Getting started with improvising: Practice tips from CMC jazz improv and trumpet faculty Max Miller-Loran

Do you want to get started learning how to improvise, but don’t know where to begin? Max Miller-Loran, who teaches trumpet, Jazz Improvisation-Beginning, and Jazz Improvisation Workshop, has great tips to get you going. Winter Quarter is a perfect time to learn a new musical skill. CMC offers an array of opportunities to woodshed your jazz skills. In addition to Max’s classes, try private lessons, Jazz Ensembles, and Djangology. All levels are welcome.

From the series: Practice Tips from Community Music Center Faculty

Max Miller Loren Improvising can be a daunting undertaking, even for seasoned musicians. Seeing players channel intricate musical ideas from thin air can be so intimidating that many decide it’s not worth it to try. However, I believe improvising can be one of the most rewarding musical disciplines, and it’s much less frightening once you understand how to practice and improve. Here are some tips to get you started!


1. Limitations are key. Often, players become paralyzed by the infinite number of musical possibilities in front of them. Enforcing boundaries can be liberating, because it clearly lays out where you may and may not go. You can limit your playing to specific pitches, rhythms, phrases lengths, articulations, dynamics—anything really. This process allows you to methodically target and practice any element of improvising.

2. Less is more—at first. Effective improvising is about building a direct conduit from your mind’s ear to your instrument. Playing sparse ideas, using longer rhythmic values and slower tempos gives you a chance to consider your choices and play with as much intentionality as possible.

3. You can be critical without being judgmental! Listening to your playing critically is essential for improvement (understanding what seems to be working, and what isn’t), but judgement is entirely counterproductive. Let yourself make mistakes, and be open to learning from them. Oftentimes, mistakes are beautiful!