Improvisation has its own specific conditions and characteristics:
improvising, coordinating music and words, singing in front of an audience,
etc. During improvisation, bertsularis use the techniques of rhetoric
characterised in this case by the rapidity of their use.
Bertsularis also use poetic techniques with the particularity that they
must compose verses from the end to the start: the final line of the verse
is the basis for the rest of the verse.
The way a verse is created depends a lot on the context in which the
improviser is performing (presence or not of a master of ceremonies).
To put it simply, let us take the example of a competition during which a
master of ceremonies imposes the following subject on a bertsulari: ‘‘Who is
the bell tolling for?’’ and the rhythm for improvisation: ‘‘Zortziko
The bertsulari must in just a few seconds:
the melody which will be adapted to the rhythm imposed
words which rhyme
Decide on the content of the verse
details visit the site of our
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You will be accompanied throughout this site by improvisers. During your
visit: click on their photos to discover what they have to say.
"It was the first time I’d ever heard improvisers, but they were not how
I’d imagined them and not as good as the writers whose songs I’d learnt.
I was surprised. There’s no doubt about it, I didn’t see them as
improvisers. In other words, what they said would never be repeated. They
were having a tremendous time doing as best they could, and when I thought
about myself, I thought that I could also do as well as them!
Once they had stopped, and almost against my own will, I sang them a
verse from the window. They all looked at me and, like dogs, came at me.
They didn’t want a snotty-nosed boy to join them.
I fled into the mountains with Lorentzo as if I’d done something
That was my first improvised verse. I was sixteen years old".
"When you’re given a subject, you immediately have to put yourself in
someone else’s position, or think how you’d react yourself to a specific
situation, and theoretically you start by imagining the end, because it’s
the conclusion which is behind improvisation.
If the end isn’t good, the audience will think the improvisation is bad;
if it’s good, the audience will think that the verses are good. Even if the
development influences the quality of the improvisation, the conclusion
accounts for 90%.
It’s what gives you the ending and the rhyme. For example in:
‘‘Hendaiara etorri gira gezur batzu erratera… ‘’ (‘‘We’ve come to
Hendaye to tell a few lies’’), you need to find words ending in tera,
or atera, or even era. And according to these words, you structure your
improvisation point by point.
Very often once you have the ending, you begin to sing without even
thinking, or if you have a little time, you take advantage in order to
polish up your verses.
It’s not easy to analyse this process"
"When you improvise, you start by thinking about the final point, the
conclusion. It’s no more than rhetoric: whatever you speak about you always
try to put the main idea at the end.
Also, what’s important is the development which leads to the main idea.
Improvisation is sung, measured and rhymes. With practice, you anticipate
the final argument. And it’s the last word of this argument which gives you
After a lot of practice, you remember a list of steps and words which
have the same endings. With this list, you begin to compose your points. But
you can’t wait for two minutes before starting to sing, so you begin,
knowing that the other points will come as you go along.
When there are two of you, you must make your last idea answer the
previous improvisation, because improvisation is a debate"
"When you’re on the stage and you hear the subject, you must first of all
ask yourself what you want to say to that audience on the subject. It only
takes twenty seconds: thinking about what you want to say and organising
your ideas according to what you want to say before singing.
The listener hears the improvisation backwards, it looks like you’ve
thought it out in the order you sing it, and that’s the trick. You control
the situation: you know where you’re going, but the listener doesn’t. That’s
one of the charms of improvisation. And the end is important.
Improvisation is a concentrated speech, whose impact is in its
conclusion. Improvisation must be efficient. Until now efficiency was
associated with a good argument, a strong image or a solid comparison. But
there are other simpler ways.
I may not be a great explorer of these ways because to explore new ways
you must first of all know the old ones well and have a good level. But I
think there are improvisers capable of innovating. That’s the case of
Maddalen Lujanbio, Iturriaga and Maia.
Currently, the level of improvisation is so good that the way is open to
creation. I think that’s the direction we need to go in"
"Once I’ve been given the subject, I think of the idea I’m going to place
at the end of my improvisation because the audience always remembers the
I then have to work backwards, preparing the last point, the one that
carries the idea, and develop the explanation of this final point in the
points which precede it. Melody isn’t a problem because we choose it amongst
ourselves and we use melodies we know. New melodies can be created and we
I have more difficulties than the others because I don’t have a musical
ear, but nevertheless I manage to learn them. For me, the most difficult
part is finding the idea. But now we have a certain amount of experience, we
always end up finding something.
Our teacher gives us techniques to improve our verse and our voice, mine
is a little clumsy …
At the moment, at the beginning of each lesson we spend ten minutes
studying old improvisations. We read and sing them. That’s how we learn"