Category: Improv Game



The Break Into the Story

Whenever you want to use words in an improv, there is a whole world of meaning and style that opens up to you. Kind of overwhelming! – and often you find yourself being stuck in not even knowing where to start. (This is where I will bring the non-scientific statistic, that probably 50% of word-improvs are about singing, inspiration and love) Well, the words section on the cards will serve you as a helper for this!


The words are organized in 3 columns. 1st column adjectives – 2nd nouns – 3rd verbs. The words are pretty random, and your job is to connect the words in any random way you like. By following this method you will get surprising poetic pictures like “Happy strawberries walking on the dirty mountain …”. Let this be your starting point, and expand the story by using your imagination. If you get stuck, you might want to use the card again, but you don’t have to! Rather let your stream of consciousness elaborate on the starting topic.



The bitter clover suddenly quit looking to the sky. And ask itself: “Why is my job to give other people luck, when all I do is standing here everyday” …


The clever eye. Never sees the wrong doings of its master. Never touches the sky. Never closes for the night.


Quiet was the earthquake inside me. It lastet for a year. Brimstone and warm guts erupted out of my pores while the leaves of the winter hovered to the ground in competition with the snow. Quiet was the earthquake inside of me.

Texture (Category)


What is texture?

Texture are simply the vowels and especially the consonants you are adding to your tone. Consider a piece of art, or a piece of clothing. Texture and material quality matters a lot to the feel of  the end product. So it is with song. This category lets you focus on the texture of your notes and eexpand your vocabulary!


Each card has 2-3 consonants. Explore thes consonants with any chosen vowels. When you feel you said it all – keep going. The continued exploration of the limited possibilities will make you move from the obvious to new interesting sounds. This is a great way of expanding your gibberish vocabulary.

Category elements

  • D • m
  • W • m
  • F • K • T
  • G • n
  • S • B
  • P • F
  • Rrr • G
  • H • D
  • T • L
  • Z • D


Genre (Category)



This category features 10 different musical genres or styles. Contrary to the first 3 categories, this one is meant to be used just one card at the time. Give a trio/quartet or a whole group the challenge to do a piece within that style.

Of course – feel free to combine two genres or be creative in other ways of using it.

Category elements

  • Blues
  • African Tribesong
  • Classical
  • Yoik
  • Dance
  • Country
  • Latin
  • Outer Space
  • Pop Ballad
  • Hip Hop Rap


Roles (Category)


The idea of “Roles” is to let each singer act from a more abstract function, than they do with Instrument and Rhiannon.

Suggestion for use:

Each singer draws a card. The roles are interpreted by each singer. The roles are

  • Inventor (x2)
  • Follower (x2)
  • Repeater
  • Caller
  • Responder
  • Stabilizer
  • Orator
  • Conductor

You should make your own interpretations, but allow me to share my thoughts behind the topics.


Singer who “invent” new music. Could be a pattern, which they are free to change whenever they feel like it. The Inventor is proactive in composing the piece and takes initiatives to evolve the music. The Inventor, however, is not a solo part.


This singer should “hook up” with another role, and follow them in some way. Most often this would be an Inventor. The follower makes a harmony or sings unison with the inventor – or in another way becomes a shadow of another part.


Like the follower, the repeater doesn’t make up their own material. They steal it! The repeater takes phrases and echo them. This could be different phrases, or it could be a compulsory echo of a steady pattern or riff. The echo or kanonized theme is the point.


The Caller makes “calls” – like we know the concept from Gospel or African music etc. The Callers role could also be interpreted as a soloist. But try not to cover the music in wall-to-wall singing … It is called a Caller because this singer tries to make a conversation with the other parts. He or she calls – and listen for answers.


The Responder responds to something in the music. This would usually be the Callers phrase. The respond is not an echo or repetition, but more like an answer to the call or impulse catched in the music.


The Stabilizer’s job is to … well … stabilize the song. Add the pattern that consolidates the song. This would often mean some pattern oriented around the downbeats. It could also be percussion, bassline or any other pattern that grounds the song.


The Orator is thought of as a singer bringing words into the music. Wether the words are song, spoken, gibberish, memorized poems or repeated single words, it is all about bringing words to the music. The Responder, Repeater or Follower might hook up with the orator.


The Conductor has permission to conduct the piece. This could be by setting tempo, showing dynamics, muting out parts or stopping the whole thing.
You might wanna leave out the conductor, and probably not have more than one, in case you use more than one set of game cards.

Rhiannon (Category)


This category refers to the terminology used by the singer and improviser Rhiannon (she lives on Hawaii – hence the palm tree). You can read more about Rhiannon on her website. The descriptions of the concept are my interpretations of Rhiannon’s teachings only. You may dig deeper into Rhiannon’s teachings first hand, in her book “Vocal River”.


