February 2017

Techniques: All Made Up

Getting familiar with improvisation.

National Standards: 1-11

Prepare: Have the class read Techniques: All Made Up (page 24 of the student edition). The article offers some exercises to help students get started with improvisation.

Listen to a playlist of audio samples illustrating the examples from the article:

NotionappClick here to download the files for audio playback on the Notion app.
Key points in the article:

  • When learning how to improvise, it helps to start simple—even just with one note over the 12-bar blues.
  • From there, you can mix things up by adding a few more notes and experimenting with the same rhythmic pattern.
  • Other creative approaches can include exploring a single mode, trying call and response with a friend, and making use of arpeggios.
  • Ultimately, what you can do with improvisation is wide open and entirely up to you. Look for inspiration in feelings, art, your environment, and anything else you might find interest in.

Begin: Try some of the techniques with the class, noting the tips described in each example. Lessons might include:

  • Having students play examples 1-3 and 6 either alone or in groups
  • Having students pair up to play example 5
  • Playing example 4 for the class on the piano or guitar

Develop: Play the following video of Miles Davis’s solo over “Freddie Freeloader”:

What elements of the techniques shown relate to the article?

  • Davis is playing over a 12-bar blues in C
  • He uses mostly simple, short rhythms
  • He stays within a small melodic range, using the same notes in different patterns

Expand: Now play the following video of Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues”:

Ask students to notice how each instrumentalist comes up with creative improvisation over the song’s simple rhythm and melody. Which solo is their favorite?