Improvise, Improvise, Improvise

It’s hard to fully explain the importance of improvising. In my life, improvising is a refuge, it’s a meditation that helps me accept all my worries and be in the present moment, it’s a way to tap into how I’m feeling, it’s a songwriting tool, it brings a smile to my face. You can improvise at any skill level, on any instrument. If you want to experience the joys of improvising, I have some tips for you.

As the great Bobby McFerrin suggests, set a timer for ten minutes and just play. Your mind might be thinking “This is stupid. I sound horrible. This is pointless. I should stop. This is boring. I’ll never be a good improviser.” You just have to keep going. The thoughts will come and go, just keep improvising for ten minutes, no matter what. It might be helpful to do this by yourself.

Try not to think about intellectual musical concepts, just like when you speak you’re not thinking about grammar. If you’ve practiced, the musical concepts will help, but they will be second nature, not conscious. Avoid thinking that you should impress people, or show off your skill. Only play what you feel you truly want to play, even if it’s just one note.

Don’t be afraid of repetition. If you find a few notes you like, repeat them. See what happens when you repeat them. Maybe you hear more notes in your imagination, connected to the ones you’re repeating. Or maybe you find a repetitive mantra.

Listen for the feeling that this is what it should sound like next. Sometimes this feeling is very weak, and you won’t hear anything in your imagination. Sometimes this feeling is so strong that you must follow it, or else miss out on a big opportunity.

Take the pressure off of yourself. You don’t have to perform a masterpiece (what is a masterpiece, anyway?). If you’re feeling bored, play something that expresses boredom. If you’re frustrated, play something that sounds frustrated.

Get out of your head. If you’re by yourself, look around and allow the space you’re in to influence your music. Try improvising in nature. Imagine that the plants and animals are using you as an instrument to play their music (who knows, maybe they are). If you’re with other people allow their mood and energy to influence your music. Music comes from everywhere, so there’s no need to come up with ideas all by yourself.

Find other people who like to improvise and play together. Talk about your experience and learn from each other.

Just keep playing.