Monthly Archives: May 2017

10 Creative Improvisation Techniques

You have everything at your fingertips…but new ideas aren’t coming into your mind.  Here are boosters for improvising.

  1.  Fool around with the melody.
  2. Improvise while listening to your favorite records.
  3. Learn music theory
  4. Alter the rhythm
  5. Use chord substitution
  6. Jam with friends and at jam sessions
  7. Play a piece in a different time signature.  For example play a tune in 4/4 time in cut time and a tune in slow 6/8 time in fast 6/8 time ( the counting is a bit different.)
  8. Play the song in a different key.  For added difficulty, sight read and play that song in a different key by from what is printed.  You’ll be arranging the music in your mind while the music on the paper is different…all during play.
  9. Use the same melody and same chords in the musical framework, but use different harmonic devices. Change a block chord into a broken chord, arpeggio, or either using passing tones to add musical interest.
  10. Arrange a piece of music into a different music genre, then play it.  


    The song below is in this composer’s original framework.  If one improvised on or arranged this piece, instead of playing it in A-flat major, one could play it in D-flat major.  One can change common time into split time.  You can substitute chords or add tensions to the chords.  The 10 improvisation techniques listed can help you get started.  These are not the only things you can do.  As you improvise more, the possibilities seem endless.  

    Try these websites for other improvisation techniques:

    What is Improvisation?

    Is improvisation an elite musical concept?  
    The word may sound foreboding, but it’s just creating music while playing.

    You’ll hear it at jam sessions and jazz gigs.  It’s in that little guitar riff or drumming solo.  

    How is improvisation used?

    Improvisation is used during arranging, playing, and sight reading music. 

    Improvising can take a song and play it in a different tempo, time signature, key, or arrange a song, yet still keep the song framework intact. 

    Can you improvise immediately?

    A quick test of your improvising creativity is nearer than you think.

    Just turn on the radio and harmonize your singing voice with the singer in the song.  Listen to your favorite song while playing your instrument and try to make an accompaniment to what the band is playing.  If there’s an instrumental part of the song, try to solo over it. 

    Want fuel for your improvising?

    Prior to improvising, music theory knowledge could be beneficial. Just the basics are essential. The quicker you learn them, the richer the experience.  However, the more theory you know, what you can do is almost boundless.  

    A cool idea to also make a song different, music theory aside,  is if the lyrics are poetic, play the notes designated to the lyrics as if you’d verbally be reciting the poem.  It’s definitely improvisation though.  It would charge your song with emotion and not be dull with just drumming out notes the way they were always played. 

    So is improvisation necessary to gain musical success?

    Improvising doesn’t make a successful musician.  But, you sculpt your musical journey.  You can write songs and have a great band.  Improvisation though can shed a new light on your music.

    What is an example​ of music theory helping you improvise?

    A kick butt solo line, a new take on a melody, and a jazzy feel to a pop song are all examples.  

    Certain notes mesh well over a rhythm guitar progression.  A lead guitar solo comes to life.  Music theory can teach you an F-major or C-major scale lick can fit over a IV-V-I chord progression in F-major, but not a F#-major chord progression without a lot of clashing notes.  

    A new rehash on a melody can happen when you switch, say, an F-major melody with a D-minor melody over the original song framework and change all C notes into C-Sharps.  If you switch a 4/4 time signature into a 2/4 time signature, on the music page all quarter notes will turn into eighth notes.  A new rhythm will be born a long with a melody.  


    Improvisation will add new dimensions to your music.  It’s never too late to add it into your musical repertoire.  Next time you hear that riff or solo, you can say, “That’s improvisation.  Hard maybe.  But not impossible.”