Improvisation Games


Toning is the fundamental game that informs all the other games. Gain experience in toning before trying anything else. Toning is about listening.

Take several deep breaths together. Finally, on mutual unspoken agreement (achieved by everyone looking at everyone else and nodding to indicate readiness), everyone comes in with their own tone at the same time, as strongly as you can. Do not change your tone to match anyone else, either in pitch or rhythm or volume. Hold the tone as long as you can. This can be done with voices or instruments.

When the sound runs out, stop, and then repeat the process for a second time.

On the third time, let the tones start to change. Copy other people. Add rhythm. Take solos one at a time, while others keep the rhythm and harmonies going.

Initiate changes by offering a new sound or rhythm and seeing if anyone else picks up on it. If they don’t, go back to what has been happening. If they do pick up, change happens!


Use instruments as if in a speaking conversation. Only one person can “speak” at a time. Play a short musical sentence or paragraph. When you stop, you look directly and clearly at the person you want to speak next. Continue to “speak” one person at a time for several times. Then see if there is a way to start supporting another person’s point by speaking at the same time as they do. Continue on as an ensemble.

Around the Circle

One person starts using their instrument as a drum. They play one spacious rhythm. Going around the circle, each player adds something to what the previous player did. Again, spare is better. After everyone has a part, the first person drops out, and then all the other players drop out in sequence, until the last person is playing all alone.

Warning: it can be difficult to stay in rhythm when the people who initiated the circle stop playing. You have to know your part so well, you can do it alone.

Follow the Rhythm

Copy the rhythm of the person preceding you no matter how you play your instrument.

Play Another Instrument

Play an instrument you don’t know how to play.

Play in a New Way

Find another way to get sound out of your instrument than the ways you traditionally do it. For example, instead of bowing a violin or strumming a guitar, pluck single notes on them. Use a wind instrument as a harmonic instrument, repeating short phrases over and over. Use a percussion instrument as a melodic or solo instrument.

Pretend You Are Playing Another Instrument

Make your instrument sound like another instrument or take another instrument’s role. Use a percussion instrument as a melodic or solo instrument. Hit a stringed instrument with something to generate sounds instead of bowing or strumming. Use mallets on a brass or wind instrument (gently) to create percussive sounds.