8 Tips for how to practice improvising music
“Improvising itself is essentially about breaking the rules of music, and once you know the rules and the concepts involved in music, with improvising you can then start to break them.”
- Will Franden, bassist
Improvisation is a complex topic to tackle. You can’t go about the process by just “making it up.” If it seems to you like that’s all Miles Davis is doing when he plays, keep in mind that the best improvisers are the ones who manage to create an illusion of effortlessness, but actually put meticulous time and effort into their trade.
Aside from the self-gratification and joy, improvising can open doors. If you can play spontaneously in a variety of styles, if you can lay down a groove for a partner, imitate their sounds, and take solo chances when they arise, you can play with anyone, anywhere.
Start with these eight pieces of advice, and you’ll be well on your way.
- Let go of the need to be perfect and be playful instead. Improvisation can be spontaneous, and not competitive. Take yourself lightly, laugh at your awkward places, and release criticisms.
- Go off the page. Play the first few notes of a song you have learned, then leave the melody and make up your own middle and ending.
- Jam along to your favorite recordings to practice and build your confidence.
- Don’t focus on just the notes. Use phrasing, dynamics, and rhythmic variations to make a tune your own.
- Don’t think too hard. Improvisation is about playing what you feel in the moment. Be bold and trust yourself.
- Study your idols. Learn the solos of your favorite players in different genres. Pay attention to their use of phrasing, rhythm, and dynamics. It does not have to be exact; results will come with time.
- Like any playing skill practice is critical. The more you practice improvising, the stronger your intuition will grow, and the more confident you will be.
- Sing what you play, and play what you sing. The best entry into improvisation is through voice.
I hope that you find these suggestions to be helpful and that you enjoy discovering more about your instrument, and music, as a result. Now put that sheet music away, pick up your instrument, and find your song.