Fun Improvisational Ideas for Pianists at Any Level
Improvisation is the technique of making up music on the spot. Most music students think improvisation is only for more advanced students and professional players, but everyone has the ability to create music spontaneously. I’ve seen many beginning piano students come alive with a little structure and guidance using some of the simple ideas below. I have also observed students who blossom more from improvisational learning than with the music reading and lesson books. At any rate, I think it is important to have a balance between musical exploration and fundamental keyboard skills to become a well rounded, and hopefully, life long music maker.
The Beauty of One Note
This is a very simple exercise. Start by playing one note with the pointer finger of either hand. Hold the note down and listen until it fades away. Then, choose another key to play. Continue to freely play notes one at a time, slowing down or speeding up at will. Remember, there are no wrong notes!
Create Some Clusters
Beginning keyboard players learn how to play with both hands by forming a five-finger position, like C Major for example. This exercise uses both hands on the piano. Place your hands on the keyboard and play all ten fingers at the same time wherever they fall on the keyboard. You do not have to play keys that are next to each other, just play all ten fingers and create clusters of tones all around the keyboard. You can also play one finger at a time going from lower to higher pitch or vice versa. Feel free to make music that sounds great sometimes and maybe has more dissonance other times. You may accidentally play something that you love and eventually work that into your own composition.
Create a Black or White Key Song
I often start my first lesson with a beginning student with a black key, four-hand improvisation. This simply means that we both jam on the black keys at the same time. It’s one of my favorite exercises. The black keys create a pentatonic scale. Even if you don’t know what it means, just know that everything you play will sound great. In a duet, I play chords in the low end and the student will play a melody that fits with my rhythm and pattern. At home, the student can experiment on their own, creating chords or melody or try to do both. The beauty is, no wrong notes!
The same exercise is great with the white keys too. The white keys represent the first key we all learn on the piano, C Major. Although a little more complex than the pentatonic scale, (7 notes versus 5 notes) you will soon learn what notes sound great together by using your ear and your imagination, without worrying about mistakes.
Explore Tones with the Sustain Pedal
Try any of the above ideas with the Sustain Pedal. The sustain pedal creates a beautiful echo when notes are played and offers the opportunity for students to enjoy this wonderful sound. Start with the Beauty of One Note exercise and listen to each note as it fades away. Create Some Clusters to hear how the notes clash or create a pleasing sound as you let your hands fall spontaneously with a big echo. Applying the sustain pedal to your Black or White key improvisations is fun too. Create space between your notes or chords and enjoy the resting as much as the action of playing.