When Improvisation is a Good Songwriting Tool

Improvisation can stimulate your creative mind and allow musical ideas to flow.


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Singer-songwritersIf you’re stumped for good songwriting ideas, improvising is a great way to start thinking creatively again. But improvisation, when it’s just you, is a bit hard to do. It’s a lot easier, and can produce great results, when it’s a group activity.

In either case, whether improvising by yourself or with your band, you might feel that improvisation means you don’t have to give your song’s form or purpose any pre-thought, and that would be a mistake. The best improvisational ideas come as a result of knowing beforehand a rough idea of what you’re looking for. In other words, it’s best to be aware of the kind of form your song will eventually take – verse, chorus, bridge, etc.

You could make a case for saying that any and all songwriting that happens is a result of improvisation of sorts. You sit with your guitar or at a keyboard, and you… start. You strum a chord or two, and try out melodic ideas. So in a sense, all songwriting is an improvisation activity, at least in part.

Group improvisation can be very rewarding. Get one band member to start playing anything, and then join in as a musical response. There are many groups that create their music this way.

But if y0u want to take advantage of everything that improvisation offers, and you want to work alone, try some of the following ideas.

  1. Sit at a keyboard and start playing anything. This doesn’t even require you to be a keyboardist as such. Just let your fingers roam over the keys, and make note of any interesting ideas that get spontaneously created.
  2. Do some “string-plucking” with your guitar. Improvising chords can be useful, too, but this exercise, where you start to improvise melodic shapes, has the same benefit as sitting at a keyboard.
  3. De-tune your guitar, and improvise melodies. This has the advantage of creating melodic shapes that you likely weren’t expecting. Some of this will sound a little weird, but it’s all in the name of creating melodies you likely haven’t heard before.
  4. Set up a rhythmic loop on  your synth, and improvise chords and melodies above it.

No matter what you do, an improvisation session can help you dig down into your musical brain and find ideas you didn’t know were there. Doing improvisation can be very freeing, and a good reminder that you don’t have to create a full, complete song every time you sit down to write.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. A lot of musicians say that its all been done before. But when it comes to improvising as a songwriting tool the possibilities are endless. My guitar teacher in Miami is very creative and good at expressing how to use these “string plucking techniques”, and using them to find your sound. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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