How to Practice Improvisation Even If You Don’t Play an Instrument

Improvisation:  singing without prior preparation and planning; choosing what to sing in the moment in response to circumstances or inner feelings.

Improvisation is very hard to practice, especially at first.  You are likely to sing a lot of notes that don’t sound good.  And if you don’t play an instrument, it’s even harder practicing something so vulnerable in front of an accompanist or your teacher!  It’s also hard to practice improvisation over tracks that already have a lead singer on them – there’s no room for you.

But improvisation is used in a lot of music.  Not just jazz, where we think of scatting.  When a pop or rock singer breaks free of the standard chorus lines and sings some higher echoes or does some ad libbing near the end of a song, that’s usually improv.  So, even if you’re not a jazz singer, it’s nice to have the freedom to be able to improvise here and there with confidence.

But the only way to get better is to practice – and it’s certainly easiest to practice alone!

Today I’m going to share a site and a tip to help you improvise without needing anyone to accompany you.

Create Your Own Tracks at JamStudio

First, the web site:  Portions of this site are free and portions are $5/mo, but you can use even the most basic free features to create your own track to practice singing to.  

Here’s a quick way to create yourself a track:

1) Register for free.  It’s quick.

2) In the CHORDS box (upper right), pick some chords.  As you click them, they will fill in to the SCORE box in the upper left.  All the chords you pick will be in the same key. 

3) Click the “Loop Page” checkbox in the MIXER box (lower left).

4) Click the Play button in the MIXER box.

The default settings of classic guitar, the key of G minor, and tempo of 100 may serve you just fine, or you can fool around with other keys, other tempos, and other instruments.  But once you have a short song put together, just start humming along or singing a simple syllable like “ah”.

(By the way, I am not affiliated with, I just think it’s a really cool tool.)

Finding Notes to Sing

When you start improvising, you’re likely to fall on “obvious” notes – the root of the chord, the fifth, and the third.  That’s fine – go with it! Get used to singing without a planned melody in mind.  Keep finding your own variations.

But after a while, you might start feeling boxed in.  Like you only have one or two options for notes to sing over each chord.  The really fun stuff comes when you start singing other notes in the scale.  But how to find them?

1) Slow the tempo way down.  You want each chord to last long enough that your ear adjusts and you have time to explore the notes that work with it.

2) Sing whatever note you want – root, 5th, 3rd, whatever.

3) Then, sing ONE step higher or lower.  NOT a third or a fourth higher or lower… just one single step.  (If you have trouble doing this, pretend you’re singing a scale step by step, but take just one step. You might even try singing “do re mi” or “1 2 3” to help you move just a single step.)

If you sing one step higher or lower, you’ll likely land on the second, fourth, sixth, or seventh degree of the scale, which are often really cool, beautiful, tense, or colorful variations on a chord.  

And, if you manage to hold on to the pitch and stay there on the same note until the chord changes, sometimes it will even resolve by itself.


Have fun!


(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn

Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado.   For more free articles and tips, visit