How to Improvise

Improvise Music

On Any Instrument

Almost everything you need to know J



Learn how to play Harmonica – Pan Flute - Ukulele






     Merry meet!                          


On the sidebar you'll find *tutorial-videos* about Improvising Music.


And ~  How To Play HarmonicaPan Flute -Ukulele – and sing Scat ... ...


In addition, if you like sweet music - listening to and watching music videos –  click on SONGS at the very bottom of the sidebar. Notice there are other songs on the sidebar that are not in the SONGS collection.


If you're a beginning musician wishing to learn How To Improvise -  I suggest you work first with ELEMENTARY IMPROVISING.  You'll find this at the head of the sidebar. Then go to IMPROVISING MUSIC - first steps... then follow down the sidebar in the order the videos are listed...


But this is only a suggestion! … this is a “BEGINNER’S WEB SITE” and all the stuff in the sidebar is for neophyte-now-starting-out-musicians … so you can begin working with any of the videos you choose. 


If you are now starting on your musical journey I recommend that you DO NOT BE IN A HURRY!


The sidebar tutorial-videos are designed to work with the theorems below.


I post new stuff regularly, so please check in often.


                           For musicians who are advancing, there are ~

    backing  tracks for 12-bar blues, jazz & ballads;

                    -  a Circle of 5ths exercise –

       there is a special backing track 101 for beginners

     just peruse the sidebar tabs Õ  and you’ll find it.



AVERMENT  This is a compendium of cardinal music-playing formulae.  What follows below is meant to partner the 'how to' step-by-step instructions in the *tutorial-videos* accessible  from the sidebar.

The tutorial videos and the theorems (below) - are aimed at beginners and I took great care to present the information in the simplest way I could think of ~ one-baby-step-at-a-time ~ and in the videos ~ with generous helpings of humor! 


You need to read each video's side-bar notes and print them ! …   Indeed if I may say it myself - the dope you'll find in the tutorial-video's margin notes is PRICELESS.  There is an encyclopedia of information in the notes and very little of what’s there will be repeated here.



In order to get to the video's sidebar notes - when you are watching the video, click on it a second time (while it is playing.) 


Between the theorems below and the Tutorial Videos - I hope you’ll find some of the answers you’re looking for and you’ll start swimming in the wonderful river called - improvising…


                                                   My personal data is at the bottom of this page



~  here we go  ~


The great thing about becoming skilled at improvising is that there are many ways of learning to do it.  What follows is a good bag of tools.  Some methodologies will be more agreeable to you than others.  This is one of the wonders of learning!  Pick out the approaches you like, that you identify with naturally and work with them first.  The others may feel a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but you’ll grow into them… 


(1)    IMPROVISING. WHAT IS IMPROVISING?  Improvising music is the art of creating music spontaneously, with the player inventing as s/he plays. This results in the instant creation of new ‘melodies.’  It requires the ability to think on your feet!  There ARE some ‘rules’ ... suggestions! ... you should acquaint yourself with and following you'll find some of them J  The most difficult part is the first steps… the early days. I realize “the problem” with a whole lot of players is that they don’t know where to start.  They may know a lot of chords and scales and theory but when it comes to “winging” it, they don’t quite know what to do…


So here is a good starting point:


(2)    FIRST ATTEMPTS  STARTING STRATEGY ~ choose a key you are comfortable with and start to play whatever comes into your head.  Just sit – or stand – with your instrument and invent little melodies that use notes that come mainly from the particular scale.  I call this – playing sweet nothings.  Concentrate on hearing a short phrase in your head - SING IT - and then try to play it. See the video Elementary Improvising for Beginners at the top of the sidebar for an illustration.
b.  Pick a song you like playing the most, fool around with it and figure out how to “play with” the tune. You’ll be surprised how fruitful this can be.

c.  Play a song and replace some of the melody notes with notes of your own.


If you are totally new to improvising I suggest you work with these three approaches for a while and start to get the 'feel' of it.  In the beginning improvising can be somewhat irksome (maybe even baffling!) however once you get the gist of it you'll quickly start rocking.


(3)  LISTEN. The most important thing with all approaches is to *listen* *listen* *listen.* Your ear tells you if what you’re playing is ‘on’ or ‘off’ – just remember: they are no ‘wrong notes’ in music! There are only poor choices! It’s about what sounds nice. If it sounds good to you, it’ll probably sound good to others!



(4)   COMPOSE/ CONCEIVE OF A PHRASE a HOOK or a SOLO and write it down on a piece of paper.  Play it over and over and memorize it.  Use it when you go to play the song. 


