Melody: Improvisation

Choice of notes

  • Emphasize the notes that stay the same throughout the changes.
  • Emphasize the notes that change from one chord to the next.
  • Practice playing just guide tone lines.
  • Practice ornamentation on guide tones.
  • Practice starting your phrases on the guide tones.
  • Practice ending your phrases on the guide tones.
  • Improvise freely using guide tones as hooks for your phrases.
  • Play continuing quarter notes without breaks and without jumps when the chord changes. Then try the same with eighth notes, triplets or sixteenth notes.
  • Play sequences across the changes.
  • Start your phrases on a specific note, e.g. the third, the ninth etc.
  • Play only small intervals.
  • Play only wide intervals.


  • Start your phrases on one specific position in the bar, e.g. the 2, the 3+ etc.
  • End your phrases on one specific position in the bar.
  • Play exactly 2/3/4/5/6 notes in each bar.
  • Play phrases of 4/5/6/7 consecutive eighth notes starting on different beats.
  • Play phrases that extend over the barline.
  • Play phrases that extend over the form.
  • Anticipate a chord in the bar before.
  • Extend a chord into the following bar.
  • Start with a short phrase and expand it subsequently.
  • Start with a long phrase and contract it subsequently.
  • Play busy in one bar and sparse in the next.


  • Quote the head and expand on it.
  • Start with a simple motive and develop it throughout the solo.
  • Repeat a motive from other scale degrees.
  • Repeat the rhythm of a motive but change the notes.
  • Repeat the notes of a motive but change the rhythm.
  • Repeat a motive but leave out notes.
  • Repeat a motive but add notes.
  • Play questions and answers.
  • Repeat one question and give different answers each time.


  • To heighten the awareness of your own playing and to help you to form clear musical intentions, improvise in one bar and repeat what you played in the next bar. Gradually increase the length of the improvisation to 2, 4 … bars and keep repeating.
  • When using everything you know while improvising, your solo may sound arbitrary. Try restricting yourself rhythmically or melodically. For example, play only eighth note based rhythms or stay in the range of a fifth for a while, use only two or three notes etc.