Funk Improvisation Based On A Rhythm

Before starting this lesson I advise you read our Introduction To Improvisation lesson first. You will also need a copy of This Free MP3 that is used as a backing track for this lesson (this file was updated 05/03/2017). We have similar lessons for the Jazz and Reggae genres also.

In this improvisation exercise you will be presented with a four bar pattern similar to that given in our improvisation introduction and I will be discussing how to approach creating a part for it. Here is the notation for this exercise:

The sheet music for the exercise

So you can see the tempo is 115bpm, it is played in a funk style, it's a four bar pattern and it is based on a rhythm. You can also see that bars 2 and 3 are to be the same or similar to bar 1 and that in bar 4 there is a fill. First of all let's make sure you can play the given rhythm. You will be playing on the '1', the '+' after 2 and the '+' after 4. If you are unsure of how this sounds listen to the MP3 linked above, the rhythm the guitar and bass are playing is the given rhythm. Play the rhythm along with a metronome a few times to get a feel for it.

Once you have the rhythm you should think about what structure you are going to use for the piece. For grades 1 and 2 improvisation I strongly recommend always following an 'A B A C' structure. By doing this you have a 'set' structure for any four bar improvisation that you just need to fill in the parts for. In the case of this structure, 'A' refers to a bar of groove, 'B' is a variation on that groove and 'C' is a fill. There are several examples of how to apply parts to this on the lesson linked above. You don't have to follow this structure, I recommend it because it gives you more options for showing off your abilities whilst sticking with the given style.

Now you know what structure you are following you need a groove for the 'A' part. The groove will be played in bars 1 to 3 so is the bulk of the piece. In this case we will use the same approach taken in our Introduction To Grooves lesson, where you were given a rhythm and then turned that rhythm into a groove. An important thing to take into account at this point is the genre the piece is to be played in. You should include traits of the genre within your groove to make it more appropriate to the back track. A key feature of most funk grooves is a strong 'back beat', which is when beats 2 and 4 are prominent in the groove with lots of 'offbeat' decoration around that. The easiest way to achieve this is to place snares on beats 2 and 4, as you have with most grooves so far, then either accent some '+' counts on the right hand or place bass drums mostly on '+' counts. More detail on individual genres will be given in separate lessons. Funk groove construction has also been discussed in our Funk Improvisation Based On A Groove lesson.

Next decide what you'd like the right hand to do. Crotchets or quavers? Which part of the kit will it play? For this example lets keep it simple and say quavers on a closed hi hat. Finally you just need some bass drums and this is where the given rhythm comes in. Basically, just play bass drums as the rhythm shown in bar 1 whilst the snares are playing a back beat and the right hand is playing eighth notes. That sounds far more complicated than it is. The bars below show the right hand part on the left and on the right is a version of the full groove following the given construction idea that you could play for this bar.

An example groove for this exercise

The prominent use of bass drums on the '+' count in this example makes the groove fit the funk style but there are other things you could do to make this fit better. For example you could Accent All '+' Counts on the right hand, or add in some Offbeat 8th Open Hi Hats. Moving A Snare An Eighth Note is also a great way to get a funk feel. Have a play around with combining some of these ideas and find something you like for your 'A' section.

That's the 'A' sorted out, which is bars 1 and 3. Next let's get the 'B' section. This is just going to be a subtle variation on the groove used as 'A' and there are a lot of things you could do for this. In the Groove Based lesson for a funk improvisation some ideas were listed, I will include that here also for reference:

  • Add accented notes on specific '+' counts.
  • Add accented notes on all '+' counts.
  • Open the hi hat on one or more '+' counts.
  • Add a crash and bass drum on one or more '+' counts.

Below I have a shown one written example of each of those ideas.

Four options for the 'B' section

Remember that it is also well worth listening to the backing track and picking out any interesting rhythms presented there and applying them to your variation.

Finally we need a 'C' section, which will be the bar marked 'fill' in the sheet music. Again, listen to the backing track and listen for anything in the fourth bar you can take and apply to your improvisation as this is how you will get the best marks. Funk is all about quirky offbeat rhythms so when playing in this style try to play on this as much as possible. As I've said in many improvisation lessons now, always go with an option that you know you can play well. A simple idea played really well is always far better than a great idea played badly. Below are four possible options for a 'C' section.

Four options for the 'C' section

So there are your four parts. You hopefully now have a good idea of how to take a rhythm, turn it into a funk groove, create a variation on that rocfunkk groove then create a fill to complete a four bar phrase. To end on here are two examples of possible combinations that would fit this improvisation exercise.

Full Phrase 1

A full four bar phrase for this improvisation

Full Phrase 2

A full four bar phrase for this improvisation


  1. Create your own part for the improvisation exercise presented at the start of this lesson.
  2. Play your part to the backing track and see if you think it fits well.
  3. Think about different ways you could approach this exercise.


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