You do not have to be able to read or write music to write down your idea. Get the words of the song and write the notes above the words. Example:


   D   G    A     B    B      B    A B   G   G         G      A        B    C  E     E         D      C    B

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey


Similarly, compose an improv and write the notes above the words.  It could be something simple like this - 



 D     C     B       D             âB   áC C#    D    áG       G      Gb      F     E    

You are my sunshine, my    only   sunshine, you make me happy……


You can always use little arrows like á â or put an underline above or below the note (as shown) to indicate to yourself whether the note you’re about to play is going higher or lower, etc.   See!  It aint all that hard!



(5)  OK some music info for you. Perhaps you may wish to learn to read music... all you have to do is Google for How to Read Music and you'll have a whole library before you.  When you look at a music sheet you'll notice the notes on the page have different shapes - they are symbols that indicate the name of the note and it's time value.  

A whole note is called a semibreve, time value - 4 beats.

A double whole note is a breve, - 8 beats 

A half note is a minim -  2 beats.

A quarter note is a crotchet - 1 beat.

An eighth note is a quaver

A sixteenth note is a semiquaver, etc. etc. ...

There are also ‘rests,’ i.e. periods of silence, for each time period and these 'rests' have symbols too.

Unfortunately I cannot find suitable illustrations that I can import and display but you can go here and see them:


 (6)   FILL IN THE BLANKS (1)   Most, if not all, songs have notes or rests that are several beats long.  Where there is a long rest, or a long sustained note --- SING something that will ‘fill in the blanks’ – and play it.  You can also  ARTICULATE a long note...  instead of playing one long note such as taaaaaaaaaaaa … break it up and play ~ taa taa tuh taa.


(7)    FILL IN THE BLANKS (2) ... PLAY RIFFS.  You know what riffs are... they are also called 'hooks,' 'licks,' (Canadians call them 'chops.')  J  They are those short catchy melody fragments.  Invent them yourself or pick them up from any song and play them in place of the long held note or period of silence - i.e. use them to “fill in the blanks.”  Listen to as many CDs as you can, of the kind of music you like, and get ideas. 


(8)   SING! YES SING! PRACTICE YOUR IMPROVISATIONS BY SINGING THEM.  Never mind if your voice is “untrained.” It’s more natural to you than your instrument. Develop your ideas - sing and play them. Singing ... and playing what you sing ... is one of the master-methods used by great musicians.



(9)  WHAT IS A BAR IN MUSIC?  It’s a section of a song of a certain length of time (whether faster or slower.)  Tap your fingers on the table top 4 times *tap tap tap tap* and you’ve just played a bar of music in 4/4 time. Now tap like this: one tap, allow a short pause, and follow with two slightly quicker ones – *tap (pause) tap tap* and now you’ve just played a bar in ¾ time (waltz.)



(10)    HOW MUSIC IS ENUMERATED - Here is the C scale: C D E F G A B C. It consists of 7 notes then continues from the octave.  The notes of the scale also have numbers and names.  Seven natural chords can be built on the seven notes by ‘stacking thirds.'


The C Scale is used here to demo ~ however it’s the same numeration for all scales – the first note of the scale is always I and always called the ‘tonic' etc.

 (Upper Case Roman denotes Major, Lower Case Roman denotes minor)


C (do) is numeral I – it’s called the tonic –

    it's the root note of the C Major chord - CEG 

D (re) is numeral ii  – it’s called the supertonic –

   it's the root note of the D minor chord  – DFA   

E (mi) is numeral iii  – it’s called the mediant –

   it's the root note of the E minor chord  - EGB

F (fa) is number IV  - the subdominant –

   it's the root note of the F Major chord – FAC

G (so) is the five - V  - the dominant –

    it's the root note of the G Major chord – GBD

A (la) is vi – the submediant –

    it's the root note of the A minor chord – ACE

B (ti) is the seven - vii – it’s called the leading tone –

    it's the root note of the B diminished - BDF
C   (do) - where the scale begins again.....
The chords formed from the notes of the scale are the natural chords of the scale.
If the chords of a song you're playing are natural chords, you can improvise over them, more or less with impunity, using the notes of the scale.
To nice up your solo you can throw in a semi-tone here and there.  The general rule when you use "outside notes" (an 'outside note' is a note that does not belong to the scale) is ... when you play an 'outside note' - do not linger on it, do not "camp out" on it, as Jon Gindick would say ... just touch it and move on ... and it will not crunch.
a) Chords are built on thirds, this translates into every other note of the scale. I have done a *lesson-video* which will walk you right along.  Check it:  J
b) Here is a very useful link worth visiting, I strongly enjoin you to study the material here:
c) Google: ‘how are chords formed’ and you’ll find a whole lot of information.



