Top Tips on Most People's Greatest Nightmare: Improvised Singing

By Tim Redmond

Trust the simplicity and tickety-boo, we've got ourselves a song!

"Smells Like a Song," is a unique improvised musical and directing it conjures unique challenges. In the show, at any moment, the audience can toss a rose to the stage and call out, "Smells like a song!"

The improviser must use whatever line of dialogue inspired the call as the inspiration for their song.

No hedging. No faffing. Step to, open your mouth and light it up.

But how? How can a seemingly random moment inspire a song that heightens and feeds a long-form narrative? Won't the call for a song on the dialogue of, "My pencil is yellow" in a story about nineteenth century oil-workers surely confuse things?

Well. No. 

Simplicity and Repetition

This is where simplicity and repetition are our greatest allies.  With simplicity and repetition, even the simplest lyric can and will become a metaphor of profound effect. 

Songs, all songs, have at their heart simplicity and repetition. 

Simplicity off lyric -"She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah." " I'm not throwing away my... shot."  

And simplicity of melody. Think now of "Over the Rainbow," from the Wizard of Oz. The elegance of its repeated octave jump on the "Somewhere..." So significant is this simple melodic leap that many mistake the title of the song as "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." 

Every time we return to that moment in the song, the heart of it (Dreaming of adventure) is heightened. 

Simplicity and repetition become meaning.

Trust the Moment

As improvisers, our panic sometimes drives us to invent. To search sideways in circumstance and "yes and..." plot.

The beauty of an improvised song is it demands we go deeper into the core, rather than forward into plot - to trust that the emotional discovery of the song will drive the story. The internal change will propel the narrative. 

So, what of our previously mentioned song of, "My pencil is yellow," in nineteenth century Montana... 

Well, if it's an oil baron who is on his last dollar who's singing it, the pencil could represent:

  • A thing that can be erased and therefore his/her mortality
  • A contract signed and therefore his/her honour
  • A simple sketch and therefore his/her sense of nostalgia.

And the yellow could represent:

  • cowardice
  • gold (oil is black gold) and therefore potential reward
  • the sun and therefore light (Either hopeful or punishing.)

This is all very prescriptive, but my point is, everything you need to sing the song is already in your character in that moment.  We link the journey to the text, and tickety-boo, we've got ourselves a song. Their journey thus far will propel the content and the character is changed by what is discovered in the singing.

By the conclusion of two to three minutes of singing, nothing can be the same.

This is the gift of songprov. To trust the call of "Smells Like A Song" and to dive deeper into those few words, no matter the content, to discover their true meaning. 

It's not about skill. It's not about cleverness. It's not even really about the quality of your singing voice.

It's about trusting that simplicity.

Step to.

Open your mouth.

Light it up.

Tim Redmond

Tim will be teaching two musical workshops on Dec. 17 Singing from the Gut and Jan. 21 The Villain’s Song.  

No experienced required to join these workshops.  


Singing From The Gut  [Limited tickets available - book now.]

The Villain’s Song [Registrations open Dec. 19]