Make your own free website on

Improvising Using Melodic Rhythm

Here's a way to add a sense of structure and cohesiveness and "composition" to your improvised playing. The focus is on the melodic rhythm of a phrase.

The idea is to repeat that note-value pattern (the relative note durations) over different pitches at different times in the improvisation.  The result is a sense of "variation on a theme" familiarity (where the theme is the melodic rhythm statement rather than (necessarily) a melodic (note-values plus pitches) one).

Melodic rhythms can come from:

Variations Upon a Melodic Rhythm Theme

When a melodic rhythm note-value phrase has been established, it can later be improvised off of, again, rhythmically, where the pitch of the notes has less importance, over and over, with variations.  For example, take a quarter note and turn it into a triplet shake, or swing eighths, or a tongue switch warble... endless variety, yet the melodic rhythm theme is still recognizable.  And you certainly aren't restricted to a single melodic rhythm theme.  Play one, play another, repeat the first, repeat the second, play a variation of the second, play a variation of the first, play the second, play the first.  An endless supply of structural combinations exists.

The goal is to get a sense of completeness, cohesiveness (it all fits together), and integration with the whole piece of music.

This attention to melodic rhythm patterns is also useful as a "rut-busting" exercise.  If you find yourself getting bored with the same ol' thing, try making up new melodic rhythm patterns and playing a familiar lick using the new rhythmic pattern.

One result of listener expectations when using the "theme and variations" approach is that you can... trick 'emSet something up by repeating a phrase or melodic rhythm until the listener comes to expect something--a concluding note or cadence, a particular beat or groove, a certain effect, like vibrato (absent or present), etc.--then take it away and give them something else.  This adds interest, and builds a sense of excitement at the unexpected--"what's coming next that I don't expect?"  Of course this, like most things, can be over done.  You have to create a balance between playing the expected and the unexpected so the music is neither too predictable nor too "off the wall".

Too often, musicians, especially less experienced ones, pay too much attention to the pitch of the notes, and not enough to their melodic rhythm, which is when they occur and how long they last  The notes you choose to play should always fit with the rhythmic content of the music.