What is Improvisation?

Improvisation is a performance that has not been planned. There are many types of improvisation (improv for short). There is improvisational dance, comedy, poetry and music, along with many others. The key element in improv is creativity on the spot, meaning the artist is coming up with new ideas and performing them at the same time.

Take a look at some different examples of improvisation in dance and music:

What makes improvisation special?

Improvisation in Jazz

Improvisation is used in several styles of music, but most people have heard it before in jazz. In jazz, the rhythm section will play a chord sequence (the harmony) while the soloist improvises a melody that fits in. Sometimes, they will improvise on an existing melody.

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz. To this day, there are numerous street performers playing jazz on the streets. The second video is of a family playing a jazz arrangement of a hymn in New Orleans. Watch the two examples below to understand improvisation in jazz:

Improvisation in other styles of music:

Rock n' Roll has been using improvisation for years; guitar solos in the middle of rock songs are usually improvised. Other cultures use improvisation in their music, too. In India, a style of music called Raga is almost entirely improvised.

Here is an example of a raga: (skip to two minutes in)

Try Improvisation Yourself!

Listen to the backing track and tap along when Mr. Schaefer instructs you to. One at a time, we'll take turns improvising a rhythm before we join back in together.