11 improvisation tips to help you make music in the moment

by Michael Gallant on February 21, 2012 · 50 comments

in Fast Forward,Recording & Mastering

Becoming a fluent improviser is an attainable goal. Here are some tips to help you grow in that direction, and to make your own music improvisation shine.

Photo by Ahren Ciotti, Ciotti Industries
Whether you’re turned on by Phish jamming through the night, Miles Davis conjuring wistful melodies in space, or Stevie Ray Vaughn wailing something nasty, you just can’t argue with the fact that skillful music improvisation is a powerful thing.

Learning to create music spontaneously in the moment is not a simple task, and any experienced improviser will tell you that it’s not nearly as straightforward as “just making it up.” In fact, some of the musicians who make improvisation look the most effortless are the ones who have put the most time into practice and study.

That said, even if you’ve never improvised a lick in your life, becoming fluent at music improvisation is an entirely attainable goal. Here are some tips to help you grow in that direction, and to make your own impromptu musical stories shine.

Believe that you can improvise
The ability to improvise on stage or in the studio isn’t some magical facility only bestowed upon the lucky. Rather, like nearly everything in music, it’s a skill that can be learned.

In 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner for Keyboard magazine. When I asked him how he practices improvising, his response was: “I don’t actually practice that much. I compose.” He went on to say that, in many ways, improvising and writing music are two sides of the same coin – only one happens more slowly while the other happens very quickly, in the moment.

In other words, if you can craft a melody, hammer out a bass line, or write a cool set of chord changes, you have what it takes to improvise – even if the idea of creating music instantaneously, in front of a crowd, seems terrifying.

“Improvising is just a more spontaneous, sped-up, real-time version of the same process,” agrees Jordan Scannella, a New York bass player and leader of the hip-hop-tinged JORSCAN. “When you’re trying to write a song, you want to create something that’s memorable, and that people can take home with them. Why should your improvs be any different?”

Play along with records
A great way to get your toes wet, build confidence, and gain experience as an improviser is to jam along with your favorite recorded music. Regardless of whether you’re a metal guitarist or a blues harmonica player, finding how your sound and style fits in with the albums you love can take you far.

Just find a space and time when you’ll be alone, put on some of your favorite music, and make noise that you feel dances nicely with what you’re hearing. Try different approaches – perhaps play through the same song repeatedly, adding only a few notes here or there at first, and then playing much more densely and aggressively. Similarly, you can try playing parts that blend nicely into the background and enrich the overall texture of the recording, and then play something that’s loud and cutting, placing your improv in front of your favorite band. Most importantly, experiment far and wide and go by what you think sounds good.

“I used to play along with hip-hop records when I was coming up,” says Scannella. “Hip-hop grooves can often be static and repetitive, so playing along with albums of that genre can give beginning improvisers a great opportunity to work within a basic set of parameters.

And remember – if you’ve never improvised before, the more hours you log playing along with your favorite records, the easier it will be to come up with something cool and compelling when there’s a live band and audience involved.

Mess with the melody
“If you look back at the roots of contemporary improvisation, which hearken back to players like Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke in the 1920s, their improvisations were often ornamentations of the song they were playing,” says Scannella,. “They played the melodies, and then they played their interpretations of the melody.”

When you’re learning to improvise, remember that, just like Bix and Louis, you don’t need to stray far from the melody to say something profound. “I encourage bass students I work with, no matter whether they’re doing jazz, rock, funk, or anything else, to learn the melody – and learn the guitar part and other aspects of what’s going on in every tune they play,” says Scannella. “When it comes time to do your improvisation, you can use all those elements to inform what you’re playing.”

When messing with a melody, try changing just a note here or there, leaving a note or two out, or adding your own ornamentation to a certain lick or phrase. You’ll likely be surprised by how much personality even a simple variation can create.

Mess with the rhythm
“When it comes to improvising and making a melody your own, rhythm is king,” describes Scannella. “There are only so many different notes you can play, but there’s endless variation available when it comes to rhythm. Blues players, for example, don’t generally play a whole lot of different notes from song to song and solo to solo. There’s so much that they can do with rhythm and feel to make one tune vary from another.”

Again, start by making minor shifts in the rhythm of a melody you’re already playing. Even hitting a single right note earlier or later than expected can create a significant impact on your listeners.

