Here's a novel thought: Sometimes the answer is that there is NO answer—at least not at that moment. Sometimes the best solution to our musical problems is to WAIT and SEE. This is my view when teaching the daunting task of improvising, and sometimes lessons about life.
One of the biggest mistakes we make trying to help a student work out some improvisational kinks is trying to solve the problem for them right at that moment. This happens frequently. I can introduce students to strategies, but ultimately, they have to solve the problem. Some get it right away. Some take a little longer. Some never get it. As a teacher, that’s their problem, not ours. In some instances, they may discover answers to issues initially not perceived. This is one of the many beauties of traveling a path of discovery. You never know what will turn up.
For those looking to test the improvisational waters, the first thing you should do is play. And after that, play some more. I'm saying this jokingly, but I do feel this is one of the most important steps to take.
Here’s one strategy: Set the alarm for five minutes, and play the first thing that comes to mind. If nothing comes to mind, silence is the best filler. Don’t judge, don’t record, trust your improvisational instincts.
I’d give this a try a few weeks or more. But do it consistently.
The next step: Record yourself. Please do not listen to it until the next day. Do this every time you practice. Again, don’t judge. Just trust your improvisational instincts. Just let it be what it is, because it’s going to change whether you want it to or not. I’d give this a try for a week or two.
Next step: Play with another person. The first two steps teaches you trust your own inner-directed instincts. This teaches you to respond to others. Playing with others is a different beast altogether, but a necessary one. No matter what kind of language you’re learning, the only way to truly master it is to learn to converse with others.
After that: Listen to recordings. Transcribe ideas. Seek advice on the kinds of strategies used by more experienced players. But by all means, keep playing. Keep improvising. These strategies are all unique in their own way, each playing an important role in helping you to master your newly acquired improvisational language.
A Jerry Seinfeld story: During one episode of his show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Seinfeld and his guest started goofing on stand-up comedy classes.
Both felt that these kinds of classes are on the silly side.
I’m paraphrasing here, but Seinfeld said this is how comedy classes should be taught.
“Go home and write jokes.
Try those jokes in front of an audience.
Then go home and write more jokes.
End of class!”
He said what I’ve been saying throughout this piece: sometimes there are no immediate answers or solutions, maybe other than time and patience.
Here’s what life has taught me: The answers to your questions will come when you’re READY for them, NOT when you ASK for them.