How to Do Vocal Improvisation in Singing

(Last Updated On: August 24, 2021)
A group of female singers creating their own unique singing style.

Doing some minor vocal improvisations while singing a famous song will allow you to differentiate yourself from the original song singer. And will make your singing style more unique and colorful. You can go beyond that if you want to sing your own version of that song.

First Thing First!

The Improvisation technique is quite difficult for beginners. A good song improvisation requires solid singing skills from the singer. You have to learn this advanced technique step-by-step in the beginning. Doing it without the proper techniques will make your song sounded “awful”…

It may be time-consuming and at first, you may feel that it is difficult, frustrating, and confusing. However, you’ll realize later that the reward is great and can result in your improvisation. What more, you will undoubtedly develop your listening skills to hear melodies, focus on chord progressions, as well as intervals. Besides, you will learn harmony, practice articulation, and develop phrasing.

What Is Song Improvisation?

Improvisation in singing could be involved in altering the harmony, tempo, rhythm, notes, melody, pitch, keys, lyrics, solo and riff of a song.

This is the most important skill you must master seriously if you tend to perform the famous hit songs that were overly-listened by the audience more than a thousand times. Thus, implementing some magic tricks to improvise these kinds of songs will be the best way to differentiate your version from the original singers’ ones. Your version could be better than the original version if you have improvised it properly.

Usually, it is the way a singer interprets a song differently to suit his/her own singing style.


Why Should You Improvise your Song while Singing?

If you want to sound better than the original singer, you have to sing a song of your own. But to do that, you have to learn the skills of improvisation first. This process means that you’ll need to make a unique version of your own, and change a few notes in the lyrics of the song. Moreover, you can also alter the rhythm a bit to create that unique version. I’m sure you will not wanna been labeled as “Copycat” by the audience when singing someone else song, right?

In most cases, some beginners will get ‘stuck’ in repeating the same melody. Also, you might get scared of making an error in singing the lyrics, and not singing the correct tune. Forget those worries! I’m showing you the most direct and fundamental techniques. So, you can improvise your song more quickly without being an expert in doing that.


Vocal Improvisation Methods For Singers

1) Messing with the Melody

The origin of modern improvisation can be traced to players like Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. Their style was singing the ornamentations of the song that they played. These artists engaged in playing the melodies, and they also performed their own interpretations of the melody.

If you want to perform better improvisation while singing, you should always stay close to the music melody. Bass players much bass drummer/bass guitarist would focus on the melody, the guitar part, and everything about the tune that they play. They need to do this thing whether they’re playing jazz, funk, rock, or other genres. When you’re doing your improvisation, remember all those essential elements especially you are singing in a band, and inform the audience what you’re singing.

Messing with a melody is a bit complicated, so, just change a note of the melody, and leave a note or two. Then, apply your own ornamentation toward a lick or phrase. In doing this process, you’ll probably be amazed at how a simple variation can make.

2) Messing with the Rhythm or Phrasing

In doing improvisation and making a particular melody of your own, you’ll find that rhythm is crucial. Although you can play many different notes, rhythm has an endless variation that you can use. For example, blues players don’t play different notes from one song to the other, and singing solo to solo. They can do many things with rhythm, and make one tune different from another.

You can begin by applying minor shifting in the rhythm of a melody that you’re playing. You can even hit a single right note in the beginning, and this can make the difference and a significant impact on your audience.

3) Altering The Song Structure

Most songs contain the verse, chorus, and bridge. You must be very knowledgeable and insightful with these three elements of a song to provide you with endless ideas of improvising the structure of the song.

Indeed, it is the most difficult song improvisation method for most beginner singers. At the bare minimum, you will need some musical knowledge to implement it.

Common Song Structures:

  • Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus
  • Verse / Verse / Bridge / Verse
  • Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus

The verse served as the main story and points to the song. You can modify its verse with your own unique version of rhythms, phrasings and other musical elements that will not make the song too deviated from the core idea.

The chorus is the most important part of the pop song and some other genres. It’s is the summary message and idea of a song that needed to be conveyed to the listeners. Thus, in order to improvise the chorus, you have to make it simple and straight to the point without overly complicated it. Otherwise, you will jeopardize the spirit and feel of the song.

On the other hand, The bridge is not heavily used in the song. Typically, the bridge only appears once in most songs. It served as the additional and probably the final song message that needed to be conveyed before entering into the final chorus. It’s lyrics, and music lines/style are somehow very different from its song verse and chorus. In my opinion, The bridge of a song is the most natural and easy part of the song that you can improvise by adding the new colorful lines or lyrics to the bridge.

4) Crossover With Other Music Genres

This most famous method that heavily used by celebrity singers in any live event. They did it even for their own songs. The song is customarily featured crossover genres and musical remixes to give the song with a brand new upgrade and transformation. The rock, jazz, and blues are the most popular crossover genres.


Practicing Improvisation in Different Genres of Music

1) Vocal Improvisation in Jazz Song

In performing vocal jazz, you can use scat singing as a vocal improvisation using nonsense syllables, wordless vocables, or having no words at all. You might find Scat Singing as a complicated process because it requires the singers to sing improvised rhythms and melodies. Moreover, they have to use their voice as a type of instrument rather than using it as a speaking medium.

Their use of scat syllables is also a critical factor in vocal jazz improvisation. The choice of the syllable has a significant influence on the articulation of pitch, resonance, and coloration of the performance.

2) Practicing Improvisation in Pop Song

The sound of pop singers singing on the radio is amazed because they perform with all those musical instruments. Also, the backup singers add to the quality of their performance. But at home, you’ll notice that your voice isn’t that good because you lack the technical screening of a professional sound engineer.

If you want to have a good pop sound, you need a flexible voice. In Pop music, you’ll have that quality sound and freedom of movement that’s not like classical music. In that genre, you have to sing with musical precision on the page.

But in pop music, it’s a different thing because you have to sing the lyrics on your own take of the music known as improvising. Singers who can sing the so-called riffs and licks present in pop music can do it better. Riffs or licks refer to the short pieces of music in pop songs, and they move quickly in a specific improvised pattern. Here, you add notes to the song to come up with a unique version.

  • In doing this technique, don’t think of becoming perfect at an instant. Instead, you can do better by being playful. Take it lightly for fun, and avoid criticisms. Listening first is the core of singing to imitate sounds. Take the rhythm of the rain or a conversation as your inspiration. Sing what you want to play, and play what you want to sing.
  • Learning music theory is not important in improvisation, but it helps. Try to learn the jazz theory to understand harmony. I would also recommend you to study some of the theories and concepts of how all those musical elements work together in performing a piece of music. It will expand the range of tools that you use when it’s time for you to improvise.
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