Tag Archives: improvisation

How Do You “Learn” Improvisational Singing?

Learning anything improvisational is almost a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?  If the singing isn’t planned, and there is no road map, then how do you practice improvisational singing?

There are a number of ways, and we’ll address a few options here, and more ways later.

You might begin by exploring your voice so that you get to know it — can you say you really know your voice?  I’ve been singing for years, and I’m still getting to know my voice.

Pretend you and your voice really don’t know each other.  Schedule a date to meet and greet. Ask questions, explore, and find out what you can about this “new” friend of yours.

Maybe, just for starters, ask yourself these questions and write out the answers.

  1. What my voice can do?  Include ideas about vocal range, strength or lack thereof that you feel or experience when you sing, clarity of your voice, vocal stamina, etc.  Write down what’s true right now about your voice.  Just ramble about it a bit.  What’s in your awareness about your voice?  Don’t bother editing.  It’s helpful to see where your attention goes when you think about your voice, ’cause you can tell what’s on the “top of the stack.”
  2. How comfortable am I with singing? Can I and/or do I sing just for myself or do I sing for others?
  3. How do I sound?  Describe it factually (without opinion or judgment).  Example:  I think of my voice as soft.  I don’t know how high or low I can sing.  My voice sounds breathy to me, like it has a lot of air in the sound.  It’s not clear like a bell, it’s more like the sound of a soft breeze.  OR — I have one of those boisterous voices.  Loud, kind of brash and bold and out there.  Not quiet or apologetic, really the opposite of that.  I have a confident voice. When I sing, it just sounds loud to me.  I don’t really know if I sing in tune.  I just sing when I sing, without thinking much about how it sounds.
  4. Do I enjoy singing?  Under what circumstances?
  5. What would I like my voice to do that I don’t think it can do at this moment in time?

During your day, when you get up from your desk, put your child down for a blessed nap, walk outside or down the hall for a lunch break or errand, try making a little sound.  I don’t mean a squeak or a tiny sound, I mean sing a little bit.  Hum a little. Sing a song out loud that you’ve been singing in your head.  Make up a song.   Make a wavy sound with your voice.  Sing tra-la-la a couple of different ways.  Sing a sentence instead of speaking it.

Pry open the “exploring your voice”  treasure box by being vocal in a new way — not speaking — but singing.  Widen your speaking range and turn it into a song-sound.

Yes!  Sing a little…

If you can find a place to sing and experiment that’s private, great.  If not, walking along a busy street or going to a park, or sitting in your car for a few minutes can work, too.

Start small and work from there.  Start with humming three notes, heck — one note.  This gets your brain, body, and your being acclimated to a wider range of sound expression.

Later, if you are so inclined, you can develop your voice, so it can do what you want it to do.  Your voice becomes your full partner, a well-prepared tool.  It becomes the paint brush that can splash any color right where you want it.  If you want to sing a low note, or a high note, and you can.  If you need to hold a note forever, or practically forever, you can.  Otherwise, it’s like being a painter with an incomplete palette  — you’re missing some important colors, or the paintbrush itself.

But for now, sing people!  Sing anything. Sing here.  Sing there. Get to know your sound, your vibration, your up notes and your down notes.

It’s where to start.

Oh, and have fun….


Vocal Toning: How Do You Know If It’s “Working?”


If you’re toning regularly, for whatever reason, and however you do it, that’s a good thing.

For the scientist in all of us, it’s supportive to know there are well-documented health and emotional benefits to making sound, including relaxation, enhanced cellular healing and clearing of emotions, expanded self expression, self-empowerment, and heightened  creativity.

But all you really have to do is check how you feel after you tone.  You probably notice the positive evidence radiating all through your mind and body.

So keep right on toning.  It’s good for you.


If you tone with a group, there are different — additional — dynamics at play, and that’s what I want to talk about today. In a group, there is usually a clearly stated intention for toning, often related to healing.



How does that work?

In other words, what makes the toning session a healing session?  How do we “get there?”  How do we know we’re actually accomplishing what we set out to do?  Is the healing for you?  The group?  The world?

Wow.  A lot of questions within the question.

But if you’ve ever toned with a group, these musings (or similar) have probably crossed your mind….


Logically, to offer a healing space to another, it probably helps to be in a pretty free and relaxed place one’s self.

So I check in and ask:  What is my state of being during this toning session?

I’ve been in toning groups that are expressive, sometimes quiet, sometimes all over the map.  Sometimes the sound is beautiful.  Sometimes not.  But in either case, at the end, I wonder if we accomplished something meaningful.  It’s not that I think we didn’t accomplish our purpose for being there — I just don’t know.

Maybe there’s no way to really know.

In some vocal toning groups, I find that rather than being in a state of calm and that wonderful flowing way that I love to feel when I sing — instead — I’m in my head.  (Not fun.)  I’m thinking, not being and certainly not flowing.

