Improvisation – the experts share top resources

‘What are your top resources for improvisation?’

This was the question we asked our symposium contributors for this, the penultimate week of The Curious Improvisation Symposium. We really wanted them to share some of their own resources as well as some of their favourite books and ideas.


They have all come up trumps and you’ll need to put aside lots of time for this blog post if you are going to explore all the links!!


All of the ideas are in my book So you want to learn to Improvise

But I would also recommend a ‘chord’ book and a book of ‘lead’ sheets. This will enable students to learn how to craft an accompaniment to a melody and is a superb starting point for a good standard notation driven student.


I’ve been helping “recovering classical pianists” learn to play and teach improvisation every since I quit performing full time 10 years ago so I’ve developed quite a lot of materials including Creative Chords (2 book keyboard improvisation method for beginners), That’s Jazz (best-selling nine book series), 88 Creative Keys Workshops and Webinars in collaboration with Leila Viss. Right now, the most exciting way I’m delivering instruction in this area right now is through live online group lessons. I’m thrilled to be helping pianists all over the world learn to play off page. All of these are described in detail at:


American Popular Piano Repertoire and Etudes (9 levels) is ideal. Available from

Improvise Microjazz (Boosey & Hawkes)

The Easiest Way to Improvise (B & H)

Improvising Jazz by Jerry Coker


I enjoyed teaching ABRSM Jazz Piano Syllabus. In addition, I would like to recommend:

Higgledy Piggledy Jazz and Improv Exercises for classically trained pianists published by EVC Music. Both books are bestsellers and I can wholeheartedly recommend them to teachers. Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is an Internationally acclaimed piano book that contains ten toe-tapping jazzy tunes ranging from the late elementary to intermediate level. Sections for improvisation and chords are included to give a player a real sense of Jazz experience.

Improv Exercises For Classically Trained Beginners

I wrote this book from the classically trained teacher perspective and it contains all steps required to create a twelve-bar blues solo. The book is a 21st-century educational concept based on the belief that, in addition to the regular routine, classically orientated piano lessons should also include elements of improvisation. Although this book only deals with blues scale improvisation on the basic twelve-bar blues with only three chords, it will bring a player to a firm understanding of how to structure your approach to improvisation.

Improv Exercises for Piano 


I encourage teachers to start with my Create First series. It is designed for beginning students and also teachers who are new to improvisation.

 This series has a lot of new features. There is now a Duet book for teachers to use in the lesson and a Solo book for students to use at home.  Each piece has a companion video. Each book can be sold as a PDF so I can easily send Create First around the world.  And the series is designed to introduce musicality, scales, intervals, and chords in a musical and creative way.

The general idea is this: You learn a relatively simple repeating accompaniment called a Pattern (it can consist of even a single bass note for beginners)  and a contrasting accompaniment pattern called a Vacation. Then you add improvised melodies and sounds to these using a given set of notes (such as all the black keys). 

This simple approach applies to any musical style, not merely jazz and blues.  In my books, you “pattern play” with Persian scales, in African rhythms, with Debussy-like sounds, with tango rhythms, and many other styles.  


More and more ideas for improvising are now being included in piano tutor books for young children (e.g. in Piano Adventures, Piano Safari, Get Set Piano, Piano Magic etc.).

For teenagers, Tim Topham has great ideas.

If you are looking for ideas for older beginners, or piano players who have not improvised before, take a look at the video clips and book, Piano by Ear, here: Also, you may also be interested in Chapter Five of Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians  


My Improvisation For Beginners videos are available to watch at – there are 6 videos so far featuring practical exercises to help develop different aspects of improvisation.

Here’s the second video in the series – complete with a guest appearance from Olly’s dog!

Next week is the last in our improvisation series where I will pulling together all the threads as well as sharing with you a few more treasures we couldn’t quite fit in elsewhere. See you then!

This blog post was compiled by Dr Sally Cathcart, Co-Founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers

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