Improvisation is understood, in the art of Music, as the spontaneous creation of music, which is the opposite of executing a previously composed work. To use a linguistic comparison, we would say that improvisation is similar to “talk or converse” instead of “reading or reciting”.
Although improvisation is usually associated to Jazz or Modern Music, it is worthwhile to clarify that its origins are very ancient and is also part of Classical Music. Yet in the Middle Age, “counterpoints” were improvised over a “cantus firmus”, which was a previously composed melody. And later, from the Baroque period, the development of variations over a known theme was common practice. As a matter of fact, among its most well-known performers we find such great musicians as Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini or Liszt.
Even if the improvisation can be understood in its wide sense, it generally consists in creating a melody suitable for a given chord progression. This means that a score containing only chords is given, and a melody must be composed in such a way that it “fits” or “sounds well” with those chords.
The procedure can be divided into two different steps:
- For each chord or group of chords, we must determine which scale or scales are suitable to improvise over them. This question can be solved in different ways, which will be explained in the next chapters.
- Once one of the available scales is chosen, we will create a melody with its notes. This is a purely creative aspect, which is left to the performer.
On the other hand, let us remember that Music is an Art, so it is not constrained to strict rules. This means that, besides using the notes of the chosen scale, the performers make use of other resources. For instance, using passing tones, approach notes, anticipation, delayed attacks and every kind of embellishments.