Classical improv and partimenti

Somebody, was it @MarcLarcher, was interested on classical improvisation. If anybody is interested I recommend John Mortensons books Guide to Historical Improvisation and Improvising Fugue

The foundation is the Rule of the Octave which must be ground into your soul in all keys, it’s actually really hard to learn so I did a project to practice during your daily warmup. Also play it not as a scale, just muscle learn the positions that can be used in any order

Note this is John’s Furno based ROTO I believe, there are others

ROTO.dorico (1.7 MB)

I don’t remember having expressed that, but indeed it sounds interesting! I’ll check this out.

OK did some digging, it was @Romanos !

This post

1 Like

In general for the composers here I recommend taking a look at this. It’s an interesting history, back in the 1600’s or something there was a war or some such tragedy that created a lot of orphans in Italy. The local govt. was trying to do something with all these street urchins, and so gave a grant to the local school to teach them something useful. What they did was turn them into musicians, and developed a method of teaching music based on Partimenti that was basically foolproof.

And back then, pre recorded music and with a lack of printing, musicians were expected to be proficient at composing, performing and improvising. It all went together. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and the like were all taught this method, and that is why we have stories of the old masters who could improvise at the drop of the hat.

As time went on this was all forgotten, music teaching became rigid and separated out the performing arts from the compositional, and improvising got dropped. Music theory developed which was divorced from the practice of composition.

So pre Roman Numerals this was the business, and is a beautiful way to work musically - worth a look.

I believe the book that’s most responsible for raising the profile of partimenti recently was Robert Gjerdingen’s “Music in the Galant Style”, though it’s still on my “to read” list so I can’t personally vouch for it. It’s very highly cited though.


Correct, that’s what kicked it all off but isn’t the best for understanding the system, it’s a more academic/historical kind of thing IMO. John’s books I think are pretty much the standard now for a practical introduction into the subject.

If you want a slow, easier introduction then get the first one (Historical Improvisation), if you want a more rigorous and challenging then go straight to the Improvising Fugue, and if you’re serious get both.

They’re both good, my brain is more of a theoretical one, I get confused when things are simplified to supposedly make them easier to understand, so I’ve found the latter book the most understandable about how ROTO and Partimenti work together, for example. But the earlier one is better at throwing you into the deep end of the pool where you’ll be improvising very quickly.

Full disclosure that I basically still suck at it - this is hard stuff. And our brains think in Roman Numerals unfortunately, this other system you don’t have the time to actually think. It’s a muscle/instinctual planned kind of approach. But I’ve mastered ROTO in all the keys finally (which isn’t easy) and now and am throwing time into it.

If your figured bass skills need work I recommend “Continuo Playing According to Handel” by the way. This is his exercises as used to teach to his students, with modern commentary. I don’t think you have to be a figured bass master to do this, but I’ve found it goes hand in hand in developing that part of your brain.

And finally if you’re interested in the sources there’s which has them all available for free. I think Gjerdingen created this site with the help of an academic grant, basically contains all the historical material he was able to recover.