Improvisation over a Chord Progression

We’ve already worked on improvising a melody over a chord progression in the chapter on Improvisation. You may wish to revisit that section now.

We return to this activity for two reasons. First, as our ability to perceive details about a chord progression increases, our improvisations should become more intuitive and fluid. Second, we can use our improvisation to explore how different notes sound against the chords. For example, chord tones may feel one way; harsh dissonances may feel another way; and notes that may not be in the chord but add something interesting to it (often a seventh) feel yet again another way.

In the following activities, improvise at a speed that allows you to feel the connection between what you are doing and the chords. Try out different approaches, using chord tones, dissonances, and more. See if you can pay attention not just to what fits the chord and what doesn’t, but also to the way each note feels in the context of its chord.

Activity: Improvise over a repeating progression

Goal: Develop a “feel” for how melodies and harmonies relate.

Before you start: You’ll need some way to make music. You can use your voice or another instrument.

Instructions: Start one of the songs from the playlist below. Each one has a repeating chord progression. Listen to it once or twice to get used to it, then start making music over it. Experiment with long, flowing melodies and short fragments; experiment also with chord tones and non-chord tones. As you play, think about what notes you’re playing and how they fit the chords—or not. Optionally, identify the chord progression with Roman numerals.


Suggest a song for this playlist!



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