12   WHAT IS A CHORD PROGRESSION? A chord progression is a series of chords.  A progression may consist of two, three, four or more chords. The progression may be strummed (string instrument), compted (keyboard) or played as arpeggio (all instruments.)

Here are ten common progressions in the key of C.  The chord that follows the last chord in the progression may go to the tonic (C)  ... or to another chord… 
(Upper Case Roman denotes Major, Lower Case Roman denotes minor) 

I-V           (C-G) 

I-IV          (C – F)

I-vi          (C - Am)

I-IV-V      (C - F – G)

I-ii-V        (C - Dm – G)

I-vi-ii-V    (C - Am - Dm – G
I-vi-IV-V   (C - Am - F – G)

I-vi-ii-vii   (C - Am - Dm – Bdim)

I-vi-IV-vii  (C - Am - F - B dim)

I-vi-V        (C - Am – G)


A strong progression is one that ends on the tonic note or chord of the key, such as –

1.     C Dm G C

2.     C Dm7 G C

3.     C Am Dm G C

4.     C Fmaj7 G7 C

5.     C Em Am Dm G7 C


Then of course there are progressions that are open-ended, you may find them in the middle of a song, they do not point to a specific ‘home’ or tonic note/chord.  These you may call fragile progressions, such as -


1.     Dm7 Em7

2.     Am G F G Am

3.     C Gm7 Am7 BbMaj7

4.     Em G Am Em Dm F Am


Then there are progression that end on a different chord than the one they started on and these are called deceptive cadences – e.g. –


1.     C Dm G Am

2.     C-Em-Am-Dm-G

3.     C F Am G F

4.     C Am Em G Ab


Here are some progressions with Diminished Chords…


1.     C F Fdim7 C

2.     C-F-Ddim-G-C

3.     C Dm Bdim C

4.     C C#dim Dm G C


And finally here are some others that you’ll find as you study progression sequences… these all begin and end on the tonic.


5.     C-Dm-G-C

6.     C-Dm7-G-C

7.     C-Fmaj7-G7-C

8.     C-Am-Dm-G-C

9.     C-A-Dm-G-C

10.   C-E-A-Dm-G-C

11.   C-F-D-G-C

12.   C-D-G-C

13.   C-F-Fm-C

14.   C-C7-F-Fm-C-G-C

15.   C-Eb-F-G-C


BY THE WAY ~ the most important progression in jazz is the ii-V.

In the key of C this is Dmin - G.


13   HOW TO START PRACTICING CHORD PROGRESSIONS – Its “baby steps” to begin. Start by playing just one note, repeated as often as you like, over each chord in the progression.  Once you feel good about expressing yourself with one note, move on to two notes, then three, etc.  If you have a stringed instrument like a guitar or banjo you can strum the chords.  If you play a keyboard you can comp the chords.  If you have a 'single note' instrument like a trumpet, steel pan, flute... you play the chords as arpeggios.  In the end, if you are going to improvise the song you will wish to play single notes.  Of course if you have an instrument capable of playing chords - ukulele, piano, whatever - - you can play a mix of single notes and chords.

I want to tell you this - after you have made some initial progress with your instrument - whatever it is - keyboard, harmonica, steel pan, guitar/ukulele, trumpet, sax, - whatever - when you decide you're ready to move into improvising - naturally there IS some essential information you should know -

Songs have two components... there is the melody and there is the harmony ... the harmony is often better known as the "chords" that are played 'under' or 'behind' the melody. A sequence of chords is known as a "chord progression." There are thousands of songs.  It may surprise you to know - HUNDREDS of songs have the same chord progression!

Now - when you go to improvise a song - you dispense with the melody - and compose a melody of your own - which you play in place of the original melody - BUT the harmony - the chords - remain ... you play a new melody over the chords.

The fastest way you can sky rocket your improvisional skill is to practice playing over chord progressions.

a) Write a progression down on a piece of paper and start by playing the notes of the chords.

b) Look to the sidebar for BACKING TRACK 101 and work with it. I also have put other backing tracks which you'll see in the sidebar and I'm always post new stuff - keep an eye open for it. Look at item 9 on the sidebar CHORD PROGRESSIONS - lot of helpful info there.

I wish I could find words that would really hammer this information into your consciousness! - Anyhow -  a word to the wise!


14  WRITE A PROGRESSION DOWN.  Transpose it to other keys as well. Play over the progressions until you can play them smoothly, instinctively, intuitively, without thinking and you’ll skyrocket your skills!   


