Cathy Segal-Garcia
Articles by Cathy Segal-Garcia

IDEAS FOR BEGINNING IMPROVISATION
by Cathy Segal-Garcia

  1. Learn the song first.  Melody, lyrics, and chord changes.  Something simple is a good place to start.

  2. Rhythmic alteration.  Just start with changing the rhythm of the melody.  Later you can really use rhythms to have fun!

  3. Melodic alteration.  Start by changing just a few notes here and there.  Later, make up melodies that fit with the chord changes.  It’s definitely O.K. to use the melody her and there, or an idea of the melody.

  4. Repeat.  Repeat small phrases, repeat rhythm, repeat one note…and release!  Pull and push, and release!

  5. Syllables.  Should be natural in the mouth and ear.  Mimic horns.

  6. Scales.  Experiment with no-specific scales and specific scales…like blues scales, Dorian, Lydian, minor, etc.

  7. Tonal center.  This helps get you centered harmonically in the song.

  8. Learn and sing the roots of the chords.  Do it in time. Memorize it.

  9. Free improvisation.  You must know the song first.  You must have really listened a lot and have experimented.  Free improvisation does not mean that there is a lack of responsibility, or that you’re just reaching for straws.

  10. Listen to the band!  Communicate with them through the music. Respond! Play!  Imagine each instrument sound as a visual piece of a puzzle or painting, etc.  Try focusing on each instrument separately, all the way through a song.

  11. Experiment with a metronome.  Endless possibilities here!

  12. Take down solos.  If you can’t write them perfectly, it doesn’t even matter.  Write it down any way you can, to the goal of memorizing the solo.

  13. Copy odd things…like birds, trains, washing machines, etc.

  14. Improvise and stylize like you speak…with inflection, dynamics, highs and lows, and punctuation.  Think horizontally and try vertically and circularly.  Throughout the entire solo try to use consistency…a flow.  Pretend you’re telling a story.

  15. Listen to the jazz greats…all instruments and vocals.  REALLY LISTEN!!!