If your piano lessons are focused on just reading music from the method books, improvisation can feel a bit scary. Some students are so stuck to the printed page they are scared to make mistakes.
This is similar to reading a speech from a script. But with a little guidance, exploring improvisation can be much more exciting than a speech read just like hearing a speech given from the heart can be more engaging than a recited speech from memory.
Use Method Books and Folk Songs as a Springboard for Improvisation
Method books and folk songs are a great sources for piano improv inspiration. Once students have already learned a piece, it can provide the framework for improvisation.
Fortunately, their experience learning it as written provides them with some of the familiar building blocks for improv so they don't have to start from scratch.
Lately I've had several students loving to learn the music in Piano Pronto Method books. The Swedish folk song Who Can Sail Without the Wind?is one most of my students have not heard before but the basic chord layout of the piece makes it perfect for a little improvisation exercise.
Start Simply with Subtle Changes
- What if we use the same left-hand chords and starting notes, but then change a few notes in each phrase?
- How could we change this song to sound more like a fairy? A monster?
- Could you play a melody using the same rhythm of this phrase but change the melody?
- Do you like the sound of broken chords or block chords?
- Do you want the song to sound more like a dance (demonstrate 3/4) or a march(4/4)?
Suggest Possibilities and Allow Students to Explore Choices
- Mood: Lullaby? Hurricane? Pirate Attack? Dance? Man Overboard? Sunshine and Rainbows?
- Pitch: Play in lower or higher octaves on the keyboard.
- Rhythm: Double or Dot some of the notes.
- Melody: Add ornaments (trills or mordents) or change a few pitches
- Time Signature: Change to 4/4 for a march like feel
- Dynamics: Shape phrases, add crescendos or contrasting loud and soft phrases.
- Articulation: Add some staccatos, accents, pedaling.
- Tempo: Change the speed of the music or add dramatic ritardandos, fermatas or accelerandos.
- Key Signature: Transpose to Parallel Major (A Major: F#,C#, G#) or Relative Major (C Major) for a Happy Variation.
- Accompaniment: Change the left hand to blocked, broken, arpeggiated or syncopated chords.
- Intro/Outro: Add an introduction or finale to the piece that matches the mood of your variation.
- Borrow: Choose your favorite parts of the song and create a new piece borrowing the rhythm, chords or motifs.