Playing heart music with the flute is a joyful, healing experience.  When we process our feelings and emotions through music, it becomes a sacred art form.  We bring unconscious things to light, and more depth and understanding to ourselves.  It is also a sacred form of play, known as "Lila" in Sanskrit.  Many of us hear the word "improv" and get nervous.  Interestingly, and what we often don't realize is that we improvise in daily life every day with our speech, our movements, and our general way of being in the world.  Remember, improvisation does not mean "off the cuff" or even necessarily the first time you have experimented with a particular piece of music.  It is the culmination of all of your knowledge, experience, and practical experimentation.  To do good improvisation, one must know their instrument and be solidly grounded in their technique.  Often we are astounded by the flow that jazz musicians are able to achieve in their improvisations.  Keep in mind that jazz musicians (as well as other musicians) practice and play together sometimes upwards of twelve to sixteen hours a day.  Here are some strategies for beginning to develop your improv skills, while grounding the music in your own experience.


 1.  Close your eyes:

     Closing your eyes shuts off one sense and allows more energy to flow to the other senses.  With our eyes closed, we are able to hear and shape our notes better.  Closing the eyes allows us to sink deeper into our emotions, and thus more feeling is expressed through the breath.  Our tactile skills and coordination also develop more quickly and are more responsive when we keep our eyes closed while playing.

 2.  Identify/choose a mood:

     Close your eyes and go within.  Immerse yourself in your feelings.  Your music will express the tone of the mood you choose.  Let your authentic voice come through your breath and your fingers.  This gives your music depth, roundness and authenticity.  Trust the music that resides within you.

 3.  Inspiration:

     Start with a short riff or phrase and repeat it several times.  Let anything and everything in the world be your inspiration:  the natural world, the weather, bumper stickers, feelings and emotions, qualities, poetry, prose, birds, animals, insects, reptiles, people, places, and things.  If it had a voice, what would it sound like?  Open up your awareness.  Change your perspective and look at everything around you with new eyes. Play with images.  What would sweet honey dreaming sound like?  The tickle of trickling water?  Wild Mountain Thyme?  Your first kiss?  The Cloud People's faces.  A persistent trickster itch?  If a colour could talk or sing, what would it say and how would it sound?  Look through a magazine or photography book (Life Magazine is good).  Play the images and weathered faces you see.  Imagine a story behind the image.  The above can inspire many different themes, rhythms and motifs.  Go up (or down) the scale with the same riff or phrase.  As you continue to play your riff, it will expand and change.  Keep your inspiration in mind as you play and let it develop.

 4.  Maintain continuity:

     Maintain the rhythm and mood you establish throughout as you take off and improvise with variations on your basic theme.  Continue to return to your riff and then wander off again, always maintaining the basic pulse and tone you have set.

 5.  Choose embellishments that match your mood:

     Each embellishment can be associated with a certain mood, feeling, or texture.  With each successive repetition of your riff or melody, choose different embellishments, or combinations thereof, that match your mood, and remember to vary the order in which you play them.  To add continuity, try to have one embellishment that you use throughout to convey the desired information about your song.

 6.  Start in a different place:

     Change the place where you usually start (i.e., at the top of the flute,  in the middle, or at the bottom).

 7.  Inversion:

     Try inverting your riff with different embellishments or minor variations in the phrase each time you play it.

 8.  Structure:

     Listen to popular music:  Songs usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  They also have a melody, a chorus, and a bridge.  Use your beginning to introduce your riff, or theme. Go off and vary, or improvise on, your riff more in the middle.  You can use a short bridge to move between different parts, such as moving from melody to chorus and back again.  The end tends to be similar to the beginning, with slight variations that move the entire piece to an obvious conclusion.

 9.  Rhythmic variations:

     While keeping in time with the basic pulse, vary the rhythm you play with your fingers and/or your breath several times. Go from slower, longer legato notes, to short staccato notes, and vice-versa.  Or play directly on the pulse.  Move from a gentle breath to a more forceful breath.

10.  Texture:

     Pay attention to your breath control, shading, phrasing, accents and your use of space.  Try accenting a different note, rather than the first one on the beat.  Or try playing with syncopation.  The space you utilize in the music is every bit as important as the notes you play.  Some notes you will want to accent by tonguing or embellishment, others you will not.  Add colour, richness and depth to your music by shading.  Get the most you can out of each note.  All of the above constitutes and contributes to texture in your music.

11.  Use a recording device:

     Invest in an inexpensive tape recorder.  Remember, your tape recorder is your best friend!  Get in the habit of turning it on whenever you play.  You can always tape over something you don't want to save.  One of the greatest gifts of the flute, as well as one of its greatest frustrations, is how ephemeral flute music is.  Most of us have experienced those moments when we have played something beautiful and wished we have had the tape recorder on because, being caught up in the music, we can't quite remember how we just did that thing.  Most importantly, the tape recorder will give you feedback that's nonjudgmental.  Use it to record your improv sessions, and then listen for those elements of breath control, technique and style you want to work further on.  The tape recorder will save those ephemeral riffs and melodic bits that are so fleeting, new embellishments and embellishment combinations, songs, verbal notes and ideas on compositions, rhythms, etc.  Be sure to record, date, and add any other pertinent information (e.g., key of flute, name of song, etc.) to your cassette jacket (or other recording device).


Recommended Reading:


Hendricks, Gay

     Conscious Breathing:  Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal Mastery


Nachmanovitch, Stephen

     Free Play


                                       c Stephanie Baldridge 2004





About Us Articles Announcements Artisans Books
Calendar Contacts Us Gallery Member Services Library
Links Pow-Wows Recordings References Video
 This site created for Cascadia Flute Circle by Scott Thingelstad
copyright 2007 Cascadia Flute Circle, All Rights Reserved