impro workshops



Workshops for musicians of all ages and levels of expertise

CPD for music teachers and community musicians

What activities will be included in a workshop?

Activities can be tailored to suit any level of musical experience and expertise, and will generally consist of group improvisation, with opportunities for paired and solo playing as appropriate. Throughout the session, there will be space to discuss the learning potential of the activities and how they can be incorporated into a structured learning programme. Activities are organised and led in a supportive way, helping participants to overcome any residual fears or anxieties they may have about improvising.

  • Descriptive improvisation – taking a theme, a scenario and exploring it freely and expressively

  • Musical conversations – turn taking whereby players respond to each other

  • Rhythmic improvisation – ensemble structures that allow creative freedom

  • Improvisation above a drone

  • Melodic improvisation within a verse/chorus structure

  • Building up layers and riffs

  • Melodic improvisation to chord patterns

Why improvisation?

  • It’s a natural thing to do – our first instincts are to explore the sounds we can make, with our voices or other sound-making objects/instruments

  • It’s a fundamental musical activity - if we think of music as a language of expression and communication, then improvising is the equivalent of talking

  • It’s a vehicle for learning – about instrumental technique, musical structures and styles

  • It’s a starting point for composing - while continuing to be an important activity in its own right

  • It’s a means of exploring different musical cultures and traditions, most of which incorporate their own forms of improvisation

  • It’s a social activity – a way of making music together through genuine interaction and negotiation

  • It’s enjoyable – and completely absorbing.

Why now?

We are going through a time of change in music education, with the introduction of Music Hubs last year and the imminent introduction of a range of curriculum changes. This is therefore a time to consider our approaches to learning and teaching music in both formal and informal sectors, in classroom lessons and individual and small group tuition. We have an opportunity to establish 'playing' as the central feature of music learning.

Much excellent work has been developed under schemes such as Wider Opportunities, and many young people now have access to learning an instrument. There has been a significant broadening of views of the curriculum, to include areas such as creativity, listening, communication and ensemble skills (e.g. A Common Approach, FMS, 2002). Nevertheless, in practice, the focus of much (even most) of the activity in instrumental lessons is on the technical challenges of learning to play the instrument, based around a repertoire of known or specially-written tunes and often with an emphasis on learning stave notation.

There is a danger, therefore, that young people will not come to regard playing an instrument as an outlet for their own creativity. Rather, they will see instrumental music-making as an activity where they have to follow the rules and do as they are told (whether by a teacher, a conductor, or the written music). The process of learning in a formal situation (lessons in school or with a private tutor) contrasts with that of informal learning processes which many young people adopt outside of school time (see Green, 2001), in which aural skills and exploration play an important part.

Making learning through improvisation a key teaching strategy could help to bridge this divide. Derek Bailey (1992) and others have shown how improvisation is a crucial aspect of most musical cultures. Learning through improvisation will enable young people to develop as fully rounded musicians.


Bailey, D. (1992) Improvisation: its nature and practice in music. London: British Library

FMS (2002) A Common Approach available for free download from

Green, L. (2001) How popular musicians learn: A way ahead for music education. Aldershot: Ashgate

Some principles

  • Everybody can improvise

  • It’s not something that only specialists can do. Moreover, it’s an activity which enables everyone to develop their own distinctive musical voice.

  • It is possible to improvise in any style or genre

  • Improvising is not exclusive to jazz or the blues. Most of the well-known classical composers – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and many others – were skilled improvisers and probably used improvisation as a starting point for many of their compositions. Derek Bailey’s book Improvisation: its nature and practice in music includes case studies and interviews with improvising musicians from Indian, Flamenco and Rock traditions.

  • Teachers should set their students an example by improvising themselves

  • It is not necessary to show anything technically advanced, which might in any case put some students off, but rather demonstrate how ideas can be built up.


Sessions can be tailored to suit the needs of the client. I can provide whole days, half days, one or more twilight sessions or a combination of any of these. The number of musicians/trainers leading the session will depend on the size of the group. A guideline price would be in the region of £400 a day, with pro rata charges for half-day and twilight sessions.