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When is it Improvising and when is it Noodling?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by GBarnstable, Nov 5, 2018.

  1. GBarnstable


    Apr 12, 2015
    A recent post has me wondering if there is a difference between improvising and just noodling. In my opinion I find improvising to be interesting and engaging while I find noodling to less engaging and ultimately tiresome. Still I have trouble listing the qualities that define one from the other. So how do the members of TalkBass determine the difference between improvising and noodling? Specific examples would be appreciated.
    rollie 55 likes this.
  2. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    I suspect it's not a binary, black&white transition; there's a lot of gray area in between. I also suspect that the transition occurs at a different place along that spectrum for each individual.

    I also know confidently and definitively that where that transition occurs for the player is different than where that transition occurs for the listener. :)

    But for me personally: If my higher brain functions are engaged -- if I'm actively listening, actively responding, actively forecasting/planning, actively trying to shape or direct the sounds coming out of my instrument so that it not only fits the music of the moment but also relates to the music that came before and that will come after...I'm improvising.

    If I'm not doing any of that stuff, if I'm just moving my fingers around subconsciously, I'm noodling.
  3. Oddly

    Oddly Unofficial TalkBass Cartographer! Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    It's improvising if I'm doing it.
    It's noodling if it's some other damn fool...
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    To me, improvising:

    1. Is not totally free form. You are improvising FROM something.
    2. Has a goal.
  5. madmaskbass


    Apr 29, 2008
    I think Improv has more structure, Progression, etc. Noodling is just whatever...no form.
  6. eJake


    May 22, 2011
    New Orleans
    Time and place.... Sitting at the house working out on some scales: improvising. Doing the same for 45m before your band starts: noodling.

    Purpose.... Expanding your ears in a particular key: improvising. Randomly playing while youre watching football: noodling.
  7. To me, noodling has negative connotation. Most notably, the notes played on stage between songs. (Unprofessional and annoying.) Ive also heard people refer to noodling in the woodshed. While its possible to have some progress made, seems like an unfocused and almost detached mode of practicing.

    Improvising on the other hand, implies direction and intention. On stage in a performance of course, but also practice improvization has a purpose to outline a chord progression, melody or rhythm motif; in order to progress musically.
  8. AboutSweetSue


    Sep 29, 2018
    Lebanon, TN
    Noodling is practicing so that you can improv later.
  9. saabfender

    saabfender Banned

    Jan 10, 2018
    For me, noodling is that annoying noise that people make between songs during rehearsal or, God forbid, during a performance. I might noodle sitting on the couch with a bass on my lap.

    I’d rather not be seen noodling in public.
  10. I was thinking something similar. If doing it while the band is rehearsing a song, it’s improvising. If doing it while the band is talking about the last/next song to rehearse, it’s noodling.
    alanloomis1980 and LowActionHero like this.
  11. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    If you're watching your fingers move around, with no idea what it will sound like until the notes are played, you are nodding. If you are hearing it in your head first and making conscious note choices, you are improvising. But as @Bob_Ross said first, there is some gray area. If you have to ask, you're noodling.
    bass183, hufe, chadds and 6 others like this.
  12. zontar


    Feb 19, 2014
    There is certainly an overlap--but --yes, purpose is probably the main distinction
    Rumbledore and cosmicevan like this.
  13. improv should have a theme, and should eventually resolve into something.

    Noodling is just a bunch of notes without any thought about where it might lead.
    bass183, red_rhino and lfmn16 like this.
  14. I think you already called it - if it's interesting, it's improvising. If it's boring and/or annoying, it's noodling.

    Or maybe improvising is with the band and noodling is by yourself ?

    Reminds me of when my dad told me the difference between a violin and a fiddle is how well you can play it.
    jamro217 likes this.
  15. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly. Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    Improvisation is goal-oriented. Noodling is not. Improvisation is how you tell a story to others; noodling is a lullaby you sing to yourself.
    cosmicevan and alanloomis1980 like this.
  16. To me improvising involves a chord progression, at least one other musician, and the actual improvising is what happens within that structure. If the musicians are very good there can be a change in the chord progression if it is called or clearly implied.

    Noodling is done by yourself without any structure or direction and rarely involves any concentration or awareness of what you are playing or where you are going.
    alanloomis1980 likes this.
  17. If it’s deliberate, it’s improv. If it’s random, it’s noodling. If it’s done within the framework of a song, as in a solo, it’s improv. If it’s between songs, it’s noodling.
    alanloomis1980 likes this.
  18. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    When you are by yourself, there is literally no difference. Either is fine.

    If you are playing with a band and have NO audience, you are improvising as long as you are playing off of your band and they are feeding off of whatever you are doing. When they get to the point that they're bored and waiting for you to be done, you're noodling.

    If you DO have an audience, THEY are the judges. THEY determine when you are improvising or noodling. Every second you have them captivated you are improvising. Once you lose THEM, you're noodling.
    kesslari, Wanker_Joe and knight of ni like this.
  19. JohnnyBottom

    JohnnyBottom Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    New Jersey
    ManagAUno = noodling
  20. ^this!!!!
    Oddly likes this.

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