Learn music theory
While studying music theory is not absolutely essential when it comes to learning to improvise, it can sure help along the way. “Learning jazz theory was a great asset for me when it came to understanding harmony, and how all of the elements of a piece of music work together,” says Scannella. “It expanded the range of tools I could use when it came time for me to improvise.”

Regardless of how much or little theory you decide to study, don’t fall into the trap of fearing that learning more will make your playing less raw or real. “You never want to limit yourself,” Scannella continues. “Just because you know theory doesn’t mean you always have to use it.”

Try reacting to what’s around you
In 2006, I was lucky to catch one of Phish’s explosive final shows (or so we all thought) at Coney Island. It rained during the outdoor concert and, at one point, the highly-improvisational band seemed to channel the flow of the weather through their playing. As the rain drenched us all the harder, the jam intensified, becoming denser and more aggressive; as the rain lightened up, the groove became more airy and peaceful.

Regardless of whether you have a rainstorm to inspire you or not, the lesson is there’s always something going on that you can use as creative fodder for your improvisation. Is someone talking loudly at the table next to the stage? Try imitating the rhythm or phrasing of their speaking in your playing. Is there a friend hanging at the bar that you’d like to catch up with? Begin the conversation with your instrument.

Playing off of what’s going on around you may feel silly or awkward at first, but try it anyway. Sometimes even the most unlikely of inspirations can give you the creative fuel you need to improvise something powerful.

Embrace the accident
Sometimes the coolest moments in a performance can come from something you had absolutely no intention of playing. When I was recording the song “Autumn Leaves” for my first album with Aurical, I slipped in the middle of the piano solo and accidentally hit two notes, a half-step apart, instead of one. I cringed in the moment, but kept playing, and when I listened back, the dissonance worked quite well in the context of the song – who would have guessed? Since then, I’ve remembered that unexpected minor-second chord, and intentionally put similar dissonance into my solos when I perform that song live.

In short, don’t be afraid to try something different and risky when you improvise. Only by pushing your comfort boundaries in the moment can you really discover just how far you can go creatively.

Don’t judge yourself in the moment
“There’s an old adage that says if you’re thinking you’re stinking,” says Scannella. “For any aspect of your playing – groove, intonation, note choice, whatever – too much analysis in the moment can be detrimental. Especially if you’re improvising and feeling like you’re sucking, putting that feeling into your consciousness isn’t going to have a good effect. You practice to be prepared for those moments, but when you play, just play.”

Learning to ignore the self-critical voice when you’re improvising can be tricky, though. In a 2011 interview with Chick Corea for Keyboard, the iconic musician told me that, as he approached his seventh decade, he had finally “cut that terrible habit out. It’s a very non-productive way of doing anything. It just slows you down to a snail’s pace.” He continues:

[Playing without judging yourself] is nothing that can be achieved mechanically by practicing. It’s in the realm of the spirit, in the realm of an ability to be comfortable with your band mates, with an audience, and with yourself, really. Some of it is a matter of confidence, being secure in your abilities, being able to have the courage to realize your own thoughts. Every musician has his or her own taste and goals, and the challenge in life is to bring that forth when you’re on stage and actually performing, to follow that through to its final conclusion without any barriers or considerations except for achieving that. That doesn’t tell you how to do it, but that’s what I think is the ideal.

Review after the fact
“It’s always enlightening to hear what you played after the gig, whether it be encouraging or humbling,” says Scannella. “Often what we hear on the bandstand in real time is not the same as what the audience hears, so listening to yourself recorded can be a big help.”

Record your improvs on an iPhone or other handy digital device, note what works and what doesn’t, forgive yourself for any mistakes made, and bring that newfound knowledge to your next opportunity to improvise – you’ll be that much more skillful and assured in your playing the next time around.

Say something
“As a listener, I want to hear people tell stories through their improvisations,” Scannella describes. “Blowing tons of notes up and down is impressive, but over a whole set of music, it gets boring. I’d much rather hear someone explore ideas, develop melodies, and work with musical motifs to really take the listener on a journey.”

The stories you tell through your improvs don’t have to be Shakespearean epics. Rather, you can “talk” about what you had for breakfast, that news story you saw on TV that made you happy or angry, something cute your dog did this morning – or even the experience of improvising music in the very moment you happen to be occupying. Just make sure that whatever story you’re trying to tell through your playing is something that brings out your own emotions – if you’re feeling something, chances are the audience will feel something, too.

