Have you ever seen Wayne Brady work his musical magical on Whose Line Is It Anyway? If so, then you have witnessed some improv magic of the musical variety. Brady and co-stars Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie amazed TV fans on that show from 1998 until 2006. During those years, America witnessed a master-class of improvisation. And perhaps the shining achievement of the cast was their uncanny ability to generate hilarious songs from off the top of their heads.
So, how hard is it to improvise a silly tune? It's not easy, but with a lot of practice, you can hone your musical improv skills. Here are a few variations of singing improv games to get you on your way:
If your drama group is new to the concept of improvisation musicals, Emotion Orchestra is a great place to begin because no one needs to worry about coming up with lyrics off the top of their head. In fact, no one needs to say any words at all. This activity is ideal for groups of 8 - 20 performers. Age does not matter too much; however, younger performers really need to pay attention for the drama exercise to be effective.
Here's how it works: One person (perhaps the drama instructor or group leader) serves as the "orchestra conductor." The rest of the performers should sit or stand in rows, as though they were musicians in an orchestra. However, instead of having a string section or a brass section, the conductor will create "emotion sections."
- Two performers are the "Sadness Section"
- Three performers comprise the "Joy Section"
- Two more make up the "Fear Section"
- One person can be the "Guilt Section"
- And the list could go on!
Each time the conductor points or gestures to a particular section, the performers will make emotional noises. Read the complete rules for the Emotion Orchestra activity.
Do enjoy lounge lizard acts? Or perhaps the classy stylings of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet? The Lounge Singer Improv needs only one performer. It's often used to launch an improv set. The audience provides an "ask for" suggestion, and then the Lounge Singer character begins to croon, rhyming to the best of his or her ability. (Advice: Do your research. What Youtube videos of the Rat Pack in their glory days, and you'll be a swinging cat in no time!)
The advantage of the Lounge Singer solo improv is that the cheesier the lyrics and mannerisms, the more enjoyable it is for the audience. The performer doesn't necessarily need to be a good singer, They just need to have the style down pat!
Irish Drinking Song:
One of the crowd favorites in Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the Irish Drinking Song improv works best with four performers. A suggestion is taken from the audience, such as: an embarassing moment, an occupation, an event worth celebrating. The four performers begin the rousing drinking song, usually pantomiming a pint of beer in each hand. Everyone croons the opening melody: "Oh! Heidi die dee, die dee, die dee die-dee die-dee die!" (Or something along those lines -- anything Irish sounding will do.) Then, each person sings one line. Together, the four lines create an ABCB rhyming pattern. That basically means that the fourth person to sing is the one who must come up with the humorous concluding rhyme. Here's an example from Whose Line Is It Anyway? (The studio audience suggestion was "first kiss.")
ALL: Oh! Heidi die dee, die dee, die dee die-dee die-dee die!
Singer #1: When I went to the movies...
Singer #2: I saw this chick...
Singer #3: And I had a chance...
Singer #4: I gave her a little lick.
Singer #1: I kissed her for an hour...
Singer #2: Before I did see...
Singer #3: We both had some fun...
Singer #4: I was kissing me!
Then, after a refrain of the "Heidi die dees," the song continues, this time with Singer #2 beginning the song; that way the burden of the rhyme shifts to a different performer with each cycle of the song. As you can see from the above lines, silliness plays big in this game. The lyrics don't need to be profound. They just need to be fun.
This game works best with four performers and one or more musicians -- preferably a keyboardist. Two people play the role of infomercial hosts. Two other performers will be the singers. The hosts of the "Greatest Hits" commercial begin the scene by telling their television audience about a new greatest hits album. (Note: The topic of the album can be suggested from the audience. For example: "Can I get a favorite hobby?" or "What is at the top of your bucket list?" or "I need an interesting occupation.")
The hosts talk up the topic ("We've got 18 songs, all of them about exploring tropical jungles!"). Then, they mention a genre of music or a specific band ("Country Music" or "The Beach Boys"). They can also come up with the fictional title of the song. Now comes the fun part.
The musicians and two singers take the information provided by the hosts and make up an impromptu song. The song should be short, funny, genre-specific, and focused on the audience's suggested topic. Once their little ditty is concluded, the hosts take control again, generating another genre/song title. Do this cycle at least three times, making each prompt more challenging than the last.