A thought on improvisation


Music Creation and the Art of Improvisation through the 4 main Elements of Music

One of the most challenging aspects for a jazz solo musician, is being in harmony with the 4 main elements of music  while performing.

I specify “jazz”musician because this becomes more challenging when improvising, in particular when challenging our technique while playing on/and with TIME which is such a strict element, and! In particular if we’ re playing solo.

Having consistency throughout our playing, the consistency of representing these 4 main elements of music while expressing ourselves.


The 1st  element is rhythm and it’s the only element that can be played on its own, if I tap on the body of my instrument or if I clap I am just playing rhythm.

The 2nd element is melody, and if I’m playing a melody or any sequence of notes I am also playing rhythm so 2 elements simultaneously.

The 3rd element is harmony and if I play a sequence of chords I am playing 3 elements at the same time, which are harmony, melody and rhythm.

The 4th element is time, the tempo, consisting of a time signature and measures, it’s the element that embraces the other 3, when it changes it makes all other elements change with it to fit it, everything else improvises within its boundaries. While you can play many melodies over the same chords or many rhythm patterns and chords substitutions over the same melody you cannot play with a different time signature over the same melody or rhythm pattern, although the notes of the melody can stay the same, its rhythm structure will change. 

The 4th element is the most rigid and strict.

Although there is improvisation in almost every style of music, we denominate jazz the leading style that manifests improvisation in its most complete form, the main reason is that jazz is the most non judgmental style with the least of restrictions when it comes to expressing the present with the most creative non judjemental expression of it which is the main identity of improvisation, even when thinking of a past experience, the feelings you experience from your thoughts are in the present and unless you have the ability of going to the future and comeback, it is impossible not to improvise if you are expressing the present moment as you cannot repeat and predict the present.


The 2 ways of improvisation:


1-    Your extemporaneous composition


2-    Your interpretation of a song.


The extemporaneous composition is where I’m free to play what I want to play, hear and compose in the moment, relating to my personal taste, interplaying with the 4 elements of music the way I want, playing solo, or creating music together while playing with other musicians.

In the case of solo playing, in order to have all elements present I must give some particular attention to the 4th element, the time, as it only exists in its strict quality and it’s common for a solo musician to neglect the 4th element, in particular when improvising.

In other words if I’m playing rubato, meaning without a set time I am dealing only with the first 3 main elements and that’ s fine if you mean to do that.

When I decide to set the tempo whether a 4/4, 6/8 or a 5/4, I have to improvise within the measures and the time signature either in a free structure or if I want to give more existing presence to the 4th element I can play cycles of 8, 12 or 16 measures within which I compose/improvise the way I want, like this I have more understandable presence and interplay of all 4 elements while improvising.

Mastering the 4th element, is one of the biggest challenges particularly for a solo musician and puts you in charge of the situation giving more presence to your own music creation.

This is one of the main foudations of Jazz improvisation, being the master of the 4th element

The extemporaneous composition takes all your music background to the present moment,  pay attention to your musical taste, what you want to hear yourself playing, all your music knowledge and experience, mastered to create something beautiful first to you in the moment you play.


19 cycles of 16  4/4 measures, music improvised on the moment. Gio Guido & Yahiro Tomohiro. Feb/2014


© Gio Guido 2017