I find improvising to be the most challenging and rewarding part about music. When I first started to improvise I found that the ideas I had were limited to the dexterity of my fingers, but now I am finding that the ideas I have are limited to my capacity to remember the previous note sequences (so that I may repeat them or play variations of them).

Is there a good way to practice this? Too often my desire to improvise new ideas gets ahead of my own ability to remember and I create long stretches of note sequences that I cannot recall in order to produce an improvised riff that "makes sense".

2 Answers 2


There's a lot of difference between 'noodling' or 'widdling' and improvisation. One can use, say, a pentatonic and noodle over a three chord wonder all day long, playing long extemporisations without any mistakes being apparent. This can, however, be a great point to take off from.Only using, say, 4 of the notes, play a motif, perhaps 6 notes long. Over, for example, a 12 bar sequence initially. Keep as much of this as you can, while maybe missing a note out, or putting a 'bad' note on a weak part of a bar. Try keeping the note order, try changing the rhythm of those notes.Then try playing the sequence backwards, inside out, etc.With the chord changes, follow them with the motif, so they go up to a IV with the IV chord.Try not to make the improvisation too complex - imagine a non-muso is trying to follow or even hum your tune. Very complex will not necessarily equate to very clever.

That said, if you're trying to improv. over chord changes, as in a jazz situation, you'll need to start gently, with songs that don't go too wildly 'out of key'.Again, keep it straightforward and uncomplicated.You could follow the rhythm pattern of original notes, but use others instead. A set of notes (the scale) will often suffice, and initially, maybe, start each two bars with the root note of that particular chord. It makes it sound like you know where you are - only 'cos you do ! Either keep a rhythmic or a note motif coming back, every so often. Let's face it, if we play something that sounds good, we don't want to waste it, do we ?

I don't know how deeply you are already in following the changes, but hopefully this answer is going to be helpful.


You can establish a theme that you come back to again and again, and then use as a jumping off point for further improvisation. The theme doesn’t have to be long or complicated, and it’s probably better if it’s not. Think of the theme as a chorus, and think of your improvisational stretches as verse. As long and wild as your improvisational stretches may be, your themes can be the opposite: short and potent and memorable.

If you jump off from the same short theme again and again, you’ll likely find that you remember the way you jumped off last time and you can either take that same approach again — leading to a similar stretch of improvisation — or you can choose to jump off in a different way. For example, the first time you may jump off to a loud and raucous stretch with a lot of notes, and the next time, jump off to a quiet stretch, with fewer, longer notes. Then if you go loud and raucous again the third time, you will likely re-explore some of the same ground.

Another idea is to confine your improvisations to a particular scale, like Klezmer or Egyptian. That way, you know you can re-explore that particular scale again and again if that is what you want to do. As opposed to a more chromatic approach to improvisation, which will be harder to remember.

And of course, recording your improvisations and listening back to them may enable you to develop your memory further, or lead to exploring new avenues when you’re playing. If you don’t already have a pocket recording solution, an Apogee MiC and an iPhone is really great. The Apogee MiC makes very high-quality recordings of any acoustic source and the iPhone has many hours of storage and battery. And it takes almost no time to set them up and hit record, and very little time to organize the recordings and make use of them.

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