Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide

Improvisation is a big part of our daily lives, essential to the things we love to do and the music we love to hear. Improvising together seems natural when we’re playing a game or having a conversation, yet improvising music together is often viewed as mysterious and forbidding. “Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide” provides a practical way for any group of people, no matter what their style of music or level of musicianship, to learn about improvising together. With over 100 improvisational exercises and invaluable instructional tips, this book is an essential tool for every musician, teacher, or music lover. 

Excerpts from Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide (PDF Format):


Table of Contents

Chapter 4 Beginning Exercises

Chapter 5 Duets: The Art of Relationship

Chapter 7 Textures

Index of Exercises


Catalog Info:

ISBN: 978-0-615-32862-1

Hardcopy Price: $25.00

Digital Price: $12.99

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Reviews & Testimonials

“No one teaches that quite as effectively as you!" 

...There's a lot of people here who feel like they can't improvise on their main instrument because of all the rigid training they've received.  They've really been traumatized by music!  I think your method...starting from the unit of a single sound, building up through exploration of musical relationships, roles, endings... no one teaches that quite as effectively as you!

— Al Hoberman, Music Therapist


I have a hard time putting into words just how freeing and influential to all aspects of my life your class was to me. This student hit the nail on the head.
— O.N., Student

I bought your guide one year ago and I am very happy with it. I have developed my own language and I have used your techniques for my classes. 
— Manuel Rodriguez, Spain, Guitar, Music Educator

The book looks awesome - like you thought of everything! I think your exercises will be the thing that will get people thinking outside the box.
— Dan Fox, Musician, High School Band Director

I’ll hop onboard this train and I’ve recently been meaning to drop you a line to say hi anyway. But a number of my favorite memories and some of the most fun and important things I learned at Brandeis took place in your classroom. It changed the way I play music and impacted the ways I think about and interact with the world around me. So in the spirit of improvising, keep wondering why but make sure you appreciate the positive influence you have had on so many of us!
— -J.T, Student

Tom Hall, you switched something on in me too. i use your improvisation-mind-openers-philosophy in many ways, Both in my music as well as in how I learn and use improvisation techniques in many areas of my life. Thank you for opening this door!
— -L.T., Student

Dear Tom, Every Tuesday I sat in your Improv class, I had two thoughts: A) This is the coolest thing ever, I know I’ll never forget this! and B) I can’t believe I waited until my last semester to get involved in this class! In a semester very bogged down by classes and my job, your class on Tuesdays was the most beautiful healing respite. At first I was skeptical - how much can I learn by making up music? - but I quickly learned under your guidance how very misinformed my skepticism was. I have learned so much about the breadth and scope of musical possibility - about trusting my impulses - about the power of quiet and space - and these are lessons I will use in all my life -endeavors and music- endeavors to come. I know that when I reminisce on my Brandeis years fifty years from now, the moments in your classroom are the ones I will recall most clearly. Thank you so much. I will miss your class and your wisdom more than I can explain!
— H.M., Student

So I have found one book to recommend: saxophonist and Brandeis University professor Tom Hall's "Free Improvisation: A Practical Guide." It isn't about instrumental techniques or stylistic points, but it is enormously encouraging of personal expression and spontaneity in music making. Give a kid an instrument on which they can be louder than their voices make them, give them room to wail and maybe just enough instruction so that they don't feel they've come to the end of their abilities when they get one splat or honk, and help them realize it's cool to identify with "jazz." 
-Howard Mandel, President, Jazz Journalist’s Association

I need to throw some Tom Hall love out onto facebook. It does wonders for me every day and comes through in the randomest of moments. He teaches that life is one big improvisation. Last weekend I found a nice little shack with a huge stereo to get a haircut at, which can be a nervous adventure when you barely speak the same language as the person cutting your hair. It seemed like we had communicated successfully; a 2 for the length of the sides and a 4 on the top. However, it wasn’t long before he had taken the clipper heads off and was just going for a vision of his own. Remembering Tom once describing his dentist as a master artist and improviser, I let the worry leave my shoulders and embraced the inner artist and improvisation of my barber. And what an awesome haircut it turned out to be! (even with my head bobbin to the killer jams all throughout). An hour later when trying to get a hitch to a friend’s house, a police officer stopped me at a roadblock and directed me towards a car to get a lift in. I sat down, and suddenly all of the police filed in. 5 of us in the back seat of the sedan, policemen on my lap and wedged in on all sides, and I definitely wasn’t the only sweaty one there. Though it all felt a bit strange, the jams were on point again. Tom teaches us to say “yes”, because you never know what’s going to happen. Since that’s how things are no matter what, you might as well have some fun along the way.
— -S.P., Student

Tom, I’m not always very vocal about these things, but my time at ‘deis came with many personal growing pains, and your class was always a safe space for me to stop thinking about everything and just play. It’s encouraged me to be more open and adventurous with my art and life. I don’t think there’s any way to work with you without leaving enlightened in some way.
— -K.D.C., Student