The Storm Is Passing Over

Improvisation Unit by Kerry Marsh

Improvising

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 respect.

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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The following six musical examples are short sections from the piece, The Storm is Passing Over.
1. Click on each piece to hear a recording of that example.
2. Then answer the corresponding questions that seek your opinion of the examples.

1. Give your opinion of this improvisation.

Very Good

Nice

Questionable

Bad Improv. Choices

2. Please explain why you made the above choice.


3. Give your opinion of this improvisation.

Very Good

Nice

Questionable

Bad Improv. Choices

4. Please explain why you made the above choice.


5. Give your opinion of this improvisation.

Very Good

Nice

Questionable

Bad Improv. Choices

6. Please explain why you made the above choice.


7. Give your opinion of this improvisation.

Very Good

Nice

Questionable

Bad Improv. Choices

8. Please explain why you made the above choice.


9. Give your opinion of this improvisation.

Very Good

Nice

Questionable

Bad Improv. Choices

10. Please explain why you made the above choice.


11. Give your opinion of this improvisation.

Very Good

Nice

Questionable

Bad Improv. Choices

12. Please explain why you made the above choice.