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Piano Lesson: The Genesis Of Improvisation

Aug 18, 2007
The abiltity to improvise is within the reach of everyone who wants to develop this skill. You can start to improvise in a way that will give you and others the benefits from this art. Let's see what good improvisational skills involve!

What is improvisation?

Many people have the notion that improvisation is the ability to create something out of nothing. Well, you can improvise in a kitchen too. Creating a fantastic dinner out of the things you can find around.

However, note that there has to be some sort of material to use, like a potato or a carrot hanging around. I haven't heard of a chief creating a dinner out of nothing yet.

Let's apply this principle in your piano playing! Here are the two ingredients that will create and make your improvisations into something worth listening too, in other words, music:

1. Your ability to find the notes you want to play on your piano.

2. Phrases, scales and fragments of melodies that you have memorized in your mind or in your fingers that can be reused and changed to create new music.

3. The ability to compose music out of the before mentioned assets.

I would like to start with the third asset. The ability to compose music out of the material you have at your disposal is the most important skill. You can actually use just a few notes in order to create something musically worthwhile.

Some pianists or other instrumentalists can have the ability to play a lot of patterns, scales and licks at a tremendous speed but this doesn't secure that they can create music from this material.

I think that it is a good thing to only use a sparse amount of notes in order to develop the skill to actually compose music as you improvise. Like some good blues guitarists do. Take B.B. King for example, messing around with just one note at times!

Here is a first example for you to use as a beginning of your improvisational endeavors.

You will play a C-major chord in your left hand. It can consist of three keys pressed down as you probably already know:

C-major: C3 E3 G3

The numbers indicate that you play the notes in the third octave, that is, the octave to the left of middle C. Now I will give you a sparse amount of notes to use to create a "dinner" worth eating, that is, worth listening to.

Notes to use: C4 D4 E4

Now it's time to improvise, or rather, compose!

Press down the C-major chord with your left hand and try to come up with nice melodies just using the three melody notes in your right hand. What can you do to create variation with just these three notes?

1. Vary the order of the notes.

2. Vary the length of the notes.

3. Vary how hard you press down the notes.

4. Use other means that you will find out as you play.

You can develop this exercise by moving the chord and melody notes up one step resulting in a new chord and new notes to improvise upon:

D-minor: D3 F3 G3 Notes to use: D4 E4 F4

I will give you one more position one step up:

E-minor: E3 G3 B3 Notes to use: E4 F4 G4

You can try playing these three chords improvising a while on each step with the following order of the chords:

C Dm Em Dm C

Yes, this is a kind of Genesis for your improvisational skills as this easy exercise will force you to actually compose music and not only rely on flashy complicated scales, patterns or licks that might hide the lack of music in the improvisational efforts.

I would suggest that you work both on learning scales, patterns and licks and on the even more important art of composing music out of very easy melody fragments so that you will develop into a better musician.
About the Author
Peter Edvinsson invites you to download your free piano sheet music, guitar tabs, ebooks, music lessons and read his music blog at Capotasto Music.
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