Workshop on Improvisation

Hey Folks,

Well, the term “improvisation” has been synonymous with painters, writers, sports-persons. Music, too, doesn’t step away from it. In fact, every other tune you hear is solely based on the concept of improvisation; be it a nursery rhyme, electronica, rock, Indian classical etc…

Improvisation: Spontaneous emission of musical ideas which have never been performed.

The spirit of improvisation is based on musical freedom. This means that improvisation is subjective in its entirety! Mistakes made whilst improvising are embarrassing yet humbling at times. Musicians have been actively breaking and bending rules through the concept of  improvisation. Well, it’s an excuse actually, so that you can go around playing rubbish and enjoy yourselves!

Writing music is, in fact, among the simplest activities. Yet at times it can be made complex. All born out of improvisation.

Most of us are aware that music consists of 7 notes.

Now, what is a “note”?

A note is basically a discrete frequency assigned a particular name so that it can be referred to whenever needed namely Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni  or Do Re Mi Fa Sol La SI  or C D E F G A B. Different cultures essentially have their own names for the same frequencies.

These 7 notes together comprise of a family. This family is called a SCALE.

A scale can consist of either all the 7 notes or less than 7 by using various permutations and combinations possible. Each possible scale has been assigned a name for reference purposes.Since music is supposed to be felt, it is not necessary to know the names of all the possible scales but it is essential to familiarize oneself with the sound of each scale.

The most basic scale which almost everyone is aware of is the C major scale

It consists of: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni  or Do Re Mi Fa Sol La SI  or C D E F G A B.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? 😛

This scale is all you need to start composing your own songs 😛 …well in tech lingo I mean improvise!!!



Now consider the 7 notes of the scale as 7 different buttons. Now, press random buttons in any order. Soon enough, you will have a nice short melodic phrase. Repeat the process and record yourself whilst doing so. Keep all the good bits, although all music is subjective.

Well, hitting random notes helps to an extent….but to carve a niche in avant garde music there are a few tricks which gives each musician playing the same 7 notes his/her voice. It is referred to as “phrasing”.

Phrasing is basically different ways of emoting the same note.10 musicians can play the same note or song and yet have their identity because of the way they phrase the notes.

Ways to go about with Phrasing:

  1. Play the same note at different speeds/play a repetitive melodic phrase with varying speeds.
  2. Playing each note from a song at varying volumes.
  3. Using vibrato: Oscillating the pitch of a note .
  4. Sliding into the note: this technique helps imitate the human voice (in conjunction with bending).
  5. The most important is playing and fooling around with rhythm. (will be covered in the 2nd article).
  6. Listen to your favourite musicians and imbibe their approach to music.

In order to improvise fluently it is a healthy practice to play over a backing rhythm.

These backing rhythms are easily available online, or else you could use programming softwares such as FL Studio or make your own. I cannot emphasize enough that there is no substitute for developing musicians than to jam with their friends. The art of improvising gets clearer with time…some have it, while others develop it through repeated practice. The musical styles of jazz, Indian classical music, metal have their roots in improvisation. In fact, Jazz is now a universal term used to define any form incorporating improvisation. Develop a vocabulary by listening to various artists; be it simple music or complex, progressive stuff. Remember, there are no right or wrong ways to go about writing music. Entire genres have been created my subtle mistakes over time.


Break, bend and redefine!!

~Tanish Naik & Shawn Kenneth Fernandes

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