It’s sad to say but we’ve come to the end of The Curious Improvisation Symposium! 

This final blog of the series summarises, with links, all that we have covered previously.teaching piano improvisation

Thank You!

First of all we’d like to say a HUGE thank you to our 12 contributors: Andrew Higgins, Bradley Sowash, Carol Matz, Christopher Norton, Elena Cobb, Forrest Kinney, Joy Morin, Julie Knerr, Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Olly Wedgwood, Trinity College London and Wendy Stevens. Their insights have been really valuable and thought-provoking.


What is improvisation?

Improvisation is spontaneous, it’s like musical speech, its a form of expression, of conveying the mood of the moment. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Why should you include improvisation in piano lessons?

Improvisation is vital component to learning when teaching the piano. As well as being the highlight of many lessons it helps students to develop independence and listen more carefully to the sounds they produce. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Why are teachers scared of improvisation?

If teachers are scared of improvisation it’s probably because they are a product of the system! Now it’s our turn as the teacher to break the cycle of read-only teachers teaching read-only pupils. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Something fixed and something free?

Improvisation does not start with a blank slate. A good improviser has something fixed at the heart of the process whether this is a set of notes, a chord sequence or a structure. Within the confines of what is fixed, improvisers have the freedom to play around with these elements. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Start small – but start!

Start small, with tiny steps, with known material. The important thing is to get started!  CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Finding improvisation inspiration

Start with the pieces your students are currently learning. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

How to start

Just start, start simple, have courage, keep playing. Forrest’s lovely words are worth keeping in mind: ‘Play freely each day with joy and without judgment’. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE 

Top improvisation resources

Our symposium experts share lots of their favourite improvisation resources. The blog post is a real treasure trove. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE 

Why not bookmark this page so that you can have easy access to all these wonderful, inspiring comments.


To wrap up The Curious Improvisation Symposium we ask Forrest Kinney a few final questions:

‘When improvising, it is easy to get in ruts. How do you handle this?’

This is why I made the Patterns in my books in so many different music styles.  I think the best way to break out of those inevitable ruts is to learn new Patterns in different styles. Playing with a different beat, or scale, or harmony – all will inspire us in new ways.

Another technique is to transpose favorite Patterns to new keys. Each scale has its own shapes and sounds, so this can stimulate us to try new things.

Another way is to play more duets. Other people’s ideas can inspire us to try something different.

Is improvising the same as playing by ear?

I make a distinction between improvising and playing by ear. A person can be a fine improviser but lousy at playing tunes by ear – this was the case with me and it still is to some degree. Likewise, a person can be very good at playing tunes by ear but uncomfortable with improvising.  Because these two different skills are both distinct from reading, they tend to be lumped together.  The Pattern Play/Create First approach develops the ability to improvise, but not so much the ability to play tunes by ear – a different but related skill that is the foundation of the art of arranging. That skill is explored in my Chord Play series.

Do you have suggestions about how we can fit it into a lesson where we already are short on time?

Yes. Playing a duet with a student only takes about three minutes at the beginning or middle or end of a lesson.  Keep the instructions to a minimum.  Often, six words are all that is needed:  “Play with me on white keys.”  “Play with me in D major.”  Save lesson time (and allow more creative time!) by using Patterns to teach theory (scales and chords), technique, and warm ups.

Do you have any ideas on how to introduce scales to students in musical and creative ways?

Yes. Above all, CREATE something with the scale as a way of learning it.   The teacher can introduce any new scale with the kind of improvised duet used in my Pattern Play and Create First books. For example, the teacher can play a one-four-five-one progression in D minor in a tango style, and then ask the student to improvise with D, E, F, G, and A.  Later, the teacher can show the student to include Bb and C#, making a D Harmonic Minor Scale. The student  will likely enjoy creating with these exotic sounds and such a compelling rhythm. THEN the teacher will introduce the name of the scale, and explore some different fingering options, including the standard fingering. In this way, the student has a musical experience of the scale first, and creates melodies with it, develops a sense of rhythm, and there is learning in a way that cultivates sensitivity and creativity rather than dulls it.

All scales can be introduced in creative and musical ways like this. So can all chords and intervals.  Technical and theoretic competency can arise from creating and playing. Despite conventional thinking, scales can be an outcome of creative activity rather than a necessary precursor.

Thanks Forrest!

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


  1. Bradley Sowash

    This series was great idea. Classically-trained piano teachers need a lot of encouragement in the area of improvisation. I hope this inspired many to go further with this important, but often neglected way to make music.


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