by Stefan Keller

Improvisation breaks through all language barriers and enables us to have a dialogue about our instrument, solo, in a duo, in a trio, etc.. This does not require any previous knowledge, only the willingness to enter new territory. I am talking about free improvisation with no rules. However, a few agreements help to prevent the whole thing from simply ending in chaos.

Improvisation is a wonderful way for us musicians, and especially for flutists, to express yourself solo, to communicate with others, to “talk”, to get into contact, to get to know each other musically. I mention flutists in particular, because we have been allowed to make soo many new sound discoveries (modern playing techniques) in the last decades, that it is a huge pleasure to “play” with them. A few agreements help us, not to get lost in the thicket of notes, rhythms, trained licks, etc., but to approach the others with open ears.

Everyone can join in

It is important that improvisation is not only reserved for professionals, also for beginners, advanced players and aficionados. First attempts at improvisation should not be burdened with “right and wrong”. This leads to a more open and relaxed attitude towards playing the instrument. In doing so, one discovers some exciting things, which are rather frowned upon in the purely classical sense, but which are tremendous fun!


It is a great help if we make simple agreements with others to get started with this topic, so that it does not end in chaos. Basically, less is always more. So a few notes, small motifs, simple licks, one riff, one gesture, one loop, etc. The individual concepts must be briefly introduced and tried out. This should always be done in a playful and non-judgmental way.

Tuning in with an excursion

Tuning in in the classical sense with the “a” I still find right and good and very helpful. We extend the tuning to many other notes, so that we have already checked out a whole palette together and heard and matched them. Then comes the “outing”: a note is intoned, (duo/trio/etc.) and someone plays a short arabesque around it, two, three, notes. Immediately there is a sense of togetherness, and everyone is attentively engaged. Great!

Conducting & Cluster

One special form of tuning is called “conducting” or “clustering”. This is attached directly to the tuning in and the outing. The Conductor no longer tells you what note to play, but everyone plays some note. The Conducter shows with the flute only beginning and end, dynamics, tempo, with which this should be played. These clusters sound wonderful after careful tuning and can be spontaneously combined in many variations (long/short/medium/chains of notes/up/down/etc.) into an instant piece. The role of the conductor changes, and everyone gets to “set the tone” at times. An exciting, effective and very entertaining form of improvisation.

Ping – Pong

Ping – Pong is a simple improvisation form, which lets two play together. One plays a short phrase, the other reacts. In a larger group, Ping – Pong can be extended to a chain reaction. Instead of ping – pong, the motif is played further. At first rather leisurely, then increase tempo, change direction, everything is possible.

Groove & Loop & Solo

Quite exciting. Everyone plays a small riff (two – three notes with rhythm). Building up one after the other, complementing, overlapping, consistently, over a longer period of time. This creates a continuous structure. The players must not give in, that is, remain stubbornly and exactly on his riff. When a multi-layered loop, consisting of the various riffs runs round, someone plays an improvised solo to it. The individual riffs can also be varied slightly over time, and the structure changes continuously. Try it out, keep the simple riffs, listen carefully, integrate, stay with it for a long time, enjoy the self-made acoustic loop!


Another exciting form of improvisation is to work exclusively with “a kind of noise”. We as flutists have a lot of great possibilities: Whistle; Whispersounds; Airsounds; Voice; Tonguestop; Slap; etc. With these, we weave a tapestry of sound, and again, there is the possibility of one or more solos to go with it.


I would like to encourage everyone to improvise, try it out for yourself first, then with pupils at all levels, students, colleagues, with other instruments together, in duo – trio – and many more. We experience a new freedom with our instrument, discover new things, always play “correctly”, learn to listen differently, detach ourselves from the musical text, communicate on a new level, feel freer and allow ourselves more freedom when playing written music.

Lets do it!


Dear readers, how do you have it with improvisation? 

Is it new to you, or usual, or already tried, or? 

Thanks for your personal feedback. – –

Stefan Keller | | |

Stefan Keller is an active flutist who plays a wide range of musical styles and instruments. This is reflected in his diverse projects and invitations to international flute festivals as a specialist for low flutes, improvisation and loops. His own compositions and practice books for flute complete his activities. He organizes since over 20 years the flute event  FLAUTANDO in Boswil, Switzerland. 

The classically trained flutist explores sound worlds with his flutes, known as FLUTE TRENDS by Stefan Keller.

As a musician and composer, as well as sound designer and „sound – image – designer“ of baroque – classical – avant – garde – jazz and improvised music, Keller has found his own language. He has been honored several times by the Aargauer Kuratorium for his innovative artistic work and attended further education at the „Cité Internationale des Arts“ in Paris and at the Aargauer Atelier in Berlin. His unique musical projects such as „under water“, „Sound – Castle – Hallwyl“, „Concert in the factory hall“, „carpentry“ as well as the collaboration with visual artists have made him known in Europe and Japan.

Keller plays Alto and Bass flute, Contrabass flute as well as Subcontrabass flute, Gemshoerner, Kalimba and various Bamboo flutes, acoustic and with electronics.

As a musician and composer, Keller moves in the area of ​​baroque – classical – avant-garde – jazz and improvised music.

As an looper, he has been working with the latest live sampling techniques for 25 years. He uses a specially developed surround – loop software, which offers unbelievable sound possibilities.