Keep learning
Improvisation is a huge topic, and the tips included here are just the beginning. As you continue experimenting and listening, here are a few further resources:

Jim Snidero’s Jazz Conception book series

Jamie Aebersold play-along books

The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine

How to Improvise Music” (eHow)

Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download now through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.

Professional 
songwriters offer advice on how to write a great song

Read More
How to find, land, and work a music publishing deal
Making magic when things go wrong on stage
Three Keys to a Compelling Music Performance
How I Bombed On Stage
What Makes You So “Eclectic?”

Share this articleShare on Facebook449Tweet about this on Twitter86Share on Google+8Share on StumbleUpon5,577Email this to someoneShare on LinkedIn10Share on Reddit0Digg this

{ 1 trackback }

11 Improvisation TipsUniqueSquared Pro Audio Blog
June 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Wolfrimbaud February 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm

What a pile of hogwash. Do you even know what you’re talking about? What about the obvious thing? Learn scales and modes! This writer has no clue.

Reply

Astralpretzel March 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm

 I would call that “Learn music theory”

Reply

colman March 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm

also learn the language,we have in jazz language many dielects and Blues is the home,many other add ons since the begining, all beautiful but if you dont know how to sing the Blues you ain`t gonna play jazz.

Reply

Steve March 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Wolfrimbaud… not hogwash at all, but only part of what it takes.  Scales and modes and keys are at the top of the pyramid to improvised skills.  Most people refuse to practice scales on a daily basis, but that is essential to being a musician,  be it non-pro or professional.  There is NO excuse to having all major, minor, harmonic minor scales and modes memorized… no exception to this.  Also, redundant practice of the music you like to play is something most people will not do, but this is what all pro musicians do whether they admit this to the press or not.  Sorry folks… there is no free lunch when it comes to playing and developing skills and fundamentals in the music biz.  I will now stop preaching about hard and sustained effort, it’s up to all of us to improve ourselves everyday.  

Reply

Mike Mudd March 7, 2012 at 10:45 am

I agree. But, I also have experienced the situation where people can play really tight but can’t play loose. In other words great technical players who are a complete detriment to a jam session. In my opinion you have a great improv session by being able to discard the intellectual knowledge and feel  the music and listen to the others -all the technical ability just allows you to not think about it while you’re using it. 

Reply

Rick Hefner March 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Thanks for the great article, I’ll be sharing this with my students.

Reply

Anne Roos March 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Practice improvising. Sounds odd, as improvising is in the moment, but here is what has helped me: 

Play a melody line on your instrument and record it. Play it back and improvise on top of it. Record your improvisation. Now you can listen and step back and see what else can be done with it. Get some other ideas, play the recordings and continue improvising on top of it, making many layers or starting again with a fresh new melody.If you play folk music, get involved in local pub sessions or open jams. Learn to listen for chord changes in the melody line and just jump in. You’ll get better at it as you continue to participate.

Reply

Anne Roos March 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Also:

If you play folk music, get involved in local pub sessions or open jams. Learn to listen for chord changes in the melody line and just jump in. You’ll get better at it as you continue to participate.

Reply

Dick Hensold March 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm

What!?  I thought this was a good article. He said, “learn music theory”, didn’t he, which includes scales and modes.  The one thing he was not explicit about, but implied in most of his examples, was the importance of ear-skills, particularly being able to play fluently by ear.  Musicians who are really good earplayers need less music theory than ones whose ear skills are not as good.  Lack of ear skills is what stops most classical musicians from being decent improvisers, moreso than lack of theory (which most classical musicians are pretty good at.  But this article was not about the nuts and bolts.  It was about really singing and having something to say…

What I think is interesting about improv, is that the rules and techniques for learning to improvise vary so much from one genre to another– would an organist improvising a baroque-style choral prelude prepare for this the same way as a jazz pianist would?  But the tips above seem pretty universal to many different styles.

Reply

Edwarddeemusic March 6, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Thanks for your insight, I hold to another great way to ” practice ” improv is to listen and play along with many styles of music one song after an other ,try to find your place in the piece of music as you play with it. This is a great way to explore tempos , different keys and chord forms …..you may not find your place until the song is half over, does’nt matter, leave and go to next song that comes on the radio, cd, record or satellite station.This teaches your ear quickly how to be a better listener.