Which made me wonder about the difference — why am I in a wondrous state at one time, and “in my head” in another?

And I wondered — how do I personally contribute to the intention of the group, which is healing myself and the world?  What kind of a singing state is ideal for contributing to the group’s intention?

What to do?

Here are my top 5 steps.

1. If you’re not in a great state upon arrival to the toning session, that’s fine.  No big deal.  We’ve all been there — life smacks us over the head sometimes and we go reeling.  We’re all human and we’re all in this together.

So what to do?

Just start where you are and move toward ease and relaxation.   Miracles happen when there’s ease.  Healing happens naturally when there’s ease.

2. Sing in a way that moves you into a easier, more relaxed, happier state one note at a time.  Expecting yourself to go from annoyed or frustrated or grieving — straight to bliss — is a tall order.  Too tall, in fact.  Don’t expect yourself to do that.  It’s a big jump.  It’s not even necessary to try that hard.

Start easy.   Start in a small way.  Start where you are and then reach ever so slightly to some sound that eases your emotion or state of mind.

3. Then do it again.

4. Pause for a micro-second and notice differences.  Don’t think, just notice.

5. Then do it again.

It’s really easy — if you start easy.  Let sound help you get where you’re going.  That’s the idea of toning.

Go for the small stuff and you’ll be moving in the direction of ease.  Then you’ll be running, then leaping with the gracefulness of a deer,  then soaring and communing with the divine.  You’ll be creating and feeling healing vibrations in no time.

The personal state of being we’re in when we tone makes a difference.  This state determines what we manifest.  The state you’re in will produce a result which matches your predominant vibration.

You’ll know because you’ll be thought-less.

You’ll be riding the group sound wave in a state of bliss.

Alone in the Rain with No Transportation

This is actually a favorite kind of day for me….

… And NO, I’m not stranded outdoors with a broken down car.

I’m home alone, no meals to fix, and nobody to tend to except already contented animals. Nothing I’m up to requires a car and I’m all cozy and warm, slippers on, with plenty of time to write, create and brainstorm. The golden beeswax candles are lit right next to me, soft lights brighten up the cloudy day and surround-sound music bathes me in my favorite rainy day albums.beeswaxcandles

The longer I’m here on this beautiful earth, the more I appreciate this kind of time. Being busy is highly over-rated. Being home writing, with a hot cup of French Roast and great music on the Bose Music System to keep me company is, well, pretty much my idea of heaven.

Sure, there is a rather hefty stack of paper staring at me that needs sorting and filing. But am I doing that?


Today is for me and my whims. When I am alone, my creative muses talk to me the most about music and making joyful sounds.

Want to know what they said today?

One of the best ways to get started with improvisational singing is to “practice it” when no one is around. You can experiment in ANY way. Go ahead. Have a wild and woolly practice session.

And here’s the thing. It doesn’t mean you necessarily practice improvisational singing. Case in point — today I chose an Opera piece that is (let’s be honest) a musical train wreck for me.
Il mio bel foco (My Joyful Ardor) by Benedetto Marcello.

It’s not an easy piece and on top of that the version of the accompaniment that came with my music book moves like lightning. Nobody who sings it well has this speed-demon accompaniment. Oh, and for strike three, it’s in Italian of course.

To listen to it, go to Youtube. Here’s a link. Spare yourself and don’t listen to the folks who sing it in their garage or for their recital. Trust me, it’s not that helpful. Listen to a singer who can actually give it a go.

If you want to get better at improvisational singing, practice something difficult for you — anything. I chose Opera today, but you could opt for a mountain bike, a skateboard, roller blades or a trampoline!! Pad yourself properly and then play like a kid. You could go play basketball, play catch with your grand daughter or find a game of beach volleyball. Why not have a dance lesson, or get up the courage to build a do-it-yourself website (argh), or make soup broth from scratch. Get in the car and drive somewhere without planning where you’re going.

Do something you’ve never done before or something that is predictably difficult for you — AND, this is important — you actually have an attraction to doing it. You want to do it.

If you practice something you’re not adept at doing, and go at it with a big dose of joy and reckless abandon, you learn about who you are — very important in improvisational singing!

You need to know YOU if you’re going to sing without a map. (More on that in a future post.)

During this “reckless abandon” project, pay attention to improvements only. Forget the “mistakes.” They mean nothing. Look for what you’re doing well and concentrate on that. Notice everything you do well and let yourself smile about it.

This is fabulous training for improvisational singing. And for life, too, for that matter.

To do anything well, it helps to be comfortable with everything about it, including mistakes and screw-ups. Make mistakes. Relax about them. Welcome them with open arms.

Long ago, I knew a Utah ski instructor who taught beginners. We’re talking newbies who somehow got railroaded into that ski vacation with friends or family. And here they were with their skis and poles and their brand new ski outfit all dressed up and scared to death.

And do you know what he taught them first and foremost on that bunny slope where we all begin?

