Friday, April 19, 2019

Colors of the Wind Piano Improvisation for Beginners

One of the easiest ways to get piano students improvising from the very first lesson is to have them focus on playing the notes from the pentatonic scale (only black keys). Improvisation has become some of my student's favorite activities because it allows them to freely express musical ideas all across the keyboard without the restraints and complexities of reading music that can take a while to solidify. Using it as a lesson starter is kind of like eating dessert first before eating your vegetables😋!

As I was enjoying creating some of my own music with Forrest Kinney's "Pattern Play" book as a springboard to ideas, I discovered that the opening theme of Pocahantas's "Colors of the Wind" Song can be played using only black keys. I had fun "scrambling" the melody and adding some open 5ths for harmony and then put this knowledge to use with a student at lessons the next day using the following steps:
1. Name that Tune

  • Ask the student to name the tune as you play this line (by ear) from Colors of the Wind Starting on Db "You think you own whatever land you land on"

2. Rhythm Clap  

  • Play it again but ask the student to clap the rhythm as you play.

3. Rhythm Chant

  • Prompt the student to create a unique sentence that resembles the rhythm pattern of the line they just clapped by asking them a question and then "borrow the rhythm" to give their response. Model this by playing their answer to the tune of "You think you own whatever land you land on." For example: 
  • What's your dream vacation? "My dream vacation would be to Hawaii (or any other 3 syllable destination)"
  • What did you eat for breakfast?"For breakfast, I had yogurt and some orange juice."
  • What do you wish you could do after piano lessons? "I wish that I could go and eat some ice cream."

4. Add a Melody 

  • Repeat the student's answer but instead demonstrate how you can play the same rhythm but change up melody by playing on any black keys of your choice.  (Don't worry about fingering, you could even just use on finger 2 on all the notes)

5.  Chant and Play

  • Have the student chant their rhythmic answer but choose any order of black keys to tap it on.  I encourage steps and skips because they usually create a more satisfying melody than jumping all over for beginners.

6.  Repeat

  • Repeat chanting the sentence but changing up the melody. Repeating some portion of the melody is usually more effective but I don't always limit them to this.

7.  Add some harmony

  • On the downbeat (2nd note) of their musical sentence have the student add a bass note (Gb) bottom of the garage or Eb(top of the doghouse) or open 5ths. 

8. End on Tonic

Related Posts:
Do-Re-Mi Ice Cream Improv
Teaching Jazz Piano Basics
Composition 101: 5 Ways to Begin

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