Reply

Jako March 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm

One thing that was told to me over 30 years ago was that when improvising, there are no wrong notes.  Any that might be deemed wrong can instantly be turned into a grace note or step to the next note.  The main idea is to have fun because what’s fun to play is fun to listen to.

Reply

Rdk_keyboardist March 6, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I have been mulling over (in my head) your comment about there are no wrong notes.  What do you base that on?  As being a soloist or wthin a group setting?  I agree that if you are a solo artist and you are improvising, that whatever you play could not be considered wrong because you are playing something that you made up instantly. However, in a group setting, unless you stay within the key structure of the song will most likely sound like a sharp poke in the ear.

Reply

Randall714 March 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

while I completely understand your point, I have to agree with Jako. Two things come to  mind here. One of the main things that keeps people from being able to improvise is the fear of hitting “the  wrong note”. I’ve always liked the comment by Larry Keel that if you hit the wrong note, just don’t hit it again. In other words don’t be afraid to try, improv isn’t necessarily about perfection, certainly not to the point of stopping you from trying. More to Jako’s

Reply

Randall714 March 6, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Sorry don’t know how to do this. More to jako’s point, I often hit a note that I realize a millisecond too late is the “wrong” one. However, music is about the building and release of tension. So I will often either use that note to begin a quick build of tension that I release with the “right” notes or challenge myself to “explain” why that note wasn’t the wrong one; in other words I make it fit, either as a grace note or step or by harmonizing with it in the next phrase or two. I only know it has lead me to some places I might not have gotten to otherwise.

Reply

Taylor Sappe March 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

In music theory, all chords have either available tensions or avoid notes. All “wrong” notes are non-chord tones. If they happen to be an available tension that is unresolved, they can add richness to the chord. Avoid notes and available tensions can also be resolved to the next scale tone up or down and function as approach, passing, or auxilliary neighbor notes and sound right when resolved in this manner. This creates a little tension and release, which adds excitement to a song, and eventually builds it to the high point (climax). Once you have resolved an unintentional note or used an unresolved available tension, going back and hitting it again will make it sound like what you did was intentional.  The key to making all this work is to keep the timing and groove. If you lose the timing or groove it sounds like a mistake. If your timing is solid it sounds like it was intentional.

Reply

Joe Speers March 9, 2012 at 6:07 am

I think our subconscious makes us play those “wrong” notes.   Our subconscious is not as beholden to the outdated ancient Viennese harmony system mandated by European royalty in the 18th century.   The note is right.  You are wrong :)

Reply

David March 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for the article, informative and encouraging! This project, FingerPaintings: Joy In The Journey, was spontaneously composed (then I added other instruments.) http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fingerpaintings-joy-in-journey/id486650256

Reply

SourceCodeX March 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Ear-skills are vital, feeling the groove of the moment, sensing directions and even setting the next moment to take off are learned by the “doing of it” — not practice as much as immersion in the flow. Technical skills are definitely a plus but many time the soul of one or two well-placed notes can be magic. Improvising can also reflect the effects being used as in timed delay, rhythmic phasing, loops, extended reverby echoes — all can push how one phrases improvisational stylings. Lastly, it helps to be fearless — a timid, unsure solo or limp improv is so much sonic wallpaper and can get lost in the mix — unless you are intentional with timidity for dynamics. http://www.SourceCodeX.com

Reply

Scott March 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I couldn’t agree more Dick.  Two hugely important skills to learn and continue to practice and hone over time are “ear skills” and also learning all of the different modalities in all 12 scales – fluently, so that you can play them forward and back, up and down, skips, jumps, arpeggios of varying intervals, until they become second nature.  Once these are learned, you can begin to study, learn and practice “chord substitution”, what Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Monk and the other greats learned to do and everyone that’s followed them has tried to imitate.  Which chords/modes substitute well for the original chords (the ones written in the charts).  These are well-documented, and readily available with a Google search.

