Singing Games for Musical Improv - Performance Pieces
Wow the Audience
You have rehearsed, you can nail a hoedown in your sleep, your longform sets in rehearsal are legendary or you simply want to add some spice to your Improv set. Here are some of the best, tried and tested crowd pleasers for your showcase, performance, Musical Improv Class or simply for fun.
Short Form Musical Improv Games
Almost any game that works well in rehearsal can be presented on stage with a few tweaks. For a showcase or Musical Improv Jam these games serve as great quick ways to show off your hard work in class. Some of these are well known thanks to the likes of 'Whose Line is it Anyway' and some have been lovingly adapted over years of classes and rehearsal.
No list of Short form Musical Improv Games would be complete without the ubiquitous Hoedown. The nemesis and undoing of many, but also the greatest reward to the Hoedown champion is at stake. If you want a fuller description of how to actually do a Hoedown, have a look at our Musical Improv Games - Hoedown page.
Often sung either one line at a time, or a full verse each, the Hoedown is a quick AABB rhyming verse that usually follows a set tune. You can download our backing track of the Hoedown here.
This is a commitment exercise as much as anything else. There can be no backing off and mumbling your way through. There is no compulsion at all to get it right, hit all your rhymes or stay in tune, but you must stand tall and give it everything you have. Watch the 'experts' either blag it or nail it here.
Sometimes called the 'Irish Drinking Song' although with my own Irish heritage I prefer just Drinking Song, this is another one line at a time comedy classic. Again, the bar has been set by the 'Whose Line' crew and here is another great example of how commitment and good humour can win when everything else has failed.
The Drinking song, like the Hoedown is a great exercise as it puts us right in the present moment. With no time to set ourselves up with a rhyme or think of a clever gag, this is true improvisation. All you can really do is...well...open your mouth and sing. For me, this form of improv where the performer is truly at the edge of the unknown and diving in with abandon is some of the funniest and most satisfying to watch.
Of course, there is also space for the people who really can write a whole verse in their heads and then deliver it perfectly which is also amazing to witness.
You can read a fuller description of the game on our Musical Improv Games - Drinking Song page.
Madrigal - or Headlines in Harmony
Another crowd pleaser and a great way to use audience suggestions for some comedy. The fun comes from the players taking headlines, phrases or other suggestions and then singing them, back in a faux serious Medieval choir parody. The second and third time around the lines get mashed up with each other and the skilled performer can rearrange them into some priceless combinations. It's simple yet very effective. You can read a fuller description on our Musical Improv Games - Madrigal page
Performance Song Formats
Alongside the short form Musical Improv Games are the more substantial performance pieces. These can be used to open or close a set, as an encore or to fill a slot in a comedy night.
The Blues is a well known musical genre and has been brilliantly adapted for Musical Improv. Again a great way to use audience suggestions, you can ask for something that is bothering someone. A niggle is usually better than a full blown crisis! Then the performers can really go for some vocal acrobatics as they sing the Blues about the subject. This can be performed as an AAB structure - essentially a rhyming couplet and then the name of the blues, or AABB, or a more freeform bluesy rant. You can download our blues backing track here or read more about it on our Musical Improv Games - Blues page.
A staple at the start of many of our Maydays shows, the ballad is a lovely gift for a couple in the audience. This is one of the few times in improv where we try not to invent any new information, rather use all of the story told to us from the audience member about how they met their, hopefully current, partner. Then their story is sung back to them in over the top musical theatre style. There is no more reliable win than rhyming a name in a song, and if you can get a more obscure reference or hard to say place name from the story in somewhere you are really winning. You can read more about the ballad on our Musical Improv Games - Ballad page
We often sing a charity song in our classes as a way of getting a large group involved in singing the same song. Each singer may only have a rhyming couplet, but throw in the pretentious spoken introduction, a rap section and some Mariah Carey vocal acrobatics at the end and you have a sure fire hit on your hands. Recent favourite charities have been 'More pockets for women' and 'Netflix (Nutflix) for squirrels'. You can read a fuller description on our Musical Improv Games - Charity Song page.
Make your own Musical Improv Performance Game
Most of these performance pieces came from a random idea in a rehearsal room somewhere and then grew to be the institutions that they are now. We have always tried to push the boundaries of what we can improvise on stage, sometimes to great effect and sometimes...well. If anyone was actually there for The Mayday's heavy rock unwanted Christmas present song that closed our show with us knocking over chairs and storming off stage then they can tell you that not all ideas are good ones.
You can see our curated list of Singing games and Musical Improv games on our Musical Improv Games page.
Heather Urquhart and Joe Samuel have over 15 years experience performing, teaching and writing about Musical Improv. Based in the UK they have facilitated workshops and graced stages around the world.