Improvising One Note at a Time

This is the first in a series of blogs and videos about improvising:

Improvising is an often misunderstood word in the world of music.  I would like to clear up some of those misunderstandings in this series of instructionals:

I want to encourage people to improvise by taking a different look at it, a look that is much simpler:

Improvisation doesn’t have to be some act that requires super-human spontaneous brain power to put into action.  It can be a VERY simple idea that anyone can do.

improvising can start by changing one note at a time.  The easier the approach the more success you are likely to have with it, the less overwhelming it is.

An easy example:

Let’s say you have a melody that is as follows:


You can begin to play around with it by going G-F#-G-E or G-F#-G-A.  Here I took the original phrase and I simply changed the last note.  This is one of the devices that I’m constantly using in my improvising.

I think this is a great way to start improvising.  Unfortunately what I often see with other instructors or students is this approach: Learn all of your modes, learn all of your scales and then randomly throw your fingers about and hope you hit something that sounds like it fits.  Most often what results is an incoherent noddling type of sound.  Another approach is just play a bunch of licks and once again it sounds incoherent to the original song.

I think a more natural way to go about improvising in the beginning and one that the student can understand easier is to take a melody and create little variations on it.   Explore a melody and see how you can expand on it by using your ears.  In return everything you play can be tied back coherently to the original tune.  It’s not the original tune but it’s related somehow.

I suggest starting by changing only one note instead of bigger ideas.  Think about it this way, if one was to ask you to take a sentence and change one word on the fly that would be much easier than trying to change four words on the fly.  The more you practice this technique the better you can get at changing more than “one word.”  The really great musicians have been doing it long enough where they have a bigger toolbox of tricks, are better at changing more notes, etc.

As you set out on the journey of improvising, remove the idea that improvising has to be this complicated, made up on the fly thing that’s difficult and takes super human abilities to do.  Everyone can improvise if they start with one note.

A video demonstrating this concept coming very soon.


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One Comment

  1. Claude

    Thanks for the great tips. It sounds less intimidating this way.

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