Improvising is a personal thing

– Kerrie Garside June, 2011


1.To invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation.
2.To play or sing (music) on the spur of the moment, especially by inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies in accordance with a set progression of chords.
3.To make or provide from available materials: improvised a dinner from what I found in the refrigerator.

1.something improvised in speech, music, etc: Was that joke part of your speech or an ad lib?
2.at one's pleasure; without restriction.
3.freely; as needed; without stint.


There are many well known improvisors : jazz vocalists and instrumentalists - very famous  are Ella Fitzgerald & Lois Armstrong - Both very talented musicians – of course Lois Armstrong played trumpet but Ella Fitzgerald listened and learned well.  She would listen to different instruments and mimic their sounds.  She had inspiration from great saxophone and clarinet players, guitarists, trumpet, piano, etc.  giving her a whole repertoire of new “words” such as the “bwa” of a bended blues saxophone note and the  “ba de ba do wahp do”  of a semi acoustic guitar.

Scat - n: singing jazz; the singer substitutes nonsense syllables for the words of the song and tries to sound like a musical instrument


BOBBY MCFERRIN – if you haven't checked out this master - DO IT!! YOU MIGHT LIKE TO START HERE:)
r’n’b singers – hip hop – many of these artists “cover” songs and very cleverly improvise around the melody
rock/pop musiciansas the chorus is repeated toward the end of many songs you will notice that they are usually sung a little differently (to add colour and build intensity)
Especially common will be the instrumental break (eg: lead guitarist/keyboard) - sometimes a simple variation of the main melody.


Giving thought to improvising helps skill helps to make a “cover” song “yours” while keeping true to the song.  You know how you LOVE a particular “version” of a song?


• be comfortable / at ease / loose / in “your space”

• consider new arrangements- change keys - changing/taking away/adding bits

• becoming familiar with popular chord progressions

• learning to play an instrument or taking music lessons of some kind is really helpful to improve your general ‘musicality’ and for surrounding yourself with musical people

• listen to songs differently – radio / favourite CD’s – listen to instrumental lines and backing vocals (often way back in the mix) but always there

• learn scales ... especially helpful are blues scale & arpeggios

• become familiar with harmonizing and learning some music basics

TRUST yourself HAVE FUN and HAVE A GO!

You have been listening to good music all your life and you will find you “know” more than you think


LISTEN to as many versions of the song you can to get some ideas flowing  (YouTube!)

CONSIDER “QUESTION & ANSWER” - the rise and fall of the song (demonstrated in Freddie Mercury video above)

LISTEN to “licks” and “riffs” as well as INSTRUMENTAL LINES such as the bass or  strings for inspiration – keep an ear out for backing vocals.

• once you’ve done some homework and basically know your song, stop listening to the version that first inspired you and JUST SING the song – if you come to some spots where you’re not 100% sure  of the melody or rhythm try something of your own there.

INSTRUMENTAL BREAKS in your backing tracks are a great opportunity to improvise:
Usually the instrumental break is over a verse or a chorus  - Try repeating a verse (or chorus) in that  space – leave out some lines, find some higher notes that harmonise (and if it’s a jazz song, try those, “do be doos”) – listen for inspiration in the solo instrument line.
Often a little shift or holding back rhythmically is effective.  A little can be a lot.

***IMPORTANT : It’s Ok to “practice” your improvising while you’re getting the hang of it. Expect you will probably not be happy with your first attempts before you come up with something you like!!

SING ALONG with the radio – harmonise / add extra bits / oohs and aahs.
Take time to notice parts that are happening in the production of the song - You’ll be surprised what will give you ideas and what works.
If it sounds good (harmonises) with the original – it will work!

TRY ‘AD LIBBING’ over the top of existing chorus lines

LISTEN TO THE PROS.  I always love hearing how well known artists cover songs their own way