How to start improvising

Phase 1. Research of alternative techniques on the instrument

Our school system (especially when it comes to classical music schooling) does not greatly encourage improvisation from an early age. In order to feel "friendly" with our instrument and to be encouraged in that endeavor, it is important to get to know it in a different light and to dare to use it in ways we have not done so far.

In the first phase of the improvisation workshop, the teacher encourages the students to find different ways to play their instruments and to see what kind of sounds, they can produce. For example, using the guitar as a percussive instrument, triggering the strings with some other object, etc. At this stage, the task of each student is to find at least 3 alternatives / unusual techniques to produce a new sound on their instrument, using objects from their environment (rolling a tennis ball on the keyboard, using wooden part of the bow to play, or playing between bridge and tailpiece, etc.)

Phase 2.  Create a Soundlab: Free improvisation with the musical background

After the exploration part, we should choose the „mood“ for our improvisation and create a sound base (musical background). This can be one simple sustained chord or rhythmic pattern. Here are some audio examples of the sound bases we have created in Soundtrap and used in this stage during one of the digital campuses. 

Base No1 



Base No2



Base No3



Each student should try to improvise over the background with their instrument. The role of the teacher is to encourage students to relax and to instill in them the feeling that they cannot make mistakes and that it is only important to try (and want to try), not so much whether it sounds good or bad. This is the time for exploration. So, in this part, the teacher should not give overly detailed instructions.

This video shows inserts from one of the workshops where children were allowed to walk freely through the classroom and use all the instruments to play over the electronic base.

Phase 3. Free improvisation with restrictions

Here the teacher gives instructions that limit what students are allowed to play over the background. In the case of a melodic instrument, students are limited to 1 note. In the case of a rhythmic instrument, it may be limited to only one element. It is important that when they feel as if they do not have the resources to make music, the teacher with the students goes through all the musical elements that they already know. How can they all play one tone? (staccato, legato, glissando from below, glissando from above, rhythm, tremolo, quiet, loud, etc.). They need to be emphasized that music comes from the head, not the fingers/hands. To that end, students who are willing to try can first sing an improvisation and then look for a similar sound on the instrument over the base.

Exp. Recording of the free improvisation of a 3rd-grade trumpet student over the base no 3. Instructions/restrictions that were given by the teachers was to use the elements: glissando and tremolo:


Phase 4. Improvisation in a circle, repetition of phrases

The teacher agrees with the students how many repetitions of the background will make one form (eg 4 repetitions). The children improvise continuously and build it up one after the other, so they are forced to condense the musical idea and reduce it only to what is most important. After a couple of rounds of repetition, the children do the same thing again, but this time they try to play the first half of the form that the student played before them, and the second half of the form they play something of their own that they will repeat next. (eg the form is 4 repetitions of the background, 2 repetitions imitate the previous student, and 2 play their own). The teacher should start first with an example.

Last modified: Monday, 15 February 2021, 12:50 PM