15   BE AWARE OF PROGRESSIONS AND BE READY WITH THEM! Look at this progression - C Am Em G7 C – (I-vi-iii-V7-I) It is an often found progression in many songs.  There are many different ways to play over this progression (and over all progressions.)  Since hundreds of songs are built on the same progression(s) – if you will compose and memorize a few different ‘solos’ that rock over various common progression(s) … when you meet them in a song  … you are master!    This business of being aware of progressions and being ready for them is a game plan you MUST NOT overlook!



          e.g.: I-vi-ii-V-I;


          I-IV-V-I   etc...

         An analysis will show you innumerable songs have identical  progressions!   Take a look here ~


 WHAT IS THIS TELLING YOU? Learn to play over progressions with pizzazz and you'll be champion when you meet them in a song! Yes! It's that simple if I may say it simply!


As I’m sure you know, when you decide to launch into an improvisation you don’t just take off in a willy-nilly fashion… you do your soloing over the chord progressions of the song…  An accomplished soloist MUST be aware of the chord progressions upon which the song is established, because without knowledge of this ‘blue print’ your improvisation is likely to fail because your solo is likely to ramble – or worse - sound out of place.  

  37 (brought forward)  WHEN IMPROVISING ... *Land* "come home" *pause* on a chord tone and you’re safe.  Let me explain: if you're improvising over the Amin chord - ( A C E ) pause, linger, tarry, - whatever words you like - let your end note be A, C or E. If it's the D7 chord, ( D F# A C ) end on D, F#, A or C and "everything will be all right."  etc. WATCH OUT FOR CHORDS WITH NON-SCALE NOTES.  Landing (pausing) on a non-scale note can be iffy, why? because SOME non-chord notes when played over natural notes of the Scale MAY sound discordant ... this is not to say you must NEVER 'land' on a non-chord note ... nothing in music is "cast in concrete" ... all this means is ~ LISTEN to the notes you play and be aware.   LISTEN to what you are playing and LISTEN to the chords as you progress.  If you play a note that crunches ~ your ear will tell you!  Never mind when this happens ~ get off it immediately and play on J

I have a good friend who is a "classically trained" pianist and sometimes we play together.  The 'problem' with him is ... all he knows is - to play in 'strict time.'   If you are going to express feelings and emotion you will have to depart from the dead set straight-lace and free up yourself.  By all means 'keep time' but change the phrasing of some notes - - shorten some, lengthen some, hang on to some, repeat some, skip some ? ? are you understanding ? ... break out of the hard shell prison! - syncopate - use a few notes that are 'dissonant' - go 'up the scale' instead of 'down the scale' if that's how the 'original music' has it... etc. and so on. 

Do not be timid in expressing yourself! 

Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you can become... 



17   Playing/ practicing with a backing track is unquestionably a most powerful way to hone your musical skills.  Visit this link:



18    Let me just say a little something about JAZZ.  Someone said "Don't be put off by the word jazz if indeed your interest is primarily rock or gospel or Latin or classics or whatever.


"Every musician can benefit from applying jazz strategies because jazz provides an opportunity to bring into play the widest range of musical expression.


"Jazz is a set of musical tools for you to express what you are feeling. If all you're interested in playing is Mary Had A Little Lamb, then learning a bit about jazz will make you an ace at playing that tune."


19    TRANSPOSING  All top musicians know about transposing.  To go into explicit details here would be to go beyond the pale of this compendium of basic musicianship stuff.  This is something you should pursue – and you can find all the data on the Internet.  Why should you know about transposing?


To accompany singer who needs a song played in a higher or lower key.


 To modulate a step up in the middle of a tune to add excitement.  Etc. etc.

20  PLAYING/ IMPROVISING 12-bar blues is a great way to ‘get into’ improvising.  It’s easy.  I have posted many tutorial videos on this topic. Check them!  See the sidebar directory.

21   4 MAGIC NOTES.  There are 4 ‘magic notes’ you can play when improvising over a traditional 3-chord x 12-bar blues.  They are the 1st b3rd  5th and 6th notes of the scale (key) you are playing.  In C these notes would be C Eb G A.  You can play these notes with impunity over the entire 12-bar progression and they will not crunch.  Why this is so is fully explained in my videos.  Of course you will not wish to play 4 notes ad infinitum… but they are a great way to start off when you’re getting your feet wet….