Category elements

  • Motor
  • Interlock
  • Counterpoint
  • Harmony (x4)
  • Bass
  • Percussion
  • Solo


Each singer draws one card, and is to cover the concept of the category. Usually there is only one singer on each category, except for harmony. Each role is a repeated pattern, except for the solo. Each role starts in the order above, awaiting the previous to be consolidated, before adding a new.


The initiating idea

The motor is an initiating idea. It is a pattern of usually 1-4 bars long and it starts out the song. It is on the foundation of this first pattern that everything else is created around.

NB: In some vocal arranging theories, the concept of a “motor” refers to the rhythmic driving parts of the arrangement. Rhiannon’s concept of the “motor” is different, since it is more like the vehicle for the song, the beginning, the opening. Rhiannon’s  “motor” could therefor be any function – a riff, a bass line, a rhythmic figure etc.


The consolidating rhythmic pattern

The interlock is a partner pattern to the motor and consolidates the composition in a rhythmic, circular and organic sense. The challenge of the interlock is to create a pattern that has a driving rhythmic feel on it’s own and fills out the gaps in the motor. Hereby the two patterns has an interdependency. The interlock pattern also should be “continous” and bite its own tale (In opposite to a riff which has a beginning and an end with a large gap before starting over)

Keywords of the interlock

  • Fills out the gaps
  • Has a rhythmic character
  • Bites its own tale
  • Consider the texture from the motor
  • Often based on either downbeat or offbeats (in opposite to the motor).


The contrast element

The counterpoint is any pattern which serves as a contrast to the composition. If the composition is based lots of rhythmic impulses, the counterpoints quality might be longer sustained notes. If the composition is based on descending melodic lines, the counterpoint might be an ascending line. If the texture of the composition is smooth, the counterpoint might be a ruff sound. The counterpoint is some kind of contrast element to what is.


The supporting element

The harmony supports any of the existing roles by adding a harmony to it. The harmony role is therefor not to create a new pattern, but to precisely copy one of the existing, but either as an upper or lower harmony.

Depending on how you build this game, you can attached one harmony person to each role, or you can have the harmony singers decide themselves which roles they want to support, once the song has been build.


As the title says, this pattern should pursue the qualities of a bass. This usually means defining the root notes. A little more advanced than just the root notes would be to create a bass line which still defines the root notes, and maybe also serves as a counterpoint to the motor/interlock. Now, each piece is different and calls for different patterns. Be musical! What does your bass sound like?


Supporting the piece with a groove

Percussion should support the whole piece with vocal/body percussion, beatboxing or any none pitched groovy sounds. The role is still pattern based, but has the freedom to make fills and smaller musical changes. Keep in mind that the percussion is a supporting pattern, usually a very simple, continous and repetitive pattern is the right solution.


The cream on the cake

The last person solos on top of the piece. This is not a pattern role. Seek to interact with the patterns of the songs. This will make your solo attached to the piece.

About Rhiannon

Rhiannon is a vocal improviser, living in Hawaii, who teaches from her own concept. Here it is referred to simply as Rhiannon. Read more about Rhiannon on her website.

Rhiannon is a powerful and profound vocal improviser.

Rhiannon is a powerful and profound vocal improviser.

Instrument (Category)



The instrument category features 10 different instruments. The idea is simply to take the role – and in some way sound like – the instrument on your card. The cards are randomly shared among the singers. The music begins. Have fun!

Category elements

  • Bass guitar
  • Guitar
  • Synthesizer I
  • Synthesizer II
  • Drumset
  • Saxofone
  • Mouth Harp
  • Flute
  • Bells
  • Spoken words


(NOTE to MOBILE users: You will find the Improv Game MENU at the BOTTOM of the posts)

I’m sitting with 10 cards – how do I use them?

The cards you are holding are meant as a midwife for your improv group. They can be used for warming up the group or to break habits. In short, the cards are inspiration for your vocal improv sessions!

Each card features

  • 5 categories
  • 1 word section (9 words)
  • A cute animal (with no function what so ever – please give them one!)

Let the limitations set you free – and push you to new places

In my experience, rehearsing improv through different frameworks is the most rewarding approach. The cards offer you just that – frameworks. As you and your group practice these frameworks, they become a language which you can access during performances, or when improvising freely. Also the frameworks has the ability to challenge you into leaving your comfort zone and discover new land. Not a bad idea! Go explore! And make up your own frameworks with your group as well.

Read my ideas of use – and share your own

You can find ideas-instructions in the posts on this site (see menu below on mobile-devices, right on computers). I will encourage you – and your group – to be innovative about how to use the cards. Don’t let this be the book of answers. Develop new ideas yourselves, refine the ones here and then share them on this site!

Group sizes

At this point the game has only been tested in a group of 7 people. Try out with your group – and share you experience here!

Enjoy your process – and remember

  • Don’t be afraid to “fail”.
  • Go somewhere new!
  • Don’t let the cards get in the way of connect with each other.
  • Stay loose and have fun!

Kristian Skårhøj
(Game developer)