Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Improvisation in Bloom!..Part I

(Improvisation Journals, Preparing the Soil & Planting Seeds)

“How do I get really good at improvisation?” a student will ask me from time to time.

Most successful artists practice their craft daily. Think about any artist you may know. If you go into their studios, you will likely find evidence of the artistic process in many different stages of  creativity. With a creator of fine paintings, you might find a pile of rough sketches, pencil drawings and canvases with texture and shading patches; four or five versions of a still life of flowers and fruit, varying in color value, styles and techniques; and a landscape in water color sitting on an easel ready for finishing touches. The studio walls are decorated with finished works done by the artist, as well as pieces created by his contemporaries and influences which provide an inspiring work setting.

Journals are used by writers to keep the creative juices flowing, and to record their ideas.

Next spring, my students will be encouraged in their daily musical creativity with new improvisation journals! These journals will be specially created by the students themselves. There will be lots of space for jotting down melodic ideas, lyrics, doodles and drawings. Every other page will be manuscript paper, my intentions being that a great deal of the journaling will be done in a musical language (i.e. traditional notation, chord progressions, lead line, short hand notation, etc.).

We will have a journal making day in early spring when the students will put their books together and personalize their covers with pictures, pretty scrap booking paper, and collage. Manuscript paper can be downloaded from the internet and printed out from your computer. You might have access to a binding machine, or take the journals to an office supply store and have them spiral bound. You may also choose to use a simple audio software program (here is a free one you can download: to do regular recordings of the students’ ideas. CD pouches are available also at an office supply store, and can be adhered to the inside covers of the journals.

Our journals will be divided into four sections, labeled “Planting Seeds“, “Budding Ideas“, ” Blossoms“,  and “Bouquets” to set apart the various stages of the creative process involved in improvisation and composition.  It is beneficial to teach and reinforce these four processes of creativity at lessons. It is my experience that students respond best to hands-on activities in the lessons, to inspire further exploration outside the lesson. In our studio, the students will be setting individual, realistic goals for their improvisation journaling.  This could look something like:

  • Plant a “Seed” per day (create a motif)
  • Complete one  “Budding Idea” per week (full phrase)
  • Create one  “Blossom ” each month (section, period)
  • Present a full “Bouquet” by the end of the Semester (or whatever realistic time frame applies).

It sounds like we’re going to be doing lots with rakes and trowels! Actually, as you can see, by the descriptions in parenthases, I have some other tools in mind! Keep reading!…

Preparing the Soil  for Creativity

A few minutes of improvisation is a great way to start off the lesson. So, we will start off each lesson spending a few minutes in our new journal. Teachers can prepare their students for improvisation and composition, and even to be more well rounded musicians, by spending a couple of minutes each lesson doing some simple improvisation games, or a quick rhythmic or melodic dictation exercise. Refer back to my earlier blogs for specific activities that can be used here, especially my May 24th article, #1 of the Get It Going Series – The Creativity Tool Box, and January 22, Improvising on a Snowflake.

Planting the Seeds (Motifs)

This  section  is a great place to get started, since it will provide building materials which can be used in the other sections of the journal.  A “seed” is another name for a rhythmic, melodic or harmonic motif, in other words a baby building block for our piece. We might start in the area of the student’s strength. If I have a tactile orientated student (the one who has to be always noodling with his fingers on the keyboard, or fidgeting!) I might start by handing him a drum and asking for a short rhythm. From there, he will be asked to notate the rhythm to the best of his ability. A more visually orientated student will be asked to look at a picture in  a magazine, or imagine or quickly draw a scene or character, and to play a three to five note musical description. Most people are strong in either or both of these orientations, and some may be more aural. As the improvisation takes shape, the aural aspect will definitely come into play. Once there are several “seedlings” recorded in this section of the journal, the student may use one or more combined to move on to the next step: creating a phrase.

Check back next month for “Buds”, “Blossoms” and “Bouquets” which will continue on with our Blossoming Improvisors Journaling ideas. In the meantime, you can get your ideas and materials together for making the journals, and start playing with the ideas I’ve shared with you for “preparing the soil” and “planting the seeds”.

Until then, have fun creating! And please share any ideas you have on this topic!

P.S.  In case you’d like my comp/improv blog articles in hard copy…I’ve published them in a 23 page book form: Music Creativity in Bloom ~ Dozens of Inspiring Ideas to help you teach Composition and Improvisation, is now available at

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  1. Leila Viss

    Love this idea Christine! And, thanks for bringing it up now so I have time to make plans, prepare the journal, etc.
    As always, you are the rock star of improv ideas!

  2. PlaygroundPC

    This is a very practical and insightful entry. Thanks for these recommendations! Keep up the good work!

  3. Dan the Music Master

    Some interesting thoughts here. Opening minds to creativity is a wonderful undertaking.

  4. Helary

    This is a very practical and insightful entry. Thanks for these recommendations! Keep up the good work!

  5. Christine Schumann

    Thank you for your comments, Leila, Dan and Helary! I would love to hear how it goes, if you try any of these ideas yourself or with your students! Leila, I know you will do a bang up job if you make these journals with your students. Please share any of your insights! Can’t wait to see how they turn out!

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