22   WORKING WITH THE DOMINANT CHORD Oftentimes (but not always) the dominant chord is played as a 7th.  In the key of C the dominant chord (the V) – is G.  It is frequently (but not always) played as G7 if the following chord will be the tonic – C - as this is a stronger lead back to the tonic than a simple G.   You can add variety and pretty up your playing by altering chords - especially the dominant chord of the scale … it’s a favorite ploy.  In the progression V7-I, instead of playing G7 you may try G7#11 or G7b9b5 or G7+ etc. etc.


23    THE CHORD WHEEL.  Everything I'm posting on this site is hit-the-nail-on-the-head-nitty-gritt- stuff.  I'm not putting in "filler" material to swell out pages J  I urge you to consider getting a copy of “The Chord Wheel” – The Ultimate Tool For all Musicians – by Jim Fleser.  It’s inexpensive and ultra useful.  I got my copy years ago from Sam Ash… you can order it online.


24     AMAZING SLOW DOWNER FROM RONIMUSIC.COM This is computer software that allows you to play a CD, slow it down, change the key, loop sections.  You insert a CD in your drive, select the song you wish… slow it down, loop a passage, change the key … makes it a piece of cake for you to learn the passage… you can even burn a CD of your ‘creation’ and play it on any stereo system…. I got to know about this software while at a Workshop I attended in Las Vegas – it has been one of my great discoveries! It is used by musicians – professional and amateur – the world over.  If you are serious about music, I honestly feel you should consider getting this software at all costs…


25     REPETITION OF NOTES AND PHRASES… Play a phrase and repeat it, or a variation of it. This is the ‘call & response’ frequently seen in the blues. Consider the phrase to be a question and then answer it with the same notes or a variation. For example, you can make a ‘call’ like D E G E G and ‘respond’ with something like D E G A Bb A G etc. etc.


26  Use chromaticism; moments of silence...  (see the sidebar link - CHROMATICISM DEMONSTRATED)


27      QUOTE: This means taking a phrase from one song and implanting it in another … like taking a phrase from Over The Rainbow and use in Bye Bye Love….

28   PLAYING WITH OTHERS. “GETTING YOUR FEET IN THE DOOR.”  OK ~ so you’re practicing diligently and you’re making progress. Hopefully you’re working with some backing tracks as this is closest to playing with a group.  But now the time has come and you wish to play with an actual group…


“The most grievous obstacle for a beginning improviser to overcome is one’s own inhibitions. At first, when practicing improvisations by yourself, you may feel you have no idea what to play.  Once you have reached the point where you feel comfortable in the practice room and decide it is time to play with other musicians, you may feel self conscious about playing in front of your peers. Then, when you can play with other musicians in private, you may feel nervous when you first perform in public. There are no miracle cures for these problems, just play when it’s your turn and continually push yourself to take chances… and you’ll triumph.”


29    1. PLAY CHORD SCALES. Play a scale made up of chord tones.  Use the “flow concept”... that is, let the last note of your chord flow easily to the first note of the next chord… Let there be a small step, not a big leap.  Enable this by inverting the notes of the chords if necessary or breaking up the sequence of the notes in the chord(s).  Instead of playing C E G you may play G E C if the starting note of the new chord is D. (From C to D is a step, while if you played G to D it would be a leap…)  We *flow* from A to C.  It’s a small step, not a leap, if you understand…


30     2. PLAY CHORD SCALES. Forget the melody and play the chord as an arpeggio.  This means, that you’ll have to learn the chords to the song.  Sing the first chord tone, then ascending or descending through the remaining chord tones. When the chord changes, flow right from the last chord tone of the previous chord to the tone of the new chord.  What you are doing here is flowing arpeggios over the changes.  Depending on the amount of time, you may only be able to play one or two notes of the chord before there is a chord change; or you may have time to play several notes… here you can repeat the notes of the chord, or extend the chord to a 6th, 9th, 11th or whatever, or you can link the notes of the chord, i.e. instead of playing C E G C E G, you could try C D E F G A or something else.  Try sharpening a note.  Try C D E F# G A … ?  YOU’VE GOT TO EXPERIMENT!    When you can do this it actually becomes more fun and more natural than reading about it!


31     3. IMPROVISING A SONG BY PLAYING THE NOTES OF THE CHORDS.  This requires you to do a bit of study and get to know the chords of the song and of course you have to know what notes make up the chords.  Some songs have fast moving chords and you may only be able to play one or two notes of each chord. When using chords as a blue print to improvise, you may of course ‘nice up’ the chords by altering them and of course you may link notes of the chord by inserting a ‘link-note’ e.g. the chord is C E G … you could try C C# D E F# G … ? ? ?  Est-ce que tu comprends?


