CNMN > Projects > Improvisation game: Four!! and Empty Repeating Canvas

Doug Friesen

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  • Open (def: scores for unspecified instrumentation)
  • Voice
  • Acoustic instruments
  • Rock band instruments
  • 5 to 12 years of age
  • 13 to 18 years of age
  • Adults
  • Seniors
  • Intergenerational

30 minutes

  • Education

Improvisation game: Four!! and Empty Repeating Canvas


As part of the Edu­ca­tion Sec­tor Focus, pub­lic school music teacher Doug Friesen shares a few impro­vi­sa­tion games his stu­dents love to play.

GAME 1: Four!!

After a cue, each par­tic­i­pant tries to make short sounds, one at a time, when no one else is play­ing or singing.

Every time you make a sound, when no one else is, you get a point.

When­ev­er you make a sound at the same time as some­one else you must start back at zero.

Once you have col­lect­ed four points you yell “FOUR!!” and the piece is over.

Ears wide open!!

See 2:12 in the video below for instruc­tions giv­en by Doug, fol­lowed by an exam­ple of his stu­dents play­ing the game.

GAME 2: Emp­ty Repeat­ing Canvas

Put two emp­ty 4/4 mea­sures (or just the num­bers 1 through 8) with a repeat sign up on the board.

Each per­sons picks a sound and a moment in these 8 counts to make it.

Repeat your sound in the same spot each time.

Count it in and let the groove settle.


- Add a hand sig­nal that cues a change of sound and/or placement.
— Add chang­ing dynamics.
— Make sounds “more musi­cal” by decid­ing on a chord or a scale to choose from.
— Extend the num­ber of measures.
— Change the time signature.
— Try adding long notes for part of the group or every oth­er time through.
- Make sounds less musi­cal by adding a sound­scape theme.
— Decide togeth­er on a nice open­ing and clos­ing section.

This is heav­i­ly inspired by a work­shop with Fred Frith in which he intro­duced my stu­dents and I to a com­po­si­tion of his called Screen. It was a pho­to­graph with two emp­ty bars of 5/4 sketched on top.

For more games such as these, see the Edu­ca­tion Sec­tor Focus co-direct­ed by Doug Friesen and Louise Campbell.

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