Improv Tactics – Record Yourself

Writers have notebooks and word documents.

Illustrators have sketchbooks and Photoshop files.

Photographers have scrapbooks and digital galleries.

Don’t forget that musicians have manuscript paper and sound recordings.

All too often I feel that musicians trying to learn how to improvise neglect this. When practicing any type of art, it’s necessary to jot down your ideas. Music is absolutely no exception.

I have multiple manuscript books filled with random musical ideas. Melody lines, chord progressions, lyrics, etc. I also have hundreds of Finale files and little sound recording snippets on my computer. About 95% of this content is musical “scribble”, if you will. I have audio files that last no longer than 5 seconds and Finale projects with 2 measures of notes.

While for the most part, most of these snippets never grow into a full song, I can’t tell you how many times I have sifted through my “musical scrapbook” and found inspiration. All it takes is a few notes to remind yourself of a great idea you came up with a few months ago, and those few notes will turn into the basis of your next musical creation.

That’s great for songwriting, but I thought this series was for improvising!!!!!!!!

Remember what I said in the first post? In order to improvise, you need to think creatively. Remember what I said in the second post? In order to think creatively, you need to let musical ideas flow through your head all the time. While our brains are capable of storing an enormous amount of information, you can greatly accelerate the speed at which you produce ideas by jotting them down as they come to you.

Alright, so what should you do? First of all, buy a manuscript book. Carry it around with you wherever you play your instrument. Second of all, arm yourself with some means of recording. You don’t need thousand dollar microphones or professional music software if your goal is to quickly record your ideas. Most computers come with microphones built into them now, so all you really need is software to record on.

If you play an electric instrument (electric guitar, bass, etc…) I strongly recommend getting a DI box. This will allow you to plug your instrument right into your computer (very handy if it’s late at night and you don’t want to blast your amp).

As for the computer software, you’ll have to find a convenient list of free software somewhere online to get you started. Good luck with that!

(Just kidding, here you go)

Finale Notepad:  Music notation

MuseScore:  Music notation

Frescobaldi (combined with Lilypond):  Music notation

Audacity:  Audio recording, multi-tracking

Ardour:  Audio recording, multi-tracking

There are many other programs out there, free and non-free. Some programs are better fit for beginners, but try experimenting with anything you can get your hands mouse on. Don’t forget to explore whatever operating system you’re on for any built-in audio recording software. Now go out there and take advantage of modern technology!


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