A friend of mine suggested another really great technique that I’ve used a lot to expand my improvisation skills and capabilities: when you hear a recording of someone ripping a great lick or riff, and you like it and want to play it, WRITE IT DOWN, then add it to your practice regimen, practice that riff/lick, over and over and over in all 12 keys, until it too becomes 2nd nature.  Now not only have you improved your technique but you’ve just added another weapon in your improv arsenal to pull out and use, whenever you’re hearing it.  This is what all of the greats did and do.

Reply

The Forefathers March 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Some more to add:
LISTEN & FEEL: Close your eyes. Listen to the rhythm and melody of the music being created. Feel it. Don’t try to analyze it. Dance or move along with the beat. Then listen for you part to appear. It sometimes appears out of nowhere. All you have to do is follow it and allow it to flow through you.
SING IT: Once you hear your part, sing it (in your head). Start to play bits of it. Then play all of it. Keep going until you have it.

(Note: If you don’t understand my vernacular, then you don’t understand what improvisation is.)

Reply

Donttread March 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Stevie Ray Vaughan flunked  his music theory class……just sayin,

Reply

Mike Mudd March 7, 2012 at 10:50 am

And he was an amazing blues player, but did very little outside of the standard blues realm. Not really a versatile player. But did he give a damn? Nah. He did what he loved.

Reply

Rdk_keyboardist March 6, 2012 at 7:18 pm

I remember reading an article about Eddie Van Halen.  He was taking a music theory class, and he was becoming extremely frustrated in that his teacher was basically ripping apart a piece that he had just written for homework.  He said, “Wait a minute.  Let’s let the class decide whether or not the piece is any good or not.”  So, he played the piece and got a standing ovation. Then, he turned to the teacher, and said, “Enough said”, and walked out the room.  By the way, Eddie Van Halen, according to his background that I read somewhere actually started on piano first, before turning to the guitar, and  he said it actually helpd with his guitar playing.  Just goes to show that taking up multiple instruments can really help in composing and improvising!

Reply

Taylor Sappe March 7, 2012 at 8:02 am

I took piano long after guitar and it too has helped my guitar playing, singing and my ear. It is easy to unintentionally bend a note out of tune on a guitar, which can throw your entire sense of pitch intonation off, but a piano is always spot on (unless it needs to be tuned) and can help you hear pitches correctly. Also, practicing another instrument gives you a break from your main instrument, and when you come back to it you actually become stronger on it.

Reply

Morrisoncraig March 6, 2012 at 9:17 pm

i love improvisation, listen to my cds. that’s what it is 99% first take!

craig morrison
roundtownsound

Reply

Kick. Bass. Bounce. March 6, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Excellent article! I’m surprised no one has mentionesd Victor Wooten’s book “The Music Lesson”. I liked when the artists commented on actually saying something like a conversation through your instrument. It tied in with music literally being a language, which is something Victor said. Also, scales and stuff are great, but they are just one of many tools in your arsenal. Technically, a “wrong” note is only half a step away from a “right” note. But the. “wrong” notes can be massaged to sound “right” when repeated and resolved. I love “wrong” notes cause its like you travel back in time in the present when they are made “right”. All of this is covered in the book, but I had forgotten the most important part. What are you trying to say when you play? Thanks again for this awesome article!

Reply

Randall714 March 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Thanks Michael, I enjoyed the article. The comments also add some great advice and things to think about. For those interested, google Pat Matheny and Improvisation for some articles on symposiums he has given and scientific research currently going on re: the brain and musical improvisation. For my two cents: I realize that not everyone is blessed with the circle of friends that I have, but the advice I was given (that has absolutely paid off for me) is surround yourself with better players, record everything and listen to it honestly. And know music theory. One of the major points that resonated with me from Methany’s comments is that “Improvisation” without musical theory, is actually freestyle playing. Improvising is about taking a melody or rhythm and taking it on a journey, THEN BRINGING IT BACK. Research has shown that what the human brain responds to the most when listening to improv music is the building and release of tension THAT THEY HAVE HEARD BEFORE. Another point that Pat Matheny made was that the best musicians were not necessarily the best players, they were the best listeners. So the previous commments are spot on, listen, dance, feel. My friends all say they can tell when its happening for me because my eyes are closed. I’m always dancing, so that means I’ve gone beyond listening into feeling and what you are hearing (although seldom perfectly expressed) is what I am feeling. Someday I’m going to learn a song, but for now everything I play is improv. Check out videos on youtube by therandall714. Oak Jam Collective and Open Mic Improv with native american flute, two up and more to come. 

