How to sing, rap and beatbox - improvising
- Learn about the different styles of improvisation including singing, rap and beatboxing.
- Find out how Stromzy, Sarah Vaughan and Bobby McFerrin use improvisation in their music.
- Have a go at improvising your own song.
Improvisation is creating music on the spot whilst playing an instrument or singing - it has not been planned or rehearsed. Usually, this will be responding to the style of music being played, and to other performers.
Performers using the voice will often improvise on existing melodies in a piece of music. Sometimes vocalists will decorate a melody by adding extra notes to it or creating a new variation of the tune.
Improvising in rap is often known as freestyle. This can happen with or without instrumental beats and the lyrics don’t have to start with a specific subject or structure. There are two types of freestyle:
‘Old-school’ freestyle, which involves rhymes that the rapper has already come up with, but doesn’t necessarily relate to any subject.
The type of freestyling where the rapper makes up all of their lyrics on the spot, including all of the rhyming words and patterns.
Freestyle can be performed a capella, over beatboxing or over instrumental versions of songs. The rhythms and metre are more relaxed than in general rap, so that there is room for improvisation.
Freestyle battles are a feature of hip-hop culture. They can occur between two artists as they contest each other using improvised lyrics.
You can find out more about freestyle in our Making rap artice.
Listen to these examples of improvising with the voice
Jazz and blues improvising
Beginning in the 1920s, improvisation in jazz and blues gave a vocalist freedom. Instead of sticking to a set melody, the singer could improvise their own tune over the chord progression of the song.
In blues and jazz music, vocalists often employ scat singing in their improvisations. Scat is when the singer improvises using nonsense syllables or no words at all, sometimes using the voice to mimic instruments.
Have a go at improvising your own song
Getting started with improvising is really quite straightforward - just have a go and start singing!
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Find an existing melody that you can sing well - maybe your favourite song or something you’re doing at school.
Sing the tune normally first and then sing it again with some changes, adding in decorations such as extra notes. Don’t be afraid to just have a go and try things out, even if they don’t sound good at first.
If you can find a version of your chosen song as a backing track, you will be able to hear if your decorations and ornaments work well or not, as you sing along.
Have a go at changing the way you sing – hum or scat, by making up new sounds instead of words.
|improvisation||The art of creating music on the spot, often in response to existing music or other performers.|
|decoration||Where an existing melody has notes added to it, or the shape of the melody is changed.|
|freestyle||When a rapper makes up a rap on the spot.|
|scat||When a singer improvises using nonsense syllables, imitating an instrument rather than the human voice.|
|a capella||When a singer or vocalist performs without any instrumental backing.|