Music Doctor Improv Cards
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Music Doctor Improv Cards

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This deck of 54 cards is intended to teach the roles musicians play in small group improvisation settings. The cards cover four "suits" – basic skills, support roles, playing in various musical styles, and using silence and contrast. On the back of each card is a different evocative picture that can be used to inspire "sound track" improvisations based on the picture's content and mood.

For teachers who wish to know more about the potential ways of using these cards to teach improvisation concepts and practices, there is a 32 page booklet that goes into depth about each card.

What people are saying about these cards:

from Judy Vinar, member of Bobby McFerrin's "Gimmie5" holds many things in place, fundamental and nuanced practice, consideration of others, light-heartedness, and possibilities for advanced practice in improvisation and group composition.


From Peggy Tileston - Coordinator of clinical training for music therapy students at Temple U

I LOVE YOUR CARDS! They - and you -are brilliant :-)  Ron had us playing with them today and I love how they inspired play and creativity.


The Cards:

Basic Skills from Return to Child:

  1. Sing what you play, Play what you sing
  2. Ooh energy - rhapsody and lullaby
  3. Yea! energy - strong calls for celebration or warning
  4. Musical conversations with group partners
  5. Shadowing - imitation in real time
  6. Harmonize what a partner is playing
  7. Match pulse and create accents
  8. Ostinato - play a consistent groove
  9. Use your instrument as a drum
  10. Drone - play one unchanging note
  11. Chromatic - explore using half steps
  12. Do as much as you can with only one note
  13. Play as many "wrong notes" as possible

Contrast and Space:

  1. Solo or be silent
  2. Provide the drama
  3. Be a disruptor
  4. Play your instrument in a new way
  5. Listen for the moment of greatest impact
  6. Play in a different meter
  7. Play with full emotional power
  8. Play in odd numbered meters
  9. Use 50 notes, then stop
  10. Hear what the group is like without you
  11. Enter, leave, re-enter, leave again
  12. Emphasize silence and space
  13. Be independent

Support Roles:

  1. Listen for flow, and don't play all the time
  2. Play to bring the group together
  3. Influence the group to play what you play
  4. Imitate more than you initiate
  5. Provide a groove
  6. Offer a descending scale
  7. Play bass
  8. Play a heartbeat rhythm
  9. Listen for who needs support
  10. Offer a chord progression
  11. Support the tonal center
  12. Inspire others to support you
  13. Play long tones


  1. Add lyrics or spoken words
  2. Play something you love to play
  3. Pointillism - brief textural sparkles
  4. Fugue - imitate and repeat your partners
  5. Blues - play with soul
  6. Minimalist - simplicity and small changes
  7. Funk - make your partners want to dance
  8. Country, folk, and bluegrass
  9. Music of any culture or time period
  10. Play something familiar extra slowly
  11. Include a familiar melody or hook
  12. Inspire your partners to get loud and move
  13. Play soft until your partners join you


More Information
AuthorOshinsky, James

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