Lesson 4: Practicing Improvisation

Featuring: Leo Blanco, Professor at Berklee College of Music

Improvisation is the art of composing instantaneously, based on melody, harmony and structure of a song. In Lesson 4 students will describe and understand improvisation's role in a musical tune and focus on developing strategies to improve their own improvisational techniques. 


Each mini-lesson is built upon the content of each video. Specific instructions are provided on how to work with students in class and assessments for each lesson map directly to each lesson’s stated outcomes. Access free resources to enhance this lesson by joining Berklee PULSE.


  • Define improvisation and understand its role in a musical tune
  • Describe the key aspects of a song to study before improvising: key, melody, chord changes, chord scales, form
  • Describe how to work with play-alongs to prepare for improvising



Exposition of Material

1. Teacher provides a very brief introduction (3 minutes) on the importance of “play time” and “improvisation” at the end of every practice session.

2. Teacher shows video.

Identifying Key Concepts and Terms

3. After the video, provide the students with a handout Video 4: Assessment Video Key Points Scavenger Hunt that helps them find the key points in the video. Go over each of the questions out loud in class.

4. Show the video a second time. This time, students watch the video and take notes on their handout.

5. Teacher provides a transcript of the video and gives students 5-7 minutes to complete the handout, or discusses each question on the handout and students can write down the answers during discussion.

6. Students submit the handout/assessment.

Note: It is ok that students had help with this; it’s still an assessment. Depending on teaching style, teacher may not choose to give out the transcript or discuss answers until students have completed the form.


7. Teacher: Work with students to identify a selection of chords to play over. Some students may only need a few chords, while others can work with blues changes, and more advanced students can work with rhythm changes.

    • Find and listen to several versions of a song that uses the chord changes your teacher helped you to choose.
    • Prepare for chord-tone improvisation.
      • Write down the key, melody, chord changes, chord scales, and form.
      • On staff paper, write out a lead sheet for the section of the tune you want to improvise with.
      • Add chord symbols over the staff in the appropriate places.
      • Under each chord symbol, write down in whole notes the notes of each chord.

Lesson Closing

  • Submit the "Video 4: Assessment Video Key Points Scavenger Hunt"
  • Review the song study and lead sheet with chord tones written under chord symbols on the staff

Lesson 5

Self-Assessment As A Way To Improve

Self-assessment is necessary to improve and grow as an artist. Learn how to find your own voice in music, identify your musical influences, and develop long-term goals.