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Free-style Improvisation Workshops

First of all, an improvisation workshop is an opportunity to make music. Small groups of performers play their voices and instruments while they listen and respond to the sounds they hear. The goal is to shape our sounds into interesting music in the moment. Improv is musical play of the best kind, where we let our imaginations run and enjoy the sounds that result.

How it works

During an improv workshop, performers will learn to use familiar musical materials to create musical pieces. Techniques include long tones and drones, scales, rhythms, call and response, improvising over a repeating rhythm, and imitation of melodic motives to build coherent musical compositions on the fly.

You will do group and individual exercises and play musical games to train your ears and musical reflexes. We will discuss the results and learn how to make each improv more musical and interesting. Each session will end with an open-ended improv so you can make music with what you’ve learned. Our style of free improv is not structured jazz improv over chord changes, but a jazz rhythm or melody might be a jumping-off point for an improv.

Participants, from 3 to 6 students, can play their instrument in traditional and non-traditional ways, vocalize, and use other noise-makers, like shakers, drums, gongs, chimes. Homemade and found objects are welcome (jars with beans, oatmeal-box drum, resonant pan, a goblet that rings).

Why improvise?

You can use this type of improvisation with your chamber music groups or students for developing an understanding of how musical materials are created and transformed. It can also help with listening skills and expressivity, as the performer temporarily lets go of exact counting and notes and pays attention to the shape of his or her own sound and, with practice, the group’s overall sound. Best of all, it’s a fun and fresh look at music-making!

Raw materials

Familiar tunes can be the source of variations and alternative treatments.

Any idea that you can describe can inspire a musical reaction. I've used grab baskets of moods, animals, ideas to trigger improvs.

You're not limited to "musical" sounds. How about an improv where you only use sounds that are not the normal way of playing your instrument?

As a textbook, I use Jeffrey Agrell's "Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians", which is full of imaginative and fun ways to transform musical material.

Who can participate

All instrumentalists and singers welcome. If you're not a formally trained musician, you can play hand percussion or sing and still contribute mightily. We'll play some planned improvisations, round-robin duets (a duet that moves around the room as the pairs of players change), and open-ended see-where-it-goes music.

The key is to listen to all that's going on and let your contributions enhance the overall result. A single note, a repeating pattern that changes gradually, a melody that soars above it all, harmony for someone else's melody. You can practice this kind of music making on your own. In the workshop, you'll get ideas for making improv a part of your everyday practice.

Group size Improv is best done in a small group, 3 to 6 performers, so that everyone can hear the details of each person's playing. We can plan a workshop for a small group that wants to work intensively together, or a larger group that takes turns performing and listening.

Workshops generally last from 1.5 to 2 hours.

Sign up

Call or contact Pamela Marshall online to schedule a workshop.

Costs start at $150 plus travel.