He taught them how to fall.

I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up!

I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up!

After the falling lesson, where everybody ended up covered with snow and laughing, his students had great fun learning to ski because the worst part — the part that everyone was trying NOT to do — was over! Now they could get on with the standing up part of skiing.

Simple, yet brilliant.

This is what we’re talking about: Doing something “really wrong” or sloppily and getting it over with is liberating.

So strap on your whatevers and go attempt something ridiculously new and a tiny bit dangerous for you — and then write me and tell me all about it. I’ll be waiting with great anticipation for your report.

Getting Started with Improvisational Singing — Location, Location


Improvisational singing is one of the most delightful activities in the entire Universe!  Nothing like it.  If I have my underwear all in a bundle when I walk in, by the time I’m done singing, I’m a Zen girl.  Not bad.  It’s totally free therapy, and I didn’t even have to tell anyone a dreadful story!

Free singing, improvisational singing or making it up as you go, has only one requirement:  Leave your mind at the door.  It just gets in the way.  Pack it in a bag and drop it in a safe place. You can retrieve anything needed when you leave.  Or let it go and travel lighter…

Location matters.  Find a location to sing that makes YOU happy, and makes it easy to experiment with sound.  Here I am in the wine cave at the Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery in Newport Beach CA, owned by friends of mine, Richard Moriarity and Loren Blackwood.

Loren gives me the key and I go sing.  There are no people around, so I feel free to experiment to my heart’s content.   It feels easy and natural to make any kind of sound I want — loud, soft, “ugly”, or beautiful — I can play with an unlimited range.    Also,  there are no interruptions and no time limits.  I can sing as long as I want to.  Love that!

It’s to your advantage to choose a singing environment that can actually help you acoustically — meaning that the environment is encouraging, beautiful and supportive.   Let’s be real — we are more likely to do something we enjoy if it feels easy and effortless.  Find a place that allows you to fully appreciate the  sounds you are making and how the vibration of your singing registers throughout your body.  This is nurturing and calming.

If the walls are reflecting your sound back to you, it is easy to produce sound.  If you’ve had an arduous day, or if you are feeling emotional and eeking out a small sound is all you can muster in that moment — fear not! Even the softest sound is amplified,  and this “microphone effect” from the reflective walls is like having a supportive friend by your side.

Also, as you sing in an environment that echoes a bit, the sounds you’re making mix together, causing it to feel almost like there is someone else singing with you.  This is a beautiful thing; the stone is your singing partner.

My preference is to sing in stone or cement environments.  One of my favorite locations (so far) in the US is the St. Joseph Chapel in the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

Cathedrals or old stone churches are outstanding.   However, in a pinch,  a stairway or hallway of an office building, a resonant parking garage, an empty church, or your very own tile bathroom will do just fine.

More next time on what to sing, how to sing, vocal experiments to try, and so on! Here’s to your Tra-la-la!

My thanks to Stevie Strang for the beautiful wine cave photo.  Stevie creates the most beautiful words and pictures!  Read more about her and see her photos at http://journaltolife.blogspot.com/.

And my thanks to Loren and Richard for their generosity in allowing me to sing in the cave on their little chunk of southern California paradise! http://nbwine.com/sys-tmpl/oclifestyles/.

Where this Blog Title comes from…


I have decided after many years that I’m not a very patterned and predictable person.  I’d like to be.  After all, consistency is honorable and admirable, not to mention convenient. I’ve really tried.  Somewhere deep down, my soul craves  the comfort of sameness.   I know it does — I feel it.  Heck, just to know what I’ll be doing when I open my eyes in the morning would be a good start.  I just can’t do it.  I can’t pull it off!

So……………………. I have officially surrendered.  Apparently, I have a different calling.

After taking a survey of just one area of my life — how I shop for food and make a meal — I could have figured out years ago that I’m an improvisational person.  I don’t plan my meals and make a shopping list for the coming week.  I cook by the seat of my pants.  At torganic-produce2he Farmer’s Market I buy what looks good and take the textures and fragrances and colors home.  When it is meal time, I open the refrigerator, peruse the contents, make an instinctive decision about what proteins and veggies to put together, what delectable  tastes and textures would be complimentary, fabulously colorful or surprising and make it up from there.  It’s easy for me, it’s fun and it turns out really, really well 99% of the time,  just ask my daughter and husband.  Or folks who stop by around meal time.  This is improv at its best!  Yum!

This blog is a calling out to live an improvisational life in all ways  spontaneous and spirited, but especially in singing.  It is about expressing one’s creative birthright, inventing each day and each note as it comes.  I know there are others of you out there who feel this way, and I’d love to hear your stories and experiences about this.  How does this “singing by the seat of your pants” approach to life delight you and serve others at the same time?  Let me know!

And then there’s the matter of starting an improvisational choir…..Oh, it’ll happen!!!  Want to play?



Terri Crosby