Lesson video

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Hello, welcome to Lesson 3 of the West African music unit.

My name is Mr. Chapman and in this video we will be learning how to improvise creative rhythms. We will look at seven different techniques you can use to help you improvise.

Let's look at what we will need to be successful in today's lesson.

In this lesson, you will need a pencil and a piece of paper to write notes with.

You'll also need your body to make some body percussion sounds.

This lesson is better with headphones, though they're not required.

If you can, find a quiet space to do this lesson in as you will be doing lots of listening and playing.

If you need to pause the video now to prepare for the lesson, please do so and click resume when you're ready.

To warm up, let's do some call and response.

I will play a four beats body percussion rhythm, and I would like you to improvise the response.

That means you will play any rhythm that comes to mind using any body percussion sounds you would like.

Here goes: one, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

Well done.

I'm actually kind of hoping that you found that quite difficult.

Improvising can be really daunting.

And if you're anything like me, you don't like making mistakes.

Improvising is impossible without making mistakes, though.

Even the best improvisers in the world started off exactly where you are.

So perhaps, you looked a little bit like this guy.

But although it's a daunting challenge, I do have some ideas to help you out.

You might associate improvising with jazz music, but actually it's been a big part of many genres throughout history.

It plays a pivotal role in West African music, too, which is why we're spending time today practising improvisation.

Before we jump into improvising rhythms ourselves, we need to understand what it is we're actually doing.

And that's just filling empty space.

How we fill that empty space determines how cool it sounds.

I could fill the empty bar by putting one note on every beat of the bar.

Like this: one, two, three, four.

But that's not very interesting at all.

So one way around that is to fill that space with loads of random notes.

Let's see how that sounds.

Hmm, I'm not so sure.

It's a bit better in terms of how interesting it is, but it sounds very random and not very musical at all.

You might actually get a good result here, but you might not and that's okay.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to improvising.

That doesn't make it any easier or any less daunting.

Here are seven ways to start your improvising journey.

Step one: building up from a pulse.

Let's find a steady pulse.

Three, four.

I'm going to slowly and gradually change each beat to make it more interesting.

So I'll change beat three first.

One, two, three, four.

Maybe now I'll change beats three and four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, maybe now I could change beat one.

Two, three, four One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

Or maybe I want to change beat two into a rest.

One, two, three, four.

One, rest, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

And in about 10 seconds, I've got a new rhythm.

Step two is using the offbeats to create a syncopated rhythm.

Like step one, we'll start with a steady pulse.

And then I invite you to play in all of the half beats or the and.

One and two and three and four.

And one and two and three and four and.

Then you can start to mix playing on some of the ands.

Two, three, four.

One and two, three and four.

One and two, three and four.

And when you get comfortable with that, you can start to experiment with different on and off beats.

One, two, three, four.


Step three is adding and removing beats to an existing rhythm.

The existing rhythm I'm going to pick for this example is this one.

And for the first part of this exercise, I'm going to add an extra note onto the end, and it's going to sound like this.

What happens if I got rid of a beat at the beginning of the rhythm.

One, rest.

One, rest.

Or perhaps beat one.

One, two, three, four.

Choose the rhythm of your choice and experiment with adding and removing different beats.

Step four is accenting different beats.

Even a pulse can be made more interesting by putting an emphasis on one of the beats.

An emphasis can be making the beat louder or by changing the body percussion sound.

Let's try and make a pulse so it's a bit more interesting.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

Try this technique with a rhythm that you already know.

Step five is using a rhythm that you already know.

This could be a rap that you know, or a song.

Or you could even try telling a story.

I will do a rhythm inspired by a rap that I have from memory.

See if you can guess what it is.

If you've got that, I'd be very impressed.

Let's try a song now.

See if you can guess this one.

As we know, making up rhythms on the spot can be quite difficult.

What can be slightly easier is making up a story on the spot.

As you're telling the words, you could click or tap as you speak and you make a rhythm.

It could be something as random as, "Today I went to the shops to buy some milk but they didn't have any milk so I went home and ate a banana." Random, random, random.

But I had a rhythm there.

I could do a similar thing and instead of speaking it, just playing it and then I'd improvise the rhythm.

How about this one? There we go, improvise a rhythm by just telling a story in my head.

Have a go.

Step six is to do a call and response with a friend or a family member.

You do a call and they do a response.

You can kind of make it competitive.

And there's nothing like a little bit of competitive pressure to bring up some really, really cool rhythms on the back of your brain.

You can change the tempo and get faster and faster and faster.

And again, this increased pressure might make some really interesting rhythms come to the front of your head and out into your body percussion sounds.

Step seven is arguably the most fun step of them all, is to listen to as much music as you possibly can.

There's nothing better than listening to your favourite artists, band, rappers, and singers.

Memorise their rhythms and try to practise them yourself.

So now we've looked at all of those steps.

It's time to get creative ourselves.

Use those steps to practise improvising.

Work through each step and record your results.

You can use a device with a record function, like a phone, tablet, computer.

Remember there is no right or wrong answer.

Take note of which step you like the most or found the most useful.

Maybe you particularly liked the call and response.

Or you thought that the syncopations really brought out the best rhythms for you.

Top tip: use a metronome on your phone or computer to keep in time.

Somewhere between 80 and 100 BPM would be just fine, but feel free to use any tempo you would like.

Use this time now to work through each step.

Spend time on each step and make sure to do each step at least twice.

Write down your favourites and remember to record your improvisations if you can.

Either pause the video here or rewind to watch the steps again.