AskDefine | Define improvise

Dictionary Definition



1 perform without preparation; "he extemporized a speech at the wedding" [syn: improvize, ad-lib, extemporize, extemporise]
2 manage in a makeshift way; do with whatever is at hand; "after the hurricane destroyed our house, we had to improvise for weeks" [syn: extemporize]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. To make something up or invent it as one goes on; to proceed by guess rather than by a careful plan. To invent or create something quickly or without a plan; to wing it.
    He had no speech prepared, so he improvised.
    They improvised a simple shelter with branches and the rope they were carrying.
    She improvised a lovely solo.


to make something up as one goes on

Extensive Definition

Improvisation (also called extemporization) is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or new ways to act. This invention cycle occurs most effectively when the practitioner has a thorough intuitive and/or technical understanding of the necessary skills and concerns within the improvised domain.
The skills of improvisation can apply to many different abilities or forms of communication and expression across all artistic, scientific, physical, cognitive, academic, and non-academic disciplines. For example, music, cooking, presenting a speech, sales, personal or romantic relationships, sports, flower arranging, martial arts, psychotherapy, the arts, and much more.


Philosophically, improvisation often focuses on bringing one's personal awareness "into the moment," and on developing a profound understanding for the action one is doing. This fusion of "awareness" and "understanding" brings the practitioner to the point where he or she can act with a range of options that best fit the situation, even if he or she has never experienced a similar situation. The study of the skills and techniques of improvisation can strongly influence one's competence in business, personal life, and/or in the arts.
The mental and emotional states needed to practice the art of improvisation are very similar to the practice taught in the religious and philosophical art of Zen, and many of the same concepts are used in both practices. Although it is not necessary for the study and practice of either improvisation or Zen, the study of one often gives new insight into the practice of the other. Keith Johnstone, a teacher of improvisational theatre, often relates the two when teaching about improv.
Techniques of improvisation are widely trained in the entertainment arts; for example, music, theatre and dance.
To "extemporize" or "ad lib" is basically the same as improvising. Colloquial terms such as "let's play it by ear," "take it as it comes," and "make it up as we go along" are all used to describe "improvisation." In professional wrestling, they call improvisation a "shoot" ie wrestlers are working in the ring for real or when some are given the mic on tv are making "shoot" comments. Some give "shoot" interviews.

Musical improvisation

Improvisation is an important aspect of music in general. Musical improvisers often understand the idiom of one or more musical styles—e.g. blues, rock, folk, jazz—and work within the idiom to express ideas with creativity and originality. Improvisation can take place as a solo performance, or interdependently in ensemble with other players. When done well, it often elicits gratifying emotional responses from the audience. Very few musicians have ever dared to offer fully improvised concerts such as the famous improvised piano recitals by classical composers/pianists like Franz Liszt or modern pianists such as Alicia Techintin. The origins of Liszt's improvisation in an earlier tradition of playing variations on a theme were mastered and epitomized by Mozart and Beethoven. However, some have managed some very successful attempts similar to these precedents, one of the most successful of these is Keith Jarrett. He has performed many completely improvised concerts that have captivated audiences all over the world. A few pianists have given modern recitals of improvisation in the baroque style, which may be less intimidating because of its stricter development and range of modulation and yet, on the other hand, more daunting because of its polyphony. There have also been a few other exceptional improvised solo piano concerts in Stuttgart, Southern Germany in the 1990s.

Singing improvisation

Singing improvisation is an ancient art form. It is a mixture of musical improvisation and improvisational theater A singer makes up the words and melody to a song at the same time the musicians are making up the music to the song. Additionally, aspects of dance, comedy and showmanship are all part of the singing improviser's repertoire.
In the Wales of centuries ago, there was an annual competition for poets and musicians that featured improvised singing. It was sung in the style of music called a penillion, which is defined as “Welsh songs, often improvised, and sung to a harp accompaniment.” Harpist John Parry, father of John Orlando Parry, described this art: “(...) The singer is obliged to follow the harper, who may change the tune, or perform variations, ad libitum, whilst the vocalist must keep time, and end precisely with the strain…” See article: Eisteddfod
Beginning in the late 1800s, thousands of years of folk singing and popular music were changed forever: This happened because of the printing of popular music and the impact of the record player. Prior to the record player, popular music, "music of the people," was largely improvised. It was extremely common for people who sang songs to change the lyrics whenever they sang them. They would change parts of the song to adapt it to whatever was going on at the moment or to play to the next audience they faced. Since people mostly learned songs by hearing them and remembering them, the “improvising” of lyrics and melody was quite common amongst the populace.
Other forms of singing that make use of improvisation are payada and freestyle rap. ***



Dance improvisation as a choreographic tool: Improvisation is used as a choreographic tool in dance composition. Experimenting with the concepts of shape, space, time, and energy while moving without inhibition or cognitive thinking can create unique and innovative movement designs, spatial configuration, dynamics, and unpredictable rhythms. Improvisation without inhibition allows the choreographer to connect to their deepest creative self, which in turn clears the way for pure invention.
Contact improvisation: a form developed 30 years ago that is now practiced around the world. Contact improvisation originated from the movement studies of Steve Paxton in the 1970s and developed through the continued exploration of the Judson Dance Theater. It is a dance form based on sharing weight, partnering, playing with weight and unpredictable outcomes.


