From Story to Sound
Have you ever noticed how much movie or cartoon soundtracks influence the way you feel about a particular scene? Sometimes the music creates a mood such as scary, exciting, sad or cheerful. At other times, the music resembles sound effects, mirroring the action. For example, a close-up of a leaf floating down from a tree might be accompanied by a descending scale-like passage.
Five steps to inspire improvisation with story.
Taking advantage of our collective familiarity with soundtracks, here's how to inspire improvisation with an imagined story.
1. Write an outline of a brief story, ideally with exaggerated emphasis on moods and sounds. (In a pinch, you could use an existing story i.e. Red Riding Hood.)
2. Improvise accompaniments as you (or someone else) reads the story aloud line-by-line with pauses between.
Here’s an example to get your started:
It was a dark and stormy night. The rain dripped from the leaves throughout the forest.
(dripping rain music)
Low rumbles of thunder could be heard far and near.
(low thunder music)
A little mouse lightly skittered up and down and all around looking for somewhere dry.
(light skittering music)
In the distance, the mouse could hear low, steady drums.
(low, steady drums music)
After a time, high wooden flute music joined the drums.
(low drums and high flute music)
The mouse ran down a hill towards the music hoping to find shelter.
(running downhill music)
Suddenly, the music stopped. In the clearing was a large hut. The mouse quietly tiptoed up to the door to peer inside.
(quiet tiptoe music)
Many people were seated inside around a bonfire. An old man got up and began a slow, strange dance.
(strange dance music)
The man began to tell a story:
“It was a dark and stormy night. The rain dripped from the leaves throughout the forest.”
(rain music fading away)
3. Most importantly, extract the teachable moments. For individual improvisers, this means noticing what you liked and categorizing it in your memory as a reusable creative concept. For teachers, this means naming musical elements such as major/minor, forte/piano, high/low, chordal/melodic… for future recall.
4. Repeat the music minus the reading aloud to create a story-inspired improvised instrumental. To make it more musical and less directly illustrative, underpin the music with a steady beat either with an automated drum track, teacher accompaniment, or internalized steady pulse.
5. What’s next? You decide. Refine your improvisation into a composition? Record this musical story in Garageband? Create a new story? Accompany an actual movie with the sound turned off? Tell an improvised musical story without any pre-written narrative?
Until next time, enjoy your creative music making journey,