Reply

roger March 7, 2012 at 1:38 am

These are excellent tips.  It’s about time somebody give out real, useful advice about improvisation.  There’s
a lot of crap being taught in both high school and college jazz studies courses.

Reply

Mcgtr March 7, 2012 at 9:44 am

“just lean back, close yer eyes and play. you’ll thank me some day.” – buddy guy
 
“thanks, buddy.” - michel chamberlain

Reply

Bdominguez2001 March 7, 2012 at 11:26 am

Just got into muscle memory after playing since I was 14 years old; I am 63 now. Kind of spooky at first until I learned to relax and let the fingers follow the melody and do the interpretations. I still have to learn more patterns so I can teach my fingers. I love to listen to the kids from the university when they come down and play their Jazz interpretations. They always take me back to the melody so I don’t get lost.
I always read your articles and they are a good source for me. Keep up the good work.

Reply

Aquaone1 March 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

That was a good article…. some great advise…I have been playing along with records since they called records.. records.. ha!ha!…Never to copy, but always to say to myself…What would I play if I was the guitar player…You won’t be able not to hit a note or two the guy on the record played… theory will dictate what is logical for the moment…But you will develope your own style…You see I stink at doing cover material because I never try to copy…I am the last guy to ask to play in a copy band…But I excel at playing on the spot… in the studio… sitting in with bands… writing songs… making other artist songs my own… That is what it is all about… Obviously I am an old guy… But what I love and respect about today’s young players is that they are not scared to be artist, to be expressive, right from the beginning… Something many from my generation were scared to do so as not to risk not getting a gig… Please make playing “Taking Care of Business” illlegal…soon… before I die at least…ha!ha!

Reply

Steve March 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Love this blog, but have to disagree with the “no wrong note” theory.  People… there are wrong notes and hitting them is a bummer for the audience, not for us musicians because it’s fun to play freely and not with apprehension.  We musicians must be in control of the tonal center while we are playing along with people.  Isn’t that the fun of being a musician? I mean if you aren’t aware of key relationship at the moment why make noise?

Reply

Lingothree March 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Resolve 7th to 3rd across the bar line and arpeggiate the ii chord on the turnaround. Understanding why that works will get you over half the way there.

Reply

Rick March 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I beg to differ somewhat with this article, only because Gospel Musicians do it all the time. It becomes natural to those of us who play gospel music. As well as for Jazz and Country artists. These are types of music that come straight from the heart and soul of both the music and the musician. If the two(2) can gel together, than you can actually play out how you feel at that moment, and it will be straight from the heart. The categories of music I just mentioned, Are played by individuals, who have had personal experience’s in their lives dealing with heart ache’s,pain, joy, suffering,times of hope and expectancy. Especially when it comes to the blues and Gospel Music.

I for one, am a Gospel Musician (organist) and there have been times when the preacher or speaker of the hour feels the spirit (as they say) and would just begin to sing a song with no rhythm or beat, and you have to interpret what they are singing, and follow through as if it were a real song. So for the most part in my experience, improvisation comes from within. You have to feel the music and connect with that feeling.   

Reply

Gretchen Christopher March 8, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Yep, that’s what I do.

Reply

Gretchen Christopher March 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Oh, hear my Sound Clips at http://www.GoldCupMusic.com – though being all originals (including the early hits) you may or may not realize that the composing came from improvisation – and SUITE 16 became a Billboard Critics’ Pick for 10 Best Albums of the Year.  Enjoy!

Reply

Joe Speers March 9, 2012 at 6:02 am

We used to jam with a light ball. http://www.thriftyfun.com/images/feedback_image.lasso?id=13462240 
We would jam with the Christmas light patterns.  My favorite part was when the lights would brighten to full brightness and then fade out while sequencing through the colors.  We would swell the volume with the light ball and do different reactions to its patterns.  At one of our first live shows the paramedics came to help someone who had a seizure.  Improvisation is really what music is about.  Listen to the Universe around you,  and start playing something new.  We don’t write music,  we just channel it from the ether. I’ll try to get a “Light Ball Jam” up to our “listen now” link. http://www.planet22.biz/

