Beginners Improvisation Guide
For some students the act of improvisation or “making things up on the spot without preparation” seems to be an almost overwhelming task. They become so afraid of breaking the rules that not even a single note is sounded for fear that it could be “wrong.” Other students just jump right in and start banging away with no apparent rhyme or musical reason. Between these two extremes there lies a happy medium. So here’s a improvisation guide with a few thoughts from the staff of the Dallas School of Music and the publishers of dlp Music Books to build on our 12 Improvisation Tips article.
Improvisation for Beginners
You can begin to improvise after learning your first few notes or a scale. For example, the three notes of a C chord (C, E, G) are also contained within the first five notes of the C scale (C, D, E, F, G). If you have a background track or are “jamming” in C, you can create all sorts of musical ideas using these notes simply by applying the guidelines below:
➊ Repeat notes or short patterns. You don’t always have to play a lot of (different) notes in a row. In fact, the best solos are usually the simplest. Repeating notes or short patterns are easy ways to sound like a pro.
➋ Hold notes and add dynamics. There’s no need to constantly play a note on every beat. Simply holding a note out while gradually getting louder or softer can be an effective improvisational device.
➌ Leave space! Beginning improvisers often “over play” and forget that musical lines should form phrases like sentences … with commas, periods, and even exclamation points.
Be sure to leave space to breathe regardless of the instrument you play.
Improvisation for the More Advanced Musician
Perhaps you have listened to lots of solos and even learned a few by rote or by reading transcriptions. If you understand how chords, scales, and progressions work together and want to create your own unique solos, here are some guidelines to keep in mind for playing a well-crafted solo:
➊ There should be a balance between consonance and dissonance. Consonant intervals are usually described as pleasant and agreeable. Dissonant intervals are those that cause tension.
➋ There should be a balance between ascending and descending lines. That’s why it is vitally important to practice scales in both ascending and descending form!
➌ There should be a balance between scale and arpeggio motion. An arpeggio is simply playing the notes of a chord one at a time. A good improviser can execute scales and arpeggios equally well.
➍ There should be a balance between notes and rests. Even seasoned improvisers need to be reminded about the need for space. Too often the more one knows, the more one tends to play, but that can be challenging for listeners. Allow room for reflection.
Remember that improvisation can and should be practiced and that you will not miraculously play things that you have never played before. Try to apply some of these basic ground rules as you explore the art of improvisation and above all—have fun!
This content is provided by the faculty of The Dallas School of Music (DSM), passionate teachers and online publishers of music education resources. DSM provides a variety of educational products and services for individuals as well as organizations, helping people to discover, learn, and play music.