Books for Free-Style Improv

If you’re interested in improv and you like to read  as well as play the music, like me, check out these improvisation guide books:

Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians by Jeffrey Agrell

Cover of Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians by Jeffrey Agrell36 chapters and more than 350 pages, including an extensive list of resources, techniques, and an index. The subtitle offers “500+ Non-jazz Games for Performers, Educators, and Everyone Else”.

I got this book right after a horn player’s workshop with Jeff. It was musician’s gold! The games  offered me techniques for working with with fellow musicians who were reluctant to improvise. I highly recommend it.

Jeff Agrell teaches horn at the University of Iowa. He is a creative mentor to many. His comprehensive book of games may seem overwhelming at first. But, you just need to dip your toe in the pond, pick a game and try it.

If you are leading a workshop or a regularly scheduled class, you’ll find plenty of ideas for your lesson plans. These may be “games” but when you start playing, you’ll be exercising all the skills any musician has to practice — scales, phrasing, ear-training, music theory.

The book is $40.95 from the publisher GIA Music. Volume II is coming out early in 2016.

Improv Games for One Player by Jeffrey Agrell

Cover for Improv Games for One Player by Jeffrey Agrell15 chapters and 49 pages, and 50% overlap with Agrell’s big book, listed above. He recommends that musicians carry this with them and improvise at every opportunity.

The One Player games are $15.95 from GIA Music. At GIA, you’ll find  other books that offer subsets of his “big” book, for duos and 3 or more.

Read more of Jeff’s creative ideas, course material, and resources in his Improv Insights blog.

Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide by Tom Hall

Cover of Free Improvisation by Tom HallTom Hall is an improvising saxophonist and teacher at Brandeis in Massachusetts. His book covers a beautiful philosophy of improvisation and continues with exercises for groups of sound-makers to learn to relate to one another. I love the spiritual and meditative quality he invokes.

Many of the exercises have several steps with suggestions for building a musical structure and letting it settle or evolve. The book feels careful, gentle, and methodical as it encourages listening and cooperation.

Chapters include Advanced Groove Exercises, Textures, Creating Space–Playing Silence, and Groups Within the Group. Although the book is meant for ensembles, the last chapter offers several solo exercises.

The 100-page book is available as a print book, $25, and an ebook, $12.99, from Bee Boy Press in Boston. The web page has links to several excerpts.



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