An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

April 4, 2004 Jazz Improvisation 5 Comments

Exercise - freeform improvisation

iwasdoingallright - audio clip - freeform jazz improvisation clip.

The idea behind freeform improvisation is simple: improvise freely, without a set chord progression, structure, or melody. Lately I've been spending about 5-10 minutes a day with freeform improvisation.

While there really aren't any *rules* for what or how you should play, the following is a process that I use to help me develop my ideas.

I can't force myself to be creative. So, rather than try to force myself to create an entire tune out of thin air, I like to start with a few notes and rhythms. I'll typically noodle around with these smaller pieces for a while, playing several variations, until I find something that sticks out to me; something I can use as a foundation for the rest of the tune.

I then build upon this foundation, through continued development and repetitions. Each time I reach an idea that I like, I try to take it further. Sometimes I might go through 20+ development repetitions, and sometimes maybe just 1 or 2.

In this recording, I started playing with a few notes from a C pentatonic scale. I went through several development repetitions, adding more notes and varying the rhythms, before reaching a point where I suddenly knew exactly what I wanted to play (the final part of the recording). This does NOT happen to me all the time. Most of the time I don't reach a clear ending. That's okay, though. After all, this is a freeform exercise. There isn't a right or wrong way to play. It all depends upon what you want to do.


Don't be critical of your playing. Don't worry about what others might think of your ideas. Don't compare your playing to the playing of others. Just concern yourself with whether or not YOU like what you're doing. And if you don't like what you're doing, don't let it get you down, just play something else!

This exercise has the following benefits:


By removing the rules (chord changes, tempos, etc.) of typical tune-based jazz improvisation, you are free to focus solely on the creation of improvised music. Also, since you don't have an accompaniment to hide behind, you'll find it easier to hear whether you are playing new ideas or whether you are simply recycling a bunch of learned licks.


To be a good jazz improviser, you must be able to play by ear. If you're unable to play the ideas in your head, this exercise will make this fact painfully obvious. If you're having trouble playing your ideas, slow down the tempo. If you're still having trouble at slow tempos, you should probably spend more time on ear training and simple song playing.


Since this exercise is played without accompaniment, you don't have a rhythm section to keep time for you. If you want to play something that sounds upbeat and/or driving rhythmically, it's all up to you.

Your freeform improv sounds good for what it is. I have done a lot of this type of practice and live performance. Here are two suggestions I would me to quickly improve your playing freeform (and other stuff too).

1. Play with a metronome. (I always do this when playing alone, it's double duty on practicing and time is VERY important)

2. In addition to playing what you're familar with, try working on pentatonics, diminished, major, minor etc. patterns in all keys at random. You'll become more flexible and your ear will become accustomed to new sounds.

Just my opinion, I could be wrong!

Dan J.

Check out some of my live clips as examples of how the exercies above translate to improv in a group on: www.danjacobsmusic.com

Comment by Rick

Hi Dan, thanks for the suggestions.

I actually started playing with a metronome about a month ago. I basically play a 12-bar blues, outlining the chords and soloing, with nothing but a metronome for accompaniment. I typically set the metronome so it's beeping on 2 and 4. I do this primarily to work on less-familiar keys like F#, B, C#, etc...

I'm still pretty new at this exercise, but it seems to have been helpful so far, as these less-familiar keys are getting easier and easier to play with, and it's getting much easier to stick with the metronome. Once I get better at it, I'll put up some clips and write a blog entry on this site about it.

Thanks for writing again!



You're on solid ground with the metronome work and 12-bar blues paractice. I'll be interested in hearing some clips when you get up to it.

I have several clips (and also complete tunes) of my live performance work in various settings that might be interesting to some. Of course, I've got my recordings up there too so anyone can download for free whatever they want at: danjacobsmusic.com

One other thing that I've worked with a fair amount is the Aebersold CD titled, "Free Play." I love it for the freedom it provides, I'll have to post a clip of some of the stuff I recorded with that CD if you're interested. Of course, I have all the other Aebersold CD's too and use them more often.

Keep it up!


Comment by Rick

Hey Dan,

At your suggestion, I recently bought the "Free Play" play-a-long. I haven't had much time to use it yet, but I have enjoyed a few sessions with "Fast Time, No Changes". As you mentioned, the freedom of these tracks is great. They're a refreshing change from normal play-a-longs. Hopefully I'll have some more time to dig into the other tracks in the coming weeks.

Also, I wanted to tell you that I enjoyed reading your interview in JazzImprov magazine as well as listening to the tracks on your website!

Thanks for contributing,


Hey Rick,

The "Free Play" CD is a good one to have for those occasions when nothing else will do. I don't use it as a steady diet but playing along with it has given me great practice and pleasure on the times I do use it. I also read "Effortless Mastery" by Kenny Werner (Kenny is the pianist on the CD), which I also liked.

On that subject, I just read another great book called "Trumpet Techniques" by Frank Gabriel Campos. Other than anything Bobby Shew writes on the trumpet, this is the best book I've seen on the subject, at least for my taste. He even credits Bobby in the book as well so we're on the same page.

Thanks for the feedback on the jazzImprov magazine article, it has gotten me a lot of exposure that I might otherwise not have gotten. As to the tracks on the website, I'm always adding new stuff, so check back from time to time.

I've been recording my practicing lately with my Sony MiniDisk, which is great. But haven't figured out how to load it to my website yet! Keep blowing!

- Dan

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