On improvising and composing, part 2

Add more tools to your creative palette!


If you’re a melodic musician or composer, wishing to improve your tonal creativity:

Try combining things mentioned in “On improvising and composing, part 1”, while testing different performance techniques & musical details. Things like finger positioning, rhythm patterns, progressions etc.

Things that you already learned from practice, and by learning pieces by some of your favorite composers or artists.

Some things you might have learned by ear, some by sight reading. Even if you’re doing seemingly boring technique drills or study Music theory, don’t forget to always try your hardest to really use your ears and mind, to try understanding how you may implement your skills and knowledge in a creative way later on.

And then, try to forget a bit about the exact order of notes & chords in the original compositions that you used to practice.
Practice similar patterns more freely!

An example of this is my “Nocturne no. 1 – The Longing and the Wonders”.
Soundcloud link to Nocturne no.1 (The Longing and the Wonders) – end part

Here, the arpeggio section is a finger technique that I learned by practicing a Rachmaninov prelude, but that was a different key and different context. And it’s not the exact same finger positioning pattern or order of notes either.

In this composition, I wanted to create something unique, specifically the chord progression in combination with the melody in the repeated main motif. Soundcloud link to Nocturne no.1 (The Longing and the Wonders) – main motif

My point is, at least you don’t have to re-invent the wheel from scratch with new techniques all the time.
It would become less accessible, and become tough to appreciate, even if it’s a neo-romanticism piece like this.

You can create highly personal tracks while using similar patterns, rhythms or chord progressions.
Try to avoid copying too many notes from original melodies by others though.

Also, total brainstorming during improvisations could lead to more composing ideas on the other hand. But if you don’t record all of it, chances are higher that you’ll forget it all, I’d say.


Try to be or become more open-minded about other kinds of music and performance styles!

When not practicing or resting your ears, searching for impulses from diverse music traditions, eras & genres will offer new perspectives, inspiration and points of view. There are lots of famous examples of blends of styles in modern eras.
(Earlier on as well)

I’d suggest listening to as many different styles and genres as possible, not only solo pieces for your instrument, but other genres and instruments as well.
Orchestral compositions, Film scores, Classical, World music, Folk, all kinds of Pop, Rock & Alternative genres, Electronic music, Rap/Hip Hop, Hybrids, etc. etc.
And don’t forget about Songs with lyrics,

ANYTHING that’s made with quality and emotions can be inspirational and educative if you allow it.
Anything that could bring a different perspective and new ideas without copying too much of specific songs or tracks deliberately.
The last part there is of course important as well, or you could become more of a copy cat, a chameleon or a cover song artist.

Of course it also depends on what your goal is, and what you’d be happy to become.

For the genuine kinds of composing and improvisation individuality, I feel the above advice might be helpful. All of it…

Link to part 3


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10 thoughts on “On improvising and composing, part 2

  1. Another really interesting read, I take great pleasure in reading what you have to say in the realms of music. I must admit I don’t listen to other genres of music as much as I probably should.

    This article has reminded me that once again, I shouldn’t dismiss other genres of music and take influences from all areas of music no matter the genre. Thanks again for your great insight 🙂

    – Jonathan

    • In high school, I used to listen to Iron Maiden most of the time, aside from practicing classical piano.
      Weird combo perhaps, but at least Iron Maiden was one of those examples of bands that included influences from other areas early on. Storytelling, dualism, and some progressive elements.

      Even so, I think I was a lot more narrow minded musician-wise back then. But again, for periods that might be fine too. I’m glad I expanded my views a lot later on though.
      Thanks a lot for your thoughts, Jonathan! I’m happy that my blog seem to help a bit!

    • Thank you so much for letting me know what I write can be useful for you, Jonathan!
      I will post more blog posts. Part 3 within a Month, (and also a shorter post in between)
      Hope you’ll come back for more!

  2. Fredrik, great article! I especially like your open minded approach to other musical genres for inspiration. You are correct. Sometimes the best ideas can come form the most unlikely sources.
    I must admit though, that an early teacher of mine, when I was a teenager & wanting to jump headlong into jazz, advised me to listen to music that challenged me & always pulled me up a few levels & during that period, it was the best advice ever. As at the time, I was also getting into New Wave & late 70’s synth music & was easily at that skill level, so probably wouldn’t have expanded my knowledge if I didn’t take his advice.

    • Appreciate your in depth thoughts and contemplation on the subjects, Simon!
      I usually wish to encourage individualism and opposed opinions even. But even so, it feels good to get some confirmation that what I write can be useful or good reminders to other talented musicians and composers like yourself!

  3. I remember an article in german magazine Gitarre&Bass. The author had made a self-test and listened for a long while to the same kind of music. He wanted to find out, if this would change his improvisation style. So after he had listened to a lot of music by Scarlatti he recognised, that he started to prefer alternate picking on the guitar, while listening to Saxophone players influenced him to play more legato.

    • Interesting!
      I’m not surprised by his findings though.
      This is one of the main reasons I try to stay away from listening to music by others, whenever I’m having my most serious stints of composing.
      Other periods, I still do listen to tons of different kinds of music, as I’ve done in the past for so many years.

      But I do believe that whether we want it or not, we might always become influenced by others, even for our most creative and personal art. I suspect it’s in the human nature to do so, (as it is for perhaps all living things?)

      That said, if wanted, I also do believe it certainly is possible to make very conscious decisions about any musical details, that even might differ a great deal from the music one have been listening to the most. If the decisions are conscious, I usually feel it’s much easier to do so.

      For free improvisations, I think it’s more closely related to quick impulses, and the impulsive kind of associations. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense that he noticed it.

      However, the amount of influence these things have, are probably different for different composers and musicians. It’s both related to mindsets and actual technical skills and interests, I think.

      Thanks a lot for your input, Dirk!

  4. Excellent advice and very well detailed blog Fred. It’s always best to learn from many different styles I find and that way you learn other chords and different ways of adding them to your own music.

    No doubt musical influences are also good things to have and everybody has them that’s for sure. They are the very things that make us want to play music ourselves in the first place. Sometimes when I am at a loss creating music myself. I can quite often play somebody else’s song and rearrange the chords and even add a few of my own to create something of my own.

    Though what I will say is that I myself can be very lazy regarding playing music and I have never been the kind of musician who plays his instruments every day. Sometimes it can run into months before I pick up a guitar or play a piano and listening to music and my record collection as always been my biggest hobby that takes up most of my time.

    Playing an instrument as well as my many idols can is never gonna happen, because I do not put in the time and the hours, and the only real time I play these days is when I want to create something to put either put on Soundcloud or on Youtube and right now I do not even want to do that, because I am getting more joy out of the new music I am buying, and even enjoying writing reviews about it more than playing or making my own music.

    But for those who have the time and the dedication to their instruments, what you are saying here is very much a must and is great advice my friend.

  5. Pingback: On improvising and composing, part 4 |

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