Sometimes I'll take one of my instruments and I'll just randomly improvise on something. It could be some kind of scale, or switching between scales, I might take a few chords from the scale. But I never have a 'musical form' in mind, such as AABA, I just play whatever I feel and motifs come and go, I don't purposely think of cadences, bridges, choruses. Basically, it's unstructured.

Now lately I've been reading more about musical forms and song structures and I'm thinking this might need to be the next step for me. The goal is composing, I use improvising just a way to get there because I don't like to think in terms of composing it makes me nervous, so I just like to noodle until I find some pattern that I like. But this noodling has turned into a bit of spaghetti.

I want to play more like this guy and I was wondering if he sounds so good because he has structure in his improvisation (he mentions in his comments he was improvising this tune). Bach too was an improviser yet all his songs sound very structured and organized. So basically, I want to know if one should always strive to have a structure or form when improvising? Otherwise, it might just sound like it's going nowhere?

  • 2
    I enjoy improvising in rondo form. Having a short theme alternating with free middle sections is entertaining and not as taxing on the mind as, say, sonata form. Also, the variation form originates from improvisation.
    – Mirlan
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 22:04
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    In many jazz styles it is very important to consider what cadences and chords you are playing over. Different licks, phrases and melodies bring different colours to the underlying harmony and can highlight different notes on purpose.
    – Odo Frodo
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 4:01
  • @OdoFrodo true that exactly that guy did! the colors are quite vivid and that is what I enjoy most. There is not much form involved.
    – gastro
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 15:37

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: I think the answer you are looking for is yes. If you want to improvise for a specific audience, then having a form, some kind of structure, your piece would not seem "random", because it's easy for people to follow forms, especially if they are familiar with them.

Long answer: What are you aiming for? Do you want to improvise an entire piece live? Do you want to improvise so as to come up with a melody or chord progression? Do you want to improvise something and then work on it and compose a piece off your improvisation? Do you want to improvise on top of a sonata form?

All the above are different. Bach used to improvise, yes. But he had spent all his life composing, studying and improvising on very specific forms. So, Bach could easily improvise a 3 voice fugue, something us mortal might take years of studying, just to compose one!

Jazzists have a form in mind (AABA / AABC / ABC / Whatever) and improvise on top of that. A lot of composers improvise on an instrument (most commonly on a piano) to come up with an idea and then use that idea as the foundation for a piece they'll work on.

Improvising on a certain form can be of advantage if you are going for a more structured piece. But it's not uncommon to improvise freely (free improvisation). No form, no pre-thought ideas, nothing. Just getting up on stage and improvising. Form is somewhat restricting, because you have to follow it, but it's easier for people to follow a AABA form rather than a ABCDEFG... "form".

Keep in mind that most people nowadays are familiar with the popular song form: Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge(?)-Chorus(usually)-Outro. So if you improvise on a form of this kind (with slight variations or not), most people will be able to easily follow your piece without trying. But if you want to go beyond that (something that I'd highly suggest you at least try), people might find it more difficult to follow, but no one is stopping you from inventing a form of your own!

My suggestion would be to get familiar with the form you like. This way the forms will come natural to you; you won't have to think about the different sections of the piece, and you'll be able to improvise on them. The first time you'll try to improvise on a AABA form you'll mess up. The second time you'll mess up. The third time you'll do a little better. After you've practiced it a lot, you'll be able to do something solid a specific form.

It all boils down to having a structured way of thinking.


In addition to Shevliaskovic's outstanding answer, I'll add that an improvisation will often have chords and a form regardless of whether or not we're conscious of it. Even a single chord that never changes constitutes a chord progression. Similarly, as soon as a melody starts to repeat, it implies a form. If we don't consciously think about the chord progression/form as we improvise, then our improvisation is more likely to sound like a progression/form we're already familiar with. That's not necessarily a bad thing--it can just pigeonhole us over time if we have a limited harmonic vocabulary, etc.

The more we familiarize ourselves with and consciously experiment with different chords progressions/forms, the more we will internalize them and expand our harmonic & structural vocabulary. This enhances our improvisation--as we start to play a melody, it is not limited by a narrow range of harmonies/forms we're familiar with. This can ultimately enable a fuller melodic development.

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