Vocal Improvisation

This is a short  rumination on vocal improvisation. Not a lesson, just some thoughts and tips. If you have questions, feel free to comment or email me. Cheers!


Improvisational Singing     What is it?

 Improvisational singing is spontaneous invention, creation in the moment, either based upon a given set of parameters, or wholly free-form.  The one thing it is not is “pre-planned”. It is the opposite of memorizing and restating verbatim.

Improvisation is a way of breathing life into a musical phrase by allowing it to speak through you. To allow the song to reveal itself to you based upon how you feel in the moment. To invent or re-invent a song based upon your sense of the lyrics, rhythms, sounds, or energies it evokes.

It can be as simple as a freshly nuanced phrase or as complex as a wholly spontaneous composition. It can be created by a solo voice, voices as a part of an ensemble, or a voice in conjunction with other instruments. It can be comprised of words, sounds, syllables, or all three.

Improvisation is discovering freedom… through disciplined work. I hope that after a bit of work and reflection you will discover how the theories and spirit behind improvisation can enrich many other parts of your life, and that you may find a place in your musical vision that embraces some part of our journey.


Use Sound and Silence. Repeated patterns create a unifying rhythm. Using short melodic phrases try RVR:

  • R: Repetition

  • V: Variation

  • R: Resolution


Skills required:

Good Ears   *   Good Pitch    *   Good Time    *  Understanding of Form


Phrasing & Improv Tips:
  • Melody is a starting place, so be clear on it

  • Words are empty vessels: you fill them.   Sub-textualize: your inner emotions must be perceptible.
  • Don’t sing (or think) note to note, sing phrase to phrase.

  • Your phrasing should make sense within the context of the lyric.
  • Music is made up of sound AND silence. Judicious use of both makes the musical line interesting.
  • Use a " Light " touch to navigate fast or tricky phrases. Learn them slowly then speed them up.

  • Pay attention to accented (tend to be adjectives, verbs and adverbs) and unaccented words. Aim for the important words and thoughts. But don’t overanalyze.
  • Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like what they are (crash, tinkle, etc...) Use them, but singing and speaking are both natural acts and should sound that way- not contrived or gimmicky.
  • It’s not a race to see how long a phrase you can sing., but try using Marcato: occasional emphasis within a sustained line.

  • Listen to how instrumentalists break up phrases and often  work rhythmically from the melody
Art is the exploration of the relationship between opposites or contrasts:
tension – release   *   sound – silence   *   motion – stillness   *   horizontal - vertical




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As a non-singer, it is so cool to think about the science behind the art, the technique behind the passion, and if anybody thinks that great things happen without hard work and practice...you definitely put that nonsense to rest!

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