Learning Improvisation with Music Games

Games that intend to be practicing tools for improvisation may interestingly serve different purposes depending on a genre context.

Classical approach

Jeffrey Agrell wrote books about music games for classical musicians (for example Music Games for Classical Musicians) with simple open-ended activities, often consisting of a single rule to follow. One of the proposals is Dueling Bumblebees.

There is one rule: Improvise using only smallest intervals available on your instrument.

This simple activity provides a challenge for improvisers, and also let's inexperienced players make safe first steps into improvisation. The horizon of intent is not overwhelming and the musical result is coherent and somewhat familiar to classically inclined users.


This game description is a part of learning improvisation. See it there for the full context.

The set of games from Agrell's book makes the whole learning program, and during the course of it, rules slowly introduce players to openness of improvisation and let them gain confidence within the more interactive, bottom-up oriented environment. Games on one hand provide the lighter mood and they also structure the experience and act as a safety net. In the practice of classical musicians, improvisation is not a directly useful skill, but it may be considered a worthy didactic tool to deepen the understanding of music.

In jazz

In jazz, similar general didactics have in a way an opposite aim. Here the abundance of personal expressiveness is assumed, but intellectual control is what is being practiced.

Among many genres

Peter Erskine's Comping Game (to be covered in skills) is another example from jazz although related directly to drumming. It showcases a theme in the topic of improvisation constraints. The very traditional take on jazz drumming is that left leg and right hand play a pre-set swing pattern and other limbs improvise. Many improvisational genre types (like raga, flamenco, gnawa etc.) follow the analogous procedure and may have a few interesting common features:

  • learning to improvise within these genres, means to improvise while adhering to the genre constraints ("genre as a game" situation, see genre),
  • didactics may consist of keeping the genre constraints while practicing patterns, defined in detail or more loosely, of gradually increasing, but theoretically uncapped difficulty (it may be shaped into the perfect learning curve),
  • rules of interaction between players may belong also to genre constraints,
  • the most appreciated artistic qualities are not taught directly with a didactic process, but are possible to realize in the advanced stages of it.

Mark for clarification

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