I’ve been thinking a lot about improvisation lately. I even put together a little ebook with some improvisation prompts in it recently.
To compose a song you need to come up with musical ideas and usually you do so through improvising. Of course, you want good ideas, so logically you should look for ways to create good improvised ideas.
That logic doesn’t work. Even if we ignore how subjective the idea of a ‘good’ idea is, the fact is there is no sure fire way of always creating good ideas.
However, you can learn ways to increase the volume of ideas. The more ideas you create, the more good ideas you’ll discover amongst them.
Here are five ways to increase the volume of your improvised ideas:
Record everything – I doesn’t matter how you do it, whether you write things down on manuscript paper, press record on your music software or turn ona dictaphone, recording improvisation sessions is vital. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve come up ith a good idea, been convinced it was so good I’d never forget it, only for it to vanish as soon as i pay attention to something else.
Don’t worry about originality – ’Good artists borrow, great artists steal’ is a quote that, ironically, has been attributed to more than one person. Originality, though desirable, should not be strived for. it actually isn’t very difficult to come up with a new way of doing things. Coming up with a a new idea that other people enjoy, that’s nigh on impossible.
Why? Because people get upset by new ideas – They prefer familiar ideas, and music that can only be original if it does so slightly in the context of familiarity. Slight, gradual changes, not radical ones.
Use your musical knowledge – If pure inspiration isn’t helping, then think. Does you melody follow an upward curve for the first two lines? Have the third do the opposite. Is the accompaniment to your verse a laid back, half-time, groove? Then make the chorus full-time and uptempo.
Put yourself in unfamiliar territory – You always start with lyrics? Write the bassline first. You always play the guitar when songwriting? Play the piano. Or better yet, don’t play anything, just sing.
Develop you ideas – find out where they lead. I mean really follow them. Did you just change chords, moving down a third? Can you move a third down again? have you got a sequence, perhap a rising and falling pattern that you sing, then sing again, one note up. What if you move it up another step? And again? If you have any pattern, follow it, find out where it leads you.
Just a few ideas. Can you think of any others? Let me know!