Melodic improvisation is the ever elusive musical skill most beginner improvisers struggle with. There are some “naturals” who seem to have it down right from the get go. But even they can improve, if they know what to pay attention to. And what to practice. Because even though technically most everything you do on your instrument can be considered melodic, there’s a certain quality that only a couple musicians possess. The good news is, this ability might be a part of you, too. You just need to release it.
Know your instrument
And know it inside out. Duh. It’s one of the two things of the recipe you surely expected. Still, it’s worth to discover and rediscover it from as many angles as you can come up with. Because it’s gonna give you the necessary freedom required for executing your creative ideas. Your what? Well, more on those later.
Know the tune
Shit, you didn’t know it was coming! Just kidding. Of course knowing the song is crucial. Whether it’s your own music or someone else’s, you need to integrate the chord changes. But even if you do, and you’ve got all the chops on your instrument, your solos can still suck. Why is that?
Composition is the key
Yup. Improvisation – at its best – is composition on the fly. If you handle it as a series of scale snippets, arpeggios, riding modes or playing cool riffs and licks, you only covered half the story. Without a goal in mind, doing all of those things will sound rather random and thus, boring. Your goal should be to use those musical devices and skills as tools, to be able to create original musical ideas. So how do you get good in composing on the fly? You need to get good at composition. And not just any kind of hip shit that you call music. Let me tell you a secret. If you can write catchy tunes that could serve as proper pop songs, you’ve arrived. Okay, maybe these days it doesn’t matter all that much if a pop tune is catchy enough, but imagine it still does.
Practice the two different approaches. What are they? Well, create a chord progression first, then put a melody on top of it. And also, start out with a melody and dress it up with cool chords. Yeah, the usual stuff. Once you get the hang of it, your improvisational skills will improve as well. Because you’ll be able to actually use all the technique and theory you’ve learned with the right goal in mind. Which is music. Think about it. How many boring jazzers you know… a lot. And all they would need to do is practice writing catchy tunes.