I have heard of the phrase "The Circle Game" used in reference to Phish and their style of improvisation and extended jams.

How does this work, and is it evident in their live performance?

  • 1
    Breaking up the question is good, but please make sure that each question is good (clearly described, with research effort) or you’re unlikely to get many good answers to them. I upvoted this question because I personally would like to know the answer too, but honestly it could use some significant fleshing out. As written it sounds brusque and unhelpful. Aug 8, 2014 at 20:52
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    The answer you provided for this question is a good one, but I agree the question could use some fleshing out. The phrase "principles of improvisation" I find questionable since it seems to be avoiding critical thought about what the question actually is. I'm going to edit the question as an example of what I mean and what I'd much like to see instead.
    – NReilingh
    Aug 11, 2014 at 4:07

1 Answer 1


In The Phish Book, band members explain that their improvisation was based on what they called "The Circle Game." Band members would face each other and one band member would start a riff. Each band member would then experiment and add to the riff until they all thought that they were locked on the riff and that the riff had been taken as far as it could. Then the next band member would start a new riff and the process would repeat, moving around the circle.

Once you know the Circle Game, you hear it in practically every extended solo that Phish takes. All the group solos in A Live One are based on this principle. It's a very compact but powerful rule which enables the band to easily jam for extended periods of time but still remain fresh.

  • Interesting! Would be even better if you expanded the last sentence into an extended example based on one of their iconic long songs like Esther or My Friend, My Friend or Reba. Aug 8, 2014 at 20:54

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