Beginner Method for Classical Improvisation
‘Partimento: A Beginner Method for Classical Improvisation’ book teaches the reader classical improvisation through updating the method of Partimento for the modern student.
During this book, we start by getting to know the basics of music, covered in Stage 1: Prerequisites. Then, from Stages 2-5 we tackle the main ingredients of improvisation (what the 18th century, Neapolitans called Regole, the “Rules”). Finally, in Stages 6-7 we practise improvising with, and without, partimenti. Here are the seven stages below:
Stage 1 – Prerequisites (pp.9-43)
Stage 2 – Cadences (pp.44-72)
Stage 3 – Rule of the Octave (pp.73-92)
Stage 4 – Sequences (pp.93-137)
Stage 5 – Modulations (pp.138-171)
Stage 6 – Partimenti (pp.172-188)
Stage 7 – Improvise! (pp.189-220)
Take your first steps into classical improvisation on the rediscovered path of Partimento.