32    TRITONE SUBSTITUTION. Well, what can I tell you other than this is one of my favorites! Using a tritone substitution will put a smile on your face J  What you do is substitute a different chord for the one you are about to play. But what chord will you substitute? Well the tritone is an excellent choice. This is not the place to delve into the theory of the tritone, because here the watch word is “keep it simple.”  You may Google for ‘what is a tritone chord’ or ‘tritone substitutions’ and find all the high science you wish…

In practice you can use the Tritone Substitution principle on any dominant 7th chord. Simply replace the dominant 7th chord with a root tone a tritone - 3 whole tones (or 6 semitones) away.

You can find the tritone chord by using the Circle of Fifths diagram … The tritone is directly opposite … take a look ~ 


          Example: Dominant chord Gb7 is a tritone away from C.


Note that the two dominant chords which can substitute each

other are exactly opposite each other on the Circle of Fifths


·                   C7 can become Gb7, or vice versa

·                   G7 can become Db7, or vice versa

·                   Eb7 can become A7, or vice versa

                and so on.

Try this exercise:  The tritone substitution for the G7 chord is Db7 so in the progression ii-V7-I = Dmin–G7–C make a tritone substitution at the V7 - the progression becomes Dmin-Db7–C … try it and see how you like it!

Although a Tritone substitution is usually associated with the dominant chord in a progression i.e. V7-I, it can be used to substitute other chords in a progression, as well. Whether the chord substitution in a given musical context is appropriate or not should be judged by your own musical ear. You’ve got to experiment!

Go here for a chart showing the tritone substitutions for many chords in various progressions…


33  BUILDING YOUR SOLO. Listen to what you’re playing.  Listening to your own playing becomes ever more important as you develop your improvisation skills.  A strategy many good musicians use to build a solo is by playing one phrase and reacting to it with another. This is the ‘call and response’ principle of the blues – e.g.:  question - G G E F G   answer – E F G A G. etc.  This way the creation grows out of itself, so to speak.


(1)  TWO WAYS TO DEVELOP A SOLO   Create a motif – example: G G G G E C - move away from it - then come back.  

(2) Use the ‘call and response’ principle … question and answer phrases that create a melody … also called the Law of Repetition…

34  ARTICULATING THE ROOT NOTE OF THE CHORD  – the tonic note.  The tonic strongly emphasizes the chord. But the 3rd and the 7th notes of the chord are the ones that most define the sound of the chord – the 3rd note of the chord defines whether it is major or minor. For example – C Major: C E G; C Minor: C Eb G…  If you emphasize the 3rd and 7th notes in your improvisation it will help guarantee that your lines will accurately imply the changes.  On the other hand, if you emphasize the other scale tones it can add a harmonic richness to the sounds.  You are also free to use notes that are not in the scale, as well….

35  By emphasizing the chord tones often, you connect the riff or phrase solidly to the chord. Especiially if you end the riff on the root note of the chord.  As the verbiage goes, we say “this strongly articulates the chord.”

36  WHEN COMPOSING AN IMPROVISATION, advance in short increments.  You’ll find this tends to work better than making wide jumps all over the place.

 37  WHEN IMPROVISING ...  *Land* "come home" *pause* on a chord tone and you’re safe.  Let me explain: if you're improvising over the Amin chord - ( A C E ) pause, linger, tarry, - whatever words you like - let your end note be A, C or E. If it's the D7 chord, ( D F# A C ) end on D, F#, A or C and "everything will be all right."  etc. WATCH OUT FOR CHORDS WITH NON-SCALE NOTES.  Landing (pausing) on a non-scale note can be iffy, why? because SOME non-chord notes when played over natural notes of the Scale MAY sound discordant... this is not to say you must NEVER 'land' on a non-chord note ... nothing in music is "cast in concrete" ... all this means is ~ LISTEN to the notes you play and be aware.   LISTEN to what you are playing and LISTEN to the chords as you progress.  If you play a note that crunches ~ your ear will tell you!  Never mind when this happens ~ get off it immediately and play on J

38     Try inserting some semi-tones between notes, here and there. (Chromaticism.)

 39    Where there is one chord running for one or more bars, try extending the basic chord to 7, 9, 11, 13th or whatever and use the notes as a sort of template.  Try sharping or flatting a note, here and there... Experiment! 


40    A GREAT PRACTICE EXERCISE.  I wish to share with you something very special.  I hope you will not glibly pass this over.  Open this link – By all means read all the stuff on the page if you wish.  There is IF 3.1 - The Purpose of Scale Practice ... great information.  However what I want you to do is scroll down to IF 3.4 - Etude 1 and click the tab Audio IF 3.3  This is Etude #1 – a GREAT practice exercise.  It’s an easily learned melody that takes you though all 12 Scales.  It’s a great exercise.  Please work with it.  The audio will take you through the first 3 scales ... then you carry on your own.

