Experienced improvisers make it look easy. They can seem so free and fluent in their playing that it looks like a miracle of nature, or a display of freakish, unattainable skill. If you’re listening to Keith Jarrett play, that is indeed the case. But if we’re talking about your average jazzer playing at a jam session somewhere, it can’t be that because there are too many of them. The ability to improvise is not a mysterious gift possessed by a chosen few. Tons of people do it convincingly in every other style of music besides classical.
Even musicians of the classical tradition used to improvise all the time, but somewhere along the line it fell out of fashion. Discussions of how and why that happened can be read elsewhere, so I’m going to focus on how modern-day classical musicians can re-integrate it into our lives. Hopefully this post will provide some perspective on how people learn to improvise in other styles, and in doing that will help you approach your own improv practice with a good strategy.