The Rules of Improvisation

1. Be present in the now.

2. Listen.

3. Play.

4. Be willing to take a risk or make a fool or yourself.

5. Try to make sense.

6. Take into account what others may be playing.

7. Realize that you already have what you need. 

8. Vary what you do within all of the elements of music.

9. Understand that there are no mistakes.

10. Establish a system as it emerges.

11. Be open to changes in the system. 

12. Feel what you are doing.

13. Serve the meaning in the music

14. Don’t feed the audience more than they can eat.

15. Let the music tell you where to go. When we improvise, we walk the line between everything we have ever heard and chaos. We take meaning from what we have heard in the past and we add new creative patterns that we borrow from nature’s chaos. 

Musical Systems That We Can Use to Improvise

Tonal Music




Musique Concrete

Ancient Modes

Ornette’s Rules

Creative Commons | Geert Vandepoele photo

Creative Commons | Geert Vandepoele photo


Ornette Coleman had three rules about playing music:

1.  Learn how to play music on the instrument which you choose to play

2.  Eliminate the problems of having a style that gets in the way of playing what you think or feel

3.  Don’t get so hung up in the technique of your instrument that you can’t play music anymore.