Getting improvisation started…

A quick post: a colleague sent me a message asking for ideas on ways of getting improvisation started with a group of young flute players. The forum we were using seemed to have trouble sending back my response, so here it is for all to enjoy! Just a few quick initial ideas – if you try any, please let us know how they went, using the Comments section below.

Flute students improvising – I tend to start with soundscapes, or narratives that encourage them to explore unusual sounds… go from that into 5-note modes… if you have a little group you could set a mode and time signature, get them each to make up their own riff and layer this up one after the other. Then try out solos one by one over this.

Also inventing away from the flute (body percussion/voices) can be a good way to break down inhibitions. And warm-up games to get people being playful and less self-conscious.

I also think lifting little riffs and phrases from repertoire they are learning, and using this as an accompaniment for individuals to solo over or as a starting point for a longer solo, can work well. Also setting rules, such as each person chooses a note and a place in the bar to put that note. See what melody emerges when all the individual notes get put together. Then everyone learn the melody (great for aural training). Then practise 4 bars of the single notes version, 4 bars of the unison melody version, switching from one to the other. This kind of thing is a big mental challenge, but the players can develop fluency quite quickly once they get their heads around it.

Lastly, keep in mind the value of familiar structures, like ternary form for riff-based pieces (getting them to switch from Riff A to Riff B, then back again, after a set number of repetitions), and similar patterns for melodic invention, eg. ABAC. Call and response, question and answer – all these things are good to get things started.

My first post in ages! More to come soon, I hope. Overseas travels, then hitting the ground running with work, have made me a very quiet blogger.


1 comment so far

  1. Kathryn on

    Thanks for you suggestions. My flute students (aged 9 -12) have been having so much fun improvising. The soundscapes have been a hit; we’ve had fluttering bird’s wings, buzzing mosquitos and leaves falling from the trees. I’m impressed at how good their concentration is when it comes to remembering and working with structures, and I’ve had them asking me so many questions about chords and harmony which seems pretty cool for a bunch of kids playing a melody instrument! Cheers, Kathryn

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