 41   NOW THIS IS FOR YOU WHO WISH TO DELVE INTO SERIOUS MUSIC.  There is a great site on the Internet, the best by far that I’ve found dealing with every facet of music playing and theory.  It’s all free ~ and presented in a very readable way.  I’m giving you the web address hereunder. If the links I give you in this compendium do not open automatically when you click on them, copy and paste the address in your browser. Here is the link –   Bookmark this site! Enough said by me, I think!


42  WHEN IMPROVISING WITH ONE SCALE ONLY over a lone chord progression it is easy to start wandering about without a direction. It’s very important to keep track of where you are in the song!  Emphasize the appropriate chord tones. Using GUIDE TONES is a good way to give your solo purpose and forward direction.  Guide Tones are TARGET NOTES for your improvisation. They are usually chord tones (especially 3rds and 7ths) or important melody notes. A GUIDE TONE LINE is a string of these target notes that covers the chord progression. The guide Tone Line ~ generally moves in steps of tones or semitones ~ goes gradually up or down with only few turns.  It should be easy to remember.


43   USE THE PENTATONIC SCALES!  The pentatonic scales are great for improving.  They are devoid of potential ‘crunch’ notes and are a joy to work with.  Use them!  See the videos. Get there from the sidebar link.

What you're finding here is a concentrated volume of techniques.

All these strategies are carefully explained and demonstrated in detail one-step-at-a-time in the *tutorial videos*  

Please work with them! 


 44.  At some point while improvising in a given key, try playing notes that are not in that key. Playing notes that are not in the current key is sometimes called “playing outside.”  You will find in many cases it sounds very natural, while in other cases it sounds dissonant, harsh or unpleasant.  Remember ~ remember - remember! There are no ‘wrong notes’ in music – only poor choices. You ear is the ultimate judge.   You may like to try improvising without any key center at all.  This can be just as natural as improvising within a key … but perhaps we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves here…  This principle is a bit difficult to explain, so I think I’ll do a video sometime and demonstrate it. You’ll understand it better.

A word of warning ! ~ Improvising can become very technical and way out which is great fun for musicians but the general public cannot follow ... and you may end up alienating them.  (I was going to say "terrorizing them.")  J  Use good judgment!  If you're playing for the general public play the song, do some improvising, return to the song and close.  Do not embark on endless flights of fancy or close without coming back and playing the song, even if its only the last few bars.  This way you bring a conclusion and not leave listeners up in the air…


45  AT THE END OF THE DAY music is about feelings. Play from your heart! Play simply and prettily. A single note or a short lick repeated over and over can generate great intensity. Vary the rhythmic structure (syncopate) – Give your music life and expression… and you’ll always come out on top.

 46  YOUR ABILITY TO PLAY PRETTILY is dependant upon the mastery you have over your instrument.  You gain mastery by practice, regular practice, constant practice!  And what do you practice?  Melodies of course, but it’s scales, exercises based on scales, chord progressions, running chords as arpeggios and so on - that’s going to do it for you. Strive always for clarity and pureness of tone... and gradually increase speed - - until you play accurately, purely and clearly, and like lightning....


 47      Playing ~ working ~ with backing tracks is simply the most powerful way to hone your musical skills.....

 48     Remember: daily practice if even for a few minutes ~ is your agenda as long as you’re an active player.


49     Here is an excerpt from a tutorial I wrote ‘How to Play Blues Harmonica’


 “And the very first thing I leave for the last … you must play with intensity and pizzazz ~ Intense means ~ strong, powerful, passionate, forceful, deep, concentrated, extreme…. The elements of intensity include:


“Dynamics: Loud is more intense than soft. Tone or color: A bright tone is more intense than a dark tone; an open tone is more intense than a closed tone; a full tone is more intense than a thin tone. . Vibrato: Vibrato is more intense than non-vibrato; a wide vibrato is more intense than a narrow one; a fast vibrato is more intense than a slow one. Attack: a hard attack is more intense than a soft articulation. Tempo: fast is more intense than slow; accelerando (speeding up) is more intense than ritardando (slowing down).


Pizzazz = flamboyance, energy; power, controlgreat personal charm, enchantment, allure, spirit and vigorflair, energy, style …

“1.  LOOK THE PART OF AN ENTERTAINER!  Most blues players wear a hat!  Get a hat! wear it when you play!  Also ~ dress:  You need to wear a red, white, silver, gold, sparkling or shiny shirt or dress… something flashy that makes you stand out from the crowd.  Black or white pants (or skirt.) 

