When a musician improvises, whether with jazz, gospel, pop, baroque or other forms of
music, he or she is attempting to add to the musical interest of a piece. The
improviser may use some melodic ideas in the original piece and make variations, or may
instantly "compose" new material. Improvising is a subjective topic, that
is, one person may have a different opinion of a certain improvisation than another
person. However, there are some funamental ideas that an improvising musician should
1. Listen for the underlying harmonies over which you are improvising. This
sounds more difficult than it is. The key here is to listen to the chord changes a few
times, and know any melodies that go with the changes, before attempting to improvise for
the first time. Much of this process is intuitive, and will come naturally to some.
When this is not considered, notes that are outside the chord structure may be sung
or played, and it will be an obvious error to most listeners.
2. If you are singing text (rather than "scat" syllables), the text
should be related closely to the underlying text if there is any variance. There
are exceptions to this rule, but, in general, adding many different words or texutal ideas
may make the total musical product confusing to the listener. The improviser should
sing the same words as the accompaniment, but with different timing and rhythmic ideas.
3. The improvisation should be different than what is going on underneath, if
there are other voices singing as a background. This rule is often taken for
granted, but is fundamental to an interesting improvisation. You should not allow
yourself to sing the melody along with the accompaniment, because your job is to add to
the interest and complexity of the music, and simply singing the melody is redundant.
4. Rhythmic variance is your friend. Sometimes, all that is needed
to spice up an improvisation is some kind of interesting change to the rhythm or timing.
Practice until you can play or sing complex rhythms, so that when you are soloing,
you can call upon your technical skills to help you express yourself.
5. Be yourself, and improvise from your soul. Once you have gained some
experience with incorporating the fundamentals of music and improvising, start to let
yourself explore your emotional connection to the piece upon which you are improvising,
and use the solo as a vehicle for self-expression. You will find that, with
experience, the musical choices you make will become more natural and fluid, and you will
be able to become more creative each time.
Questions on Musical Examples
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1. Give your opinion of this improvisation.
Bad Improv. Choices
2. Please explain why you made the above choice.
3. Give your opinion of this improvisation.
4. Please explain why you made the above choice.
5. Give your opinion of this improvisation.
6. Please explain why you made the above choice.
7. Give your opinion of this improvisation.
8. Please explain why you made the above choice.
9. Give your opinion of this improvisation.
10. Please explain why you made the above choice.
11. Give your opinion of this improvisation.
12. Please explain why you made the above choice.