Learning to improvise is a long-term mission that will push you to your musical limits! You’ll need to be armed with some tips, hacks, and strategies to make sure you are continually improving.
— June 8th, 2021
Know the basics
Before you can make use of any tactical tips, you need to have covered the basics. There is no point in learning shortcuts and accelerators if you do not have the fundamentals.
Begin with learning the basics of improvisation and some basic music theory. Doing so will help you know your options and how notes, chords, and rhythms work together to create great-sounding music.
Got the basic knowledge covered? Great! Then we can start looking at some specific tips to help you improve.
Embrace your Mistakes
Many people get discouraged when learning to improvise because they try for perfection. But the truth is, that is the exact opposite of the true spirit of improvisation!
Improvising music isn’t about avoiding mistakes – it’s about risking them and making them work. You need to push the boundaries and be willing to risk trying new things, things that might not work out.
Remember, this is a skill you learn by doing! So, when you’re practicing improvisation, go beyond your comfort zone. And, when you make a mistake, don’t stop playing!
The more times you’ve made a mistake and recovered from it while practicing, the less scary it will be to make a mistake in actual improvised performances.
Record yourself… and listen to it!
If you really want to improve quickly, don’t just play one-off improvised solos and forget them. Instead, record them and take the time to truly listen.
Force yourself to listen objectively and carefully to what you played. Evaluate it and see which parts worked well and which didn’t, and ask yourself why. Better yet, ask a friend or a teacher. Then take note of what you can learn from that to bring into your next improvisation.
Play Improvisation Games
You can try many improvisation games, ranging from straightforward “call and response” between two players to more sophisticated harmonization and rhythm-based challenges.
There are many books and card games out there. Just do a quick Google search and see what you can find!
Remember, the goal isn’t to produce incredibly polished music renditions – it’s to free up your musical instinct, shake off those inhibitions and let your musicality shine through.
Music is fundamentally a social art form. All that practice should be working towards sharing your music with others. That can sound scary if you’ve never done it before, so do not rush it.
When you get braver, step out and improvise for your family and friends. If you’ve been recording yourself and learning to risk and recover from mistakes, this shouldn’t be too scary!
This article is a re-post, with minor modifications, of “Twelve Tips for Learning to Improvise Music,” an article published on musical-u.com