 “2.  PUT  SHOWMANSHIP  IN  YOUR  PERFORMANCE!  MOVE YOUR BODY!  Don’t just stand there immovable like a statue!  Let your body move – sway - dip - give physical expression to the song you’re playing.  If you’re playing an uptempo number, keep time ~ tap with one of your feet.

 “REMEMBER ~ you MUST make an IMPACT.  

 Never forget it!  ~  PLAY  WITH    PIZZAZZ    every time !

“FINALLY… what are you doing with your talent?

        “Not hiding it under a bushel!

“Consider the words of these philosophers…

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give” - Winston Churchill

"The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity" -Leo Tolstoy

“Play for friends when they visit you or when you visit them.  Play at your church’s concerts, at recitals … sit on a bench in a public place and play.  Go busking!  Stand on a street corner and play! (put down your hat!) and let your light shine!  Play with a group!  You know what delight your playing gives you … Share your joy!  Encourage others to take up an instrument too and let them know it isn’t all that difficult!”



My e-mail address is

                             I’d be happy to hear from you!


I remember the days when I was striving to “learn to play." That was a long time ago! J I was on an island where there were no music shops at the time, no tutorials available to me, no one I could turn to for help ... and certainly ... no internet!  I had to try to figure it out on my own!


I was born in Barbados and I've lived here almost all my life.  My ‘musical career’ has spanned more than 60 years… from ‘fooling around’ with various instruments as a teenager; to being a “professional” (meaning I was earning a living) playing tenor sax in a “soul band;” to these days ~ just playing for the fun of it ~ and along the way, trying to help others get started…


Even though things are much different these days, I think of others embarking on their musical adventure and wonder if they may be experiencing some initial difficulty in getting started.


And I got a bright idea! … I could put stuff on the internet! It would enable me to reach and hopefully help new players now stepping onto the musical path, who may be searching for some direction.  


I scoured the www to see what was there and I noticed the tremendous plethora of information on 'how to play music,' 'how to play this and that instrument,' 'how to improvise' etc.  A good deal of it is excellent, though quite a lot, it seemed to me, is presented in a scholarly way and bewildering for beginners to grasp… however, I must admit I’m not the brightest boy in class and I thought this may only be my perception.


So I went ahead and did a lesson-video on ‘how to play harmonica.’ The result was startling!  Just 6 weeks after posting, it had been viewed by over 2000 people from all over the world and questions and comments were coming in….


I’m happy to say I now have ‘students’ from the 4 corners of the earth! They write me with various questions – most have to do with improvising J - I was encouraged. Their questions became a ‘theme’ for the ‘tutorial videos’ I subsequently put on YouTube.


If I may paraphrase what so many of my ‘students’ say – “much of the ‘how to’ instruction on the Internet is difficult to follow and work with.”  So I guess I was fairly correct in my initial observation. 


 Throughout my time as a musician and ‘teacher’ I can say, from experience, that the greater number of aspirants who embark on a musical journey, no matter what instrument - nearly all of them (not all!) sooner or later begin to express an interest in improvising.


That is why a lot of what I've given in the above theorems - is about ‘improvising.’ J


What I've  given here is mostly from my own experience ~ some is from the know-how of others, from notes I have jotted down and kept as I went along. 


I minimized the verbiage and focused directly on the target.  I précised everything into short paragraphs as I don’t think you wanted  to hear a lot of long talk.


A word about the videos… I do not have professional equipment!  I only have a Logitech ‘Orbit’ web cam; it sits on my monitor or sometimes I scotch it somewhere else depending on the ‘angle’ I try to capture. Like Miles Davis who said he did not “do over” recordings when he was in the studio (because, he said, all musicians make boo-boos and it’s no reason to get upset) – I just turn the cam on, do/say/play whatever … and that’s it! J  No “doing it over” to try to achieve ‘perfection!’ Apologies if the quality of some of the videos is not top notch!


By the way – I did not go “into the deep” because I myself have never been there and because anybody who wishes to plunge into the depths of mind-boggling theory will do much better working with a personal teacher or going to a conservatory… my aim here is to present some working tools and show you how to use them, in as simple and easy fashion as I can.


I took everything straight out of my note book. I did not go through this compendium editing out duplication or trying to arrange it in a chronological way. Some of it is repetitive … but that’s OK!  It’s by repetition that we learn! 




may the circle be open, but never unbroken
may the lord and the lady be forever in your heart
merry meet and merry part 
and merry meet again.

Blessed be!