Improvisation resources

Start learning improvisation here

Below you can find a list of resources that might be helpful for your journey through the lands of historical improvisation. Books and sources have been listed in order of first publication date. Other items are ordered randomly.

We invite you to communicate to us further items still missing on the list, or any other comments. Have fun!

Learn online

Learn to improvise on the ‘passacaglia’ with our blog (The Scroll Ensemble)
Learn to improvise canons with our video series (first videos online, to be finished this summer) (The Scroll Ensemble)
Peter Schubert teaches the improvisation of canons on youtube (2 and 3 part)
William Porter course on improvisation on youtube (5 videos)
Lecture by Robert Levin on improvising Mozart (Cambridge 2012)
Video by Karel van Steenhoven on the production of a recorder solo alla bastarda from a polyphonic piece (19 september 2016)


Partimento collection online by Robert Gjerdingen
A collection of quotations about improvisation from historical sources
Lausanne Improvisation Festival
Links to diminution and ornamentation manuals on
Free Play is a website by Stephen Nachmanovitch with a plethora of links about improvising, inspiration and creativity


Historical Sources

Improvisation Stories – Historical commentary on improvisers
Silvestro Ganassi – Fontegara  (Venice, 1535) [different options of elaborating a given interval]
Diego Ortiz – Tratados de Glosas (1553) [How to improvise on the passemezzo, improvise a 5th part to a 4-part vocal contrapuntal piece and how to learn diminutions]
Tomás Santamaría – Arte de Tañer Fantasia (1565) [improvisation of fantasias on keyboard instruments]
Girolamo dalla Casa – Il vero modo di diminuir (Venice, 1584) [manual with diminution per interval, cadence formulas and examples of applications to vocal polyphony]
Giovanni Bassano – Ricercare,.. (Venice, 1585) [different options of elaborating a given interval, including some ricercares to practice your diminutions]
Giovanni Bassano – Motetti, madrigali, et (Venice, 1591) [examples of diminuted vocal pieces]
Ricardo Rognoni – Il vero modo (1594) [manual with a preface about diminutions and examples of diminutions in vocal music]
Giovanni Luca Conforti – Breve et facile maniera (Rome, ?) [diminution and cadence examples]
Aurelio Virgiliano – Il Dolcimelo (ca 1600) [diminution manual]
Giovanni Battista Bovicelli – Regole, passaggi di musica (Venice, 1596) [vocal ornamentation, diminutions and examples of application to madrigal, magnificat, motet and chanson]

Francesco Rognoni – Selva di varii passagi (1620) [a manual with a great amount of diminution examples and how to apply them]
Christopher Simpson – The Division Violist (1659) [a manual for gamba showing how to improvise on grounds]
Spiridion a Monte Carmelo – Nova instructio (1670-72) [a keyboard manual for improvisation]
Friedrich Erhard Niedt – Musicalische Handleitung (1717) [manual teaching variation and elaboration techniques]
Jacques Hotteterre – L’Art de Préluder (1719) [Manual teaching how to learn melodic prelude improvisation, modulations and use of a canvas (grid)]
Georg Philip Telemann – Methodische Sonaten (1728) [Telemann shows how to embellish with taste]
Andre Gretry – Methode Simple pour apprendre a préluder en peu de temps avec toutes les ressources de l’Harmonie (1802)
Carl Czerny – Systematische Anleitung (1829) [improvisation manual from the 19th century, incl. how to improvise preludes, fantasias and theme and variation]
Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner – Traité d’harmonie du pianiste (1849) [improvisation for pianists in the 19th century in German or French]



Teaching and learning the art of counterpoint on the keyboard by Guido
From Treatise to Classroom: Teaching Fifteenth-Century Improvised Counterpoint by Niels Berentsen
More by Niels on his website.

Improvisation dans le style nord-allemand by William Porter (in French)

Counterpoint and improvisation in Italian Sources by Edoardo Bellotti

Improvisation in Vocal Contrapuntal Pedagogy by Valerio Morucci

Techniques of keyboard improvisation in the German Baroque and… by Michael Callahan

Improvisation in Sixteenth-Century Italy: Lessons from Rhetoric and Jazz by John Bass



Die Improvisation (German) (1938/2005) by Ernest T. Ferand

Die Kunst der Improvisation by Gerhard F. Wehle (1953, Sikorski Hamburg) [2 volumes in German about counterpoint, modulation, motivic development, etc.]

Continuo playing according to Handel (1990) [a set of exercises to learn to play continuo and to learn fugue improvisation]

Langloz manuscript: fugal improvisation through figured bass by William Renwick (OUP 2001)

50 renaissance and baroque standards by Pascale Boquet and Gérard Rebours (2008) [collection of harmonies to improvise on and an interesting forword with ideas to approach early music improvisation). Link to extras.

The Art of Partimento by Giorgo Sanguinetti (OUP 2012) [how students of music in Napels learned composition through improvisation on bass patterns]

Chanter sur le livre by Barnabé Janin (2012) [Practical guide for renaissance vocal contrapuntal improvisation]

Vrij Spel by Robijn Tilanus (2013) (Dutch) [Practical guide with general principles for improvisation like learning timing, building confidence, developing style and innovating]

Upon a Ground by Martin Erhardt (2013) [Everything you need to know about starting to improvise, including CD!]

Topical Youtube Playlists


‘Historical’ improvisation competitions