Reply

Eric Elven March 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Wow.  I like this article.  And a fair amount of useful comments too.  Nice.  I gave up on learning to improvise about 16 years ago.  I continued to write, record and perform but left all the soloing up to the other players silently believing that improv “just isn’t my thing”.  Now I see that I was just afraid of it.  I also see that because my few attempts were met with a high degree of self-judgment that, as an improviser at least, I’ve become living proof of what Chick Corea said, “… It’s a very non-productive way of doing anything. It just slows you down to a snail’s pace.” I also like this nugget from Chick, “…being able to have the courage to realize your own thoughts. …”  The truth is, though, that that’s what we’re all doing anyway, realizing our own thoughts.  So, the simple follow-up question becomes:  What am I thinking in the first place?  Nowadays I’m putting the self-critical thoughts aside and facing my improv fear by revisiting notes from lessons a teacher wrote out for me back when I first wanted to develop the skill.  I’m finding them more meaningful now than they were then. So maybe one tip that’s missing from the article is the value of finding and developing a relationship with a skilled teacher, at least for beginners. 

Reply

Zub212000 March 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Very good point. We are our worst critics. Just go with the flow and don’t let the music stop.

Reply

Angel Sanchez March 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Another thing I like to add is to actually try to follow your own humming. Hum the melody and quite simply play what you’re humming.  I can’t say how many times this technique has helped me pull-off some realy cool riffs in the spur of the moment. Great article, Will recomend to others. Cheers.

Reply

Choirzilla April 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Play along with the radio. There is no bias toward keys, you learn changes on the fly and it’s never the same ol’, same ol’.

Reply

Ken Andruk May 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Try just breathing to your piece. This always works for me. Long breaths and play within the groove of the air flowing. This is the primitive being touching that environment of musical expression that is much like a conversation.  Try it!

Reply

Michael November 6, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Improvisation is making harmony linearly instead of vertically. Plain and simple.

Reply

Music Forums January 10, 2013 at 4:01 pm

When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

Reply

Darnell Flodin March 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hiya, I have wondered about buying the computer software DubTurbo Beatmaker and was hoping someone could give me an actual authentic review of the application. Most of the web pages that feature opinions at the moment are affiliate marketers selling the computer software and so i doubt that the product evaluations are honest. Thank you in advance for all the information any individual can provide.

Reply

carpinteyrorch April 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

These types of programs connect to the Internet to download upates and several(a) for early(a) reasons, however thither is unitary particular(a) file away that is needed inch order for these programs to link up to the Internet, and that is angstrom DLL (Dynamic Link Library) file known as ‘Webkit.dll’. Why not younger than 30? You make this to build believability and likewise to give people ampere predilection of what you wish

itunes australia 8 music reviews $10

Reply

HCG diet June 12, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and
found that it’s truly informative. I’m going to watch
out for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future.
A lot of people will be benefited from your writing.
Cheers!

Reply

Niko October 2, 2013 at 5:09 pm

I would have to say from my experience, people either have it or they don’t. Yes,you can learn it but I’m a strong believer that his ability is born – at least those epwho do it naturally without having to think. For me it is a magical experience and if I were to loose it i would be feel like I lost something very deep in my being. The first day I played my first intrument I was making stuff up. For me its as natural as speaking English. I never had to learn it. For me the hard thing was to not play too many melodies but rather, as the article says, build on the motif or the original idea/melody. Once I got this, my improve really took off.

Epthere is a great study that took a group of Improvs and compositions and asked people if they could tell which ones were which. Most people couldn’t tell! This was a watershed moment for me. I decided right there and there that I would stop composing and just create improvs based over a theme or simple pattern. Philosophically, there really is no difference between composing and improv. If time is taken out of the equation, they really are one in the same except that one is written down and one is performed in the moment. But both are created using intention, planing, repetition, etc. As long as there is some form of structure, than I my book any improv is literally a composition.

Reply

Tiago December 5, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Great article and refreshening points here..! Out of tons of articles i’ve read about improvisation this one hits the spot at least for me in regards to the importance melody and composition – best summarized by the part when you talk about McCoy Tyner where he says [ “I don’t actually practice that much. I compose.” He went on to say that, in many ways, improvising and writing music are two sides of the same coin – only one happens more slowly while the other happens very quickly, in the moment. ] – That in itself was worth the read. Thanks a log Michael !!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: