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  • Writer's pictureBurdett Rice

Unlock Your Inner Creative with Piano Improvisation

What is Piano Improvisation for Beginners

Piano improvisation is a creative process of playing a piece of music without a set score or written arrangement. It involves using chords and scales to create spontaneous melodies and harmonies as you play. Many people find piano improvisation for beginners daunting because traditional lessons focus on reading transcribed music, essentially having the work of composing done for them. However, when they have to improvise, the student is being forced to compose music on the fly.

Benefits of Improvisation

Improvisation is a great way to add spontaneity and creativity to your playing. It can help take you from a beginner to becoming a more well-rounded and confident musician. Improvising also allows you to explore and express yourself in a new way. Every musician should learn a few of the steps to improvise, because of how it teaches a person to trust themselves. Part of improvisation is being able to play what it you hear in your head. This, essentially, builds trust of yourself, which could be emotionally therapeutic for a person.

So, let's get started on what steps will help you improvise.

1. Understand Chords and Scales.

Typically, the first steps of improvising is for you to understand chords and scales. This doesn't mean that you have to memorize every scale and every chord before you ever take one step in improvising. However, knowing how to build chords and play scales with one hand in different keys will give you a strong foundation for improvisation. For instance, you must you understand that a C Triad Chord (a three-note chord) are the notes C-E-G. Once you understand that, you can play these three notes in a highly rhythmic fashion where there is empty space. Voilà! Now you're improvising. To have the smallest pieces of information about your music, can actually open the door to massive gains in improvising. So, first start with simple one hand chords, and learn what notes make those chords. Then begin to play rhythmic flourishes using the one or two triad chords you've learned. This is called chord tone improvisation. It definitely is not where you want to end up, but it can help you get past the improvising jitters.

2. Learn Listening and Response

Have you ever heard the saying usually attributed to Pablo Picasso, "Good artists borrow, Great artists steal"? There's a lot of truth to this. But there's actually a scientific concept called "Audiation". This is the concept of "hearing" music that isn't actually playing. This skill is developed through first being exposed to music. So much music, that your brain begins to piece together and recreate its own version of the music inside the head of the individual. The key to this is that a student must be exposed to a lot of music to begin to do this.

Some beginners develop this skill earlier than others. It's usually the skill that's being used when someone says that a person has a "good ear". That person is able to hear music, retain it mentally. Then recall it repeatedly in their head to match it to what they're playing on their instruments. In order to develop this skill, the student should isolate one note or a small melody, then hum the melody repeatedly. While humming, try to find the notes on their instrument. This is actually a game that many piano teachers will play with younger students to help them develop their "ear" or their Audiation skill. You first begin with this call and repeat. Then, you can progress to a "call and response". Which means you hear the melodic question, and respond with your own melody. A melodic question is a phrase that typically ends on the 5th scale degree. The melodic answer is a melodic phrase that ends on the 1st scale degree.

3. Practice Ideas for Improvising.

You'll need to try different techniques to see which one really speaks to you and helps you grow in your improvisation. Most beginner students start improvisation with the Blues Form and Blues scale. The blues scale is an established set of notes. Using the blues Form gives a student a repeating left hand bass pattern. This combination of the two allows for a lot of freedom, with quick results at piano improvisation for beginners. Here are a few things you can try today.

I. Blues Scale.

The blues scale is a special scale that's very close to the minor pentatonic. The blues scale degrees are as follows: 1 - b3 - 4 - b5 - 5 - b7

You can play these notes with your right hand in any order when improvising. The blues scale has a mixture of 2nds, and 3rds, which makes it interesting and melodically pleasing. Try not to play them too fast.

II. Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

When people don't sound like the professional jazz player they're listening to on Spotify, they get upset. It's understandable because they do sound REALLY COOL. But hey, they've been playing for years, probably decades at that point. You've gotta give yourself time to get there. Start with limited notes over steady or even stationary chord progressions. Utilize smaller intervals like 2nds and 3rds when improvising and your riffs will grow.

III. Remember to copy what you hear.

So, about that Spotify, turn it on and focus on a small riff you hear. Try your best to recreate it. Even if you don't recreate it note for note, it's improvement. Play it repeatedly, then build on it. You have to put ideas in your head, for your head to pump ideas out. The more you listen, copy and modify, the better you'll sound.

In Conclusion, The Three Tips to Improvisation

The key to improvising is Exposure - Audiation - Repetition.

Step 1: Exposure

You must expose your ear to as many sounds and riffs as possible.

Step 2: Audiation

Once you hear something, you need to hum it back to yourself and play it with one hand.

Step 3: Repetition

Then you have to repeat what you heard on your instrument. Repeat that phrase again, and change it just a little bit each time.

Following these three tips will get you where you want to go in improvisation. And remember, it will take time.

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