The director Mike Leigh uses lengthy improvisations developed over a period of weeks to build characters and storylines for his films. He starts with some sketch ideas of how he thinks things might develop but does not reveal all his intentions with the cast who discover their fate and act out their responses as their destinies are gradually revealed, including significant aspects of their lives which will not subsequently be shown onscreen. The final filming draws on dialogue and actions that have been recorded during the improvisation period.


See main article - Improvisational theatre
Improvisational comedy is a common art performed throughout the world and throughout history. Some of the more famous comic improv groups are: Upright Citizens Brigade and Noo Yawk Tawk from New York City, the Groundlings from Los Angeles, The Second City from Chicago, ComedySportz from Milwaukee, Washington Improv Theater from Washington D.C., DSI Comedy Theater from North Carolina and Theatresports from Calgary, Canada. Extemporizing on the methods of pioneers such as Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, Del Close, Martin DeMatt, and Keith Johnstone. Individual performers include: Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters and Eddie Izzard.

Corporate Improvisation Training

Corporate Improvisation Training is the practice of applying improvisational skills to help shape and build corporate competencies. Basic principles such as "Yes, and" and more complex improvisational principles relating to outward thought, listening skills, and brainstorming are used to change dynamics of individuals, teams, and companies.
Improvisation is especially well applied in activities within business such as Presentation Skills and Communications. These exercises work best when mixed with behavior principals that help generalize these skills to a broader workplace application.
Improvisational training can range from simple team building skills that require employees to work as a team and explore new relationships and dynamics to more complex skills such as dynamic presentation skills, offsite facilitation, and brainstorming.
Corporate improvisation was developed within companies such as Biz Improv, The Second City and The Groundlings and has been adapted to Organizational Development Programs by companies like The Business of Improvisation and Comedy Sports
Recently Organizational Development magazines, The Los Angeles and New York Times, and training and development groups at the Fortune 500 have all singled out Corporate Improvisation as a cutting edge training tool. More information can be found on these respective websites.


Traditional epic poetry included improvisation moments where the reciter flattered the audience (specially the authorities) or to substitute a forgotten passage. There are also societies that value improvised poetry as a genre, often as a debate or "poetic joust", where improvisators compete for public approval. Some of these impromptu poems are later recorded in paper or transmitted orally.
Some forms of improvised poetry:
Usually wit is as valued as conformity to poetical form. Some of these forms also include humour.


In the 1990s, a TV show called Whose Line Is It Anyway? popularized shortform comedic improvisation. The original version was British, but it was later revived and popularized in the United States with Drew Carey as a host. More recently, television shows such as HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm (starring Seinfeld co-creator Larry David) and Bravo series Significant Others have used improvisation to create longer-form programs with more dramatic flavor. Another improvisation based show is i's "World Cup Comedy." In Canada, the Global Television soap opera Train 48, based on the Australian series Going Home, uses a form of structured improvisation, in which actors improvise dialog from written plot outlines.
Even more recently, Australia's Thank God You're Here is a gameshow where celebrities are put into scenes they know nothing about and have to improvise.

Role-playing games

Role-playing games often involve a casual form of improvisational acting; a player's character may be pre-defined, with game statistics and a history, but the character's response to game events and to other players is improvised. Some players are more interested in the depth of the "acting" than others, while others enjoy elaborate plots, emotional investment in characters, and intense or witty repartee. Some earlier role-playing games emphasise combat and game mechanics over role-playing; however, modern storytelling games are often more plot-driven, and Live action role-playing games are often more acting-focused.

See also

External links

improvise in Danish: Improvisere
improvise in German: Improvisation
improvise in Modern Greek (1453-): Αυτοσχεδιασμός
improvise in Estonian: Improvisatsioon
improvise in Spanish: Improvisación
improvise in Persian: بداهه‌نوازی
improvise in French: Improvisation
improvise in Simple English: Improvisation
improvise in Italian: Improvvisazione
improvise in Hebrew: אלתור
improvise in Hungarian: Improvizáció
improvise in Japanese: 即興
improvise in Kazakh: Импровизация
improvise in Norwegian: Improvisasjon
improvise in Portuguese: Improvisação
improvise in Russian: Импровизация
improvise in Finnish: Improvisointi
improvise in Swedish: Improvisation

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

ad lib, ad-lib, be caught napping, be surprised, be taken unawares, be unprepared, beget, breed, bring forth, bring into being, call into being, coin, conceive, concoct, contrive, cook up, dash off, design, develop, devise, discover, do offhand, dream up, engender, evolve, extemporize, fabricate, fake, frame, generate, give being to, give rise to, go off half-cocked, hatch, have no plan, improvisate, invent, jury-rig, knock off, lash up, make do, make do with, make up, mature, mint, originate, plan, play by ear, procreate, scrap the plan, spawn, strike off, strike out, think out, think up, throw off, throw together, toss off, toss out, vamp, whip up, whomp up, wing it
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