We’ve covered how to improvise on a piano before, but there’s always more to explore! Learn about four more piano improvisation exercises to try in this guest post by Long Beach, CA piano teacher Lynda A...
Improvisation is the technique of making up music on the spot. Most music students think piano improvisation is only for advanced students and professional players, but everyone has the ability to create music spontaneously. I’ve seen many beginner 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 from music reading and lesson books. In any case, I think it is important to have a balance between musical exploration and fundamental keyboard skills to become a well-rounded piano player.
1) 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!
2) Create Some Clusters
Beginner musicians learn how to play piano 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 10 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 10 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 at other times. You may accidentally play something that you love and eventually work that into your own piano composition.
3) Create a Black or White Key Song
I often start my first lesson with a beginner 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 his or her own, creating chords or melody or trying to do both. The beauty is that there are 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 (seven notes versus five notes), you will soon learn what notes sound great together. Use your imagination while playing piano by ear, and don’t worry about making mistakes.
4) Explore Tones with the Sustain Pedal
Try any of the above piano improvisation 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.
Lynda A. teaches piano, guitar and singing lessons in Long Beach, CA. She earned her B.M. in Music/Business from DePauw University and her B.S. in Recording Arts from Ex’pression College for the Digital Arts. In addition to her private lessons, she has also performed music internationally and has release multiple albums. Learn more about Lynda here!
Photo by djpoblete09