Improv Game of the Day: Mary, Mary, Quite Varied

Mary Had a Little Lamb (Paul McCartney song)

I’m back from two weeks at the Kendall Betts Horn Camp in the wilds of New Hampshire. I   had a terrific time with great people, best ever. Horn camp is horn from early to late every day; while most of the time were concerned with regular horn activities and topics, I was also able to work in some improv into the schedule. I will be recounting some of what we did in this space.

One improv game that worked well and was a lot of fun even with novice improvisers was as follows:

All players play Mary Had a Little Lamb in unison in C major. The second time through, do something to the melody. Ornament. Add notes. Subtract notes. Jazz up the rhythms. Outline chords. Play a countermelody or even a new melody that fits the chord (there are only two). Or just play the melody again – your choice. Without breaking the pulse, immediately go on to play it again in another key (our sequence of keys was C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G). Go on (without a break) to repeat it all in minor.

That’s it. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s fun, it allows for individual choices and variation, and it all fits together as a group.


•Add more times through for each key

•Different tempos – faster, slower

•Different registers. Start in your most comfortable register, repeat higher and lower.

•Change the tune. Try it with Twinkle, Twinkle next (say). With time you can handle ever-more complex and longer tunes.

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