Improvisation is one of those “magical” musical skills – meaning one which seems magical and can truly inspire you when you see an impressive musician doing it – but is actually a down-to-earth practical skill which can be learned by any musician.

The skills we teach inside Musical U equip you with the ears and understanding to enjoy exploring improvisation on your instrument, and so this month to kick off our new Instrument Packs for guitar, piano, bass and singing we chose a theme of “Beginning Improvisation“.

Here’s a preview of the full packs which our Instrument Pack members got access to this month:

Guitar

In the guitar Resource Pack this month Dylan Welsh introduces the versatile minor pentatonic scale as a great way to start exploring improvisation, in both major and minor keys:

Including:

  • Introduction to the minor pentatonic scale
  • How and where to play it
  • How to learn from solos you hear
  • Limitation exercises to build your creativity
  • Additional tips and tricks for getting good results
  • MP3 tracks demonstrating the scale in two keys, providing two backing tracks (in major and minor) and two example solos over those backing tracks.

Dylan first teaches a simple fretboard pattern, and then shows you how to put it to real musical work in a variety of ways – all the while connecting your ears with your instrument. With a couple of examples in the accompanying quick reference guide, he also shows real solos from the rock world that use exactly this approach.

Piano

It can be intimidating to improvise on piano because typically you’re expected to provide both harmony and melody using your two hands. In this month’s Resource Pack for piano Sara Campbell teaches some simple but effective ways to get started improvising great-sounding arrangements:

Including:

  • The natural minor scale and a simple chord progression you can use with it
  • Exploring rhythmic and chordal patterns
  • How to completely change your sound with different left-hand patterns
  • Tips and tricks for feeling relaxed when exploring improvisation
  • Applying the same techniques in a different key
  • MP3 tracks demonstrating two different rhythms, two different left-hand patterns and an example solo using them.

With the approach that Sara teaches here, you can simply sit down at the keyboard and easily start creating music. Combined with the core listening skills you can learn with Musical U training, you have everything you need to dive deep into improvisation with confidence.

Bass

Improvisation on bass can go far beyond a simple turnaround fill or technique-heavy solo. This month Steve Lawson introduces an easy and practical way to get started, as well as some insightful tips on the mindset you should take to exploring improv on bass.

Including:

  • How to approach improvisation
  • How to gradually develop your improv skills
  • Thinking in terms of a grid of notes, not just a linear sequence
  • Two starting exercises and other interesting ways to explore this pattern
  • MP3 tracks demonstrating two styles and providing backing tracks for you to experiment with

With these specific exercises (and the large number of interesting musical variations Steve introduces to expand on them), combined with the overall approach he teaches, you will be well equipped to begin creating your own licks and lines and start taking real ownership of what you play on bass.

Singing

For singing this month we did something a little different. We took the theme of improvisation but applied it to that all-important preparation skill: warming up.

Guest Pro Nina Rosenberger put together this inspiring tutorial on some more interesting and unusual ways to warm up your voice and start playing around with vocal ideas:

Including:

  • Why do we warm up?
  • Physical warmup and breathing
  • Vocal warmup using different syllables and words
  • “Sing it away” exercise
  • The importance of keeping true to your own vocal style
  • MP3 tracks for warmup with instructions and demonstrations

Nina manages to transform what is often a boring and repetitive part of singing practice into something truly musical and actually enjoyable! By using these specific exercises as well as the overall ideas that can be applied in other ways, you need never suffer through a dull warmup again.

Coming up next month…

When we teach relative pitch in Musical U, we focus a lot on the major pentatonic scale. It’s simpler than the full major scale but still powerful and widely used, so it provides a great first tool to explore playing (and improvising!) melodies by ear. We have training modules which teach you to recognise each note of the major pentatonic and to start using it to figure out notes by ear. Next month’s Instrument Pack resources will focus on applying these skills directly on your instrument.

Interested in getting access to these resources and much more, with an Instrument Pack membership? Just choose that option during checkout when you join Musical U, or upgrade your existing membership to get instant access!

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