Improvisation can seem terrifying. Being asked to spontaneously create beautiful music?! Yet this fearsome activity is an ingredient that I always want included in my lessons. As part of my Teaching Philosophy, and, following The Curious Piano Teachers' Guiding Principles,
- being creative and
- making music
should be at the heart of every lesson.
Why is IMPROVISATION important? Why can't we keep things comfortable and just IGNORE it?
- Improvisation is a musically authentic activity. We don't just want a dry replication of someone else's work. Even when we ARE performing someone else's work we still want to make it our own. Improvising and being creative on a regular basis will help with this.
- Improvisation allows us to play more complicated music than we can read. This may seem to apply more obviously to earlier students than to more advanced but is true at all levels - just think what incredible chords or crazy rhythms you can play when you improvise, but which would take you a fair amount of study if you were trying to read the same.
- Improvisation helps us to develop our musical ear as we really listen to what we are playing, and thereby extend and develop our musical ideas.
- Improvisation helps us to develop our musical memory as we think back and reuse ideas from previous occasions or even just earlier in today's exploration.
- Improvisation is historically important - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin... all were stupendous improvisers. It really is a recent "development" that improvisation has fallen off the main curriculum for many students. This is a trend we should try to reverse!
- Learning how to improvise gives students the freedom to improvise with others and therefore feel able to play and make music with other people, even when unprepared.
Convinced you yet?
If you're still feeling anxious about the idea of improvisation, take heart in knowing that you are not alone. As Sally Cathcart of The Curious Piano Teachers says, in the April 2017 Curiosity Box (Curiosity Boxes are monthly training packages provided by The Curious Piano Teachers), many students, especially adults, feel particularly uncomfortable when asked to do something without structure or boundaries. What's the purpose? What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to do it?
And this point is why I'm so excited about Create First! from Forrest Kinney. This is a new series to help students develop their improvisation skills. It starts with a duet improvisation with clear boundaries and structure, then moves to a solo improvisation for the student, based around the same PATTERNS and ideas.
The Duet Book 1 in the Create First! series describes the improvisation pieces thus: "Each piece in this book is a duet that two people make up (improvise) as they play. The Bottom person plays an accompaniment that can be varied in endless ways, while the Top person improvises sounds and melodies using a selected group of notes." The Solo books expand on this, leading students to improvise on their own. Again, you start from an accompaniment PATTERN that can be repeated, a contrasting accompaniment pattern called a "Vacation" and a Create section, filled with suggestions and musical examples.
The books are supported by videos, which could be useful for both teachers and students. As these have an extra charge associated with them I have not yet explored the videos, though there are some examples freely available on You Tube - and the music sounds pretty impressive!
This is a great series for teachers to use with students who are not yet comfortable with improvisation as well as providing new ideas and material for confident improvisers. It's a super resource for teachers who are not themselves secure with improvisation to then use with students.
I simply cannot wait to get using this next term - both myself and with my students. My top tips?
- Keep it simple - simple IS good (just analyse most current pop songs!).
- Keep doing it - ideally DAILY! The more you practise this, the better you will get!
Ready to Improvise?
If you're keen to start spontaneously creating your own music you could:
And of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts on improvisation:
- How much do you improvise?
- What you think about this new series, do you think you will incorporate it into your lessons? Or ask your teacher to do so?
- How comfortable do you feel with improvisation?
Just let me know in the comments below. Happy playing and happy improvising!