The new music has been ordered, the pencils are all sharpened and the notebooks are ready. I expect you are nearly prepared for the new term. What about preparation though beyond the practicalities?

Are you ready to incorporate improvising, memorising and internalising (audiation) into every lesson? Or are you really not convinced of their role or usefulness in a piano lesson?

improvisation internalisation memorisation


We know that, for the majority of teachers, improvising, memorising and internalising come relatively low down the priority list in many piano lessons (Gibbs 1993, Cathcart 2013). Instead lesson time with elementary and intermediate pupils tends to focus on building repertoire, note reading and the development of technique. Lessons with beginner involve working through piano tutor books and learning to read from notation. Two vital components are often missing: aural awareness and engaging the imagination.

What kind of young musician do you think this approach develops? All the evidence points to pianists who are often very one-sided in their skills and development. What’s more it can really hinder musical potential. It is easy for learning the piano to become a slog, a chore and an uphill battle when we continuously challenge beginner pupils to read from notation, do detailed work on technique and master new and ever harder pieces. In the worst case scenario there is little understanding of the music played and physical ease at the keyboard is problematic.

This is a long way from the joyous and fulfilling activity that, as teachers, we all think playing the piano should be.

This is in stark contrast to highly trained musicians such as Daniel Barenboim or Lang Lang. They are just as happy improvising, composing and playing by ear as they are reading from notation.


We know that trained musicians appear to have very mobile and active brains. Scans demonstrate that musicians’ brains are literally connecting and firing up all over the place during musical activity. What’s more in highly traned musicians the corpus collusum, which connects the two hemispheres, is thicker than average. As a result of this information travels faster from one hemisphere to the other. Musicians become thoroughly absorbed in and by the music through exploring it visually, aurally, kinaesthetically and imaginatively. They become complete musicians who create and re-create music with ease and fluency.


So how can we, as piano teachers, help to bridge the gap between these amazing musicians and our typically rather more prosaic pupils? Quite simply, by incorporating The Power of Three regularly into our piano lessons.


Three vital, musical skills make up The Power of Three:

  • Improvisation
  • Internalisation
  • Memorisation

The three skills are interlocking and interdependent. They can be developed separately but they are at their most powerful when used together. Furthermore, all three have the act of listening at their centre, they encompass the skill of playing by ear and crucially all three have far-reaching musical effects when used in lessons and learning.

Improvising, internalising and memorising should be at the heart of all lessons as from them comes immense musical power and ownership.

The Power of Three is not an optional activity!

Instead research shows that improvising, internalising and memorising can help pupils to:

  • develop their pianistic creativity
  • increase their understanding of the music
  • reduce unnecessary tension in their playing
  • enhance their ability to communicate meaningfully to an audience
  • strengthen their focus when playing.

What’s more all three lead pupils to more joyous engagement with music and the piano.

There’s an exciting Autumn ahead in our Curious Blog! Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be exploring the Power of Three in more depth. Then later in September we are going to be launching an Improvisation Symposium series with contributions from some of the top pedagogues on improvisation.

Enrolment to The Community CLOSES ON MONDAY (4 September) – click here to find out more

This post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, Director and co-founder of The Curious Piano Teachers

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