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The Benefits of Improvisation When You're a Musician

Last Updated: January 30, 2017 / by Julie Adams



Most musicians want to do more than only read and play notes. They want to be able to create their own music – which can often come down to improvising in a jam session. Making up your own music or playing around with your instrument can be like a drug. You experience a sense of freedom and have the opportunity to express who you are as an artist.

With the different benefits that come along with improvising, you are guaranteed more than just fun. Improvising during your practice sessions will also make you a better musician. Here are the unexpected benefits of music improvisation:

Reinforces Listening

Whether you’re flying solo or a part of a band, improvising can sound quite good and help to improve your listening skills.

Improvisation sessions remind you of how important it is to listen to what your music teacher or the rest of your band is doing. It helps you to focus and pay attention. And when you listen better, you respond better.

Taking the time to improvise can improve your communication skills, which can improve other means of communication in your life as well. Group improvisations also promote a sense of togetherness and support; benefiting your well-being too.

Helps You Recognize Patterns and Scales

Usually, musicians warm up by playing scales, but after doing it a few times it can become a routine and you fail to focus on what you’re doing.

When you start to get in the habit of remembering which notes follow another, you will no longer pay attention to how the notes interact with each other. But when you improvise, you have to see how the notes are played together.

It’s helpful to know how the different notes interact, whether they are next to each other or not. So, by including improvisation into your practice sessions will help you refine concepts regarding scales, chords, and arpeggios.

Trains Your Ears

Being able to hear music is an important element in being a musician. Too often, music students are only taught to read and play music, but music is more than that. It’s also about hearing, feeling and expressing the music.

Trying different combinations during improvisation trains your ears and guides you in playing the sounds that work best. This teaches you in hearing and understanding the notes.

The more you improvise with different notes, the better you get at hearing it and you will be able to start composing your own pieces of music.

Teaches You to Think Ahead

When you read sheet music, it’s easy to forget to focus on the song as a whole. You get caught up in just reading the music note by note and it can slow down your progress.

Improvising can help you to think about the song as a whole and anticipate the coming note. By doing this, it teaches you to plan for what is coming next in the song. As you think ahead about the song as one flowing piece, you read the sheet music faster and stay on the beat better.

Improves Your Health

Numerous studies have been done on how music can influence your health and well-being, which is similar to the effects of doing creative activities.

Research into the effects of improvisation has shown that music improvisations reduce the cortisol levels in your blood; resulting in less stress and anxiety. As you focus on the task at hand, you don’t focus on your daily worries and you experience less stress, which improves your overall mental health.

Music has also been well praised as a way to communicate and process your emotions. By including improvisation into your practice sessions, you learn how to listen and communicate better about how you’re feeling.

Allows for Self-Expression

Sometimes musicians get caught up in reproducing beautiful sounds and they forget that music is also about creating emotions. Including improvisation exercises can prevent music being nothing more than just notes on a paper.

Studies on the brain activity of musicians found that different areas of the brain are active when you improvise as compared to playing from memory. When playing from memory, areas connected to problem-solving are more active. Whereas improvisation activates areas linked to self-expression.

These different results suggest that a combination of improvisation and playing from memory are ideal. Combining both will help you become well-rounded musician as you continue to develop your talent.

Boosts Creativity

Improvisation is all about thinking and composing on the spot. You are the one who decides where to go next and it forces you to be creative; to think outside of the box.

Exercising creativity develops your abstract thinking and problem solving ability. And being creative lets you go beyond the limits of your sheet music. It gives you the freedom to change and express the music the way you want to. It gives you the opportunity to be the creator.

It’s Fun and Motivating

Let’s face it: doing the same thing over and over can be boring. You might start getting discouraged and frustrated after a while. And like any new experience, improvisation can be scary, but also a lot of fun!

Including improvisation into your practice sessions can give you the extra push you need in becoming a better musician. If you find it too scary, start out small. As you get more comfortable, you can challenge yourself more.


About the Author: Julie Adams

I am a mom, a music lover and teacher from Tampa, FL. After completing a Bachelor of Music in Performance Arts, I traveled for several years before returning home where I started offering private piano and singing lessons as extra income. I met my husband in 2009 and 2 years later moved to Dallas where we settled down and I started focusing on vocal training to aspiring singers and performance artists of all age groups. I still enjoy playing the piano very much, and in my spare time you will catch doing some horse riding, drawing, doing some light reading, or just spending quality time with my family.


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