A quintessential component of many contemporary musical genres, this lesson will examine the rules and techniques for improvisation in music. Afterward, test your knowledge with a short quiz.
Improvisation In Music – What Is It?
Improvisation is like making it up as you go, right? In a way, yes.
In its simplest form, improvisation is simply spontaneous, extemporaneous musical creation. So yes, in that sense, it is just making it up as you go. But unless you’re using some sort of random note generator, it isn’t actually possible to truly be completely free.That’s because of the inherent patterns involved in the cultural context of music (music from a Euro-centric/American culture uses a specific type of scale pattern and tuning, different than the tuning and patterns found in Asian cultures for example). Even if you were to just bang randomly with your forearm, there would still be a pattern – your forearm chord.
So yes, while improvisation is essentially making it up as you go, there are a few rules and techniques that are inherent in the musical process. Oh, right. Rules also tend to make music sound aesthetically pleasing (read: good).
Improvisation – Wait, There’s Rules?
Well, it depends who you talk to and the genre in which you will be improvising. Genres like jazz and blues have an entirely different vocabulary than say, rap or punk. But if we stick to improvisation at its broadest, the rules are quite simple:
- Know your scales
- Keep it simple
Let’s look at the two rules separately.
Know Your Scales
Accomplished musician or not, to improvise, you must know your scales.
What’s a scale you ask? It’s a collection of notes related to a home tone. Why do I need to know them? They tell you what notes belong together, where you can reach out to for extra notes, and how to keep your improvisation moving through tension and release.