“Aaargh!! I see my pupil for such a short amount of time every week! There’s hardly enough time to do everything as it is. Do I really need to include improvisation as well?” Does this ring a bell? This week the 10 contributors to our Curious Improvisation Symposium make it quite clear: improvisation in piano lessons is not an optional extra.
ANDREW HIGGINSTo play music well an understanding of how music works is very useful, perhaps critical: and by using improvisation we can take the student along a path of knowledge usually found only in the dry textbooks of music theory or analysis. Improvisation brings theory to life.
BRADLEY SOWASHBradley Sowash’s 10 Benefits of Creative Music Instruction: Students get to:
- Feel more engaged with learning music.
- “Own” their music because they are encouraged to personalise it.
- Appreciate playing music as a means for self-expression rather than only as a domain for “right or wrong” notes.
- Enjoy a wider variety of contemporary styles that appeal to their peer group.
- Perform with friends in non-traditional settings outside of the concert hall such as coffee houses, talent shows, church, or jazz groups.
- Maybe even pick their first paid gigs.
- Become better interpreters of written music. That’s because rather than merely reproducing the notes on the page, creative students can better understand how they came to be there in the first place.
- Utilize their whole brain by reading and improvising.
- Listen more when improvising since creative music making sensitizes the ears.
- Understand that great music wasn’t always “just there.” Composers and improvisers had to make it up using the same techniques “back then” that creative musicians use today.
- Enjoy teaching more engaged students.
- Replace the antiquated “teacher knows all” philosophy with a new paradigm of shared exploration with their students.
- Discover that there are “riches in niches” as word gets out there’s an improv teacher in town.
- Retain students through the quitting years since students who make their own music have more staying power and ownership of their music skills.
- Demonstrate that music theory is not really theory but actually a set of “practical” tools for making music.
- Keep current by helping students play contemporary tunes they request.
- Teach with motivating software, apps, videos, and backing tracks.
- Enhance group lessons through jam session conventions i.e. “you play the bass line, and you play the harmony, and you play the melody on top.
- Watch students make connections between their improvisations and composed music.
- Learn from their students whose creative explorations stimulate all kinds of questions and discoveries.
CAROL MATZImprovisation allows students to have a degree of freedom. When improvising, they’re not “tied” to the printed page. Improvisation – compared to reading music – is much like having a blank canvas to paint versus a color-by-numbers kit. Improvisation is great for students who like to “color outside the lines,” but it’s important to realize that some students really prefer structure and are quite resistant to improvise. My suggestion for these students is not to push the issue; let them stay in their comfort zone, while incrementally introducing some very easy improvisational exercises. I recommend something very basic like having students choose from only 3 notes, and providing rhythm patterns for them to choose whichever notes they’d like to play in rhythm. I often play a 12-bar blues in C, and have students choose from C-Eb-F (it forms a little triangle on the keyboard, so no hand movement required). On the music stand, I put a 3-4 rhythm patterns as suggestions, and do this exercise for a few minutes.
- It encourages students to explore their instrument.
- It helps students to start to think like composers – to invent and assess ideas and to develop, repeat and vary them (and contrast them with other ideas).
- It brings out the “inner voice” – the distinctive musical personality of each individual.
- It helps sight-reading – pattern-recognition is enhanced.
- It helps time playing.
- It encourages a curiosity about sound
ELENA COBBImprovisation teaches students to think independently and creatively.
FORREST KINNEYThere are many, many reasons. Some of them are:
- It brings joy, creativity, and surprises into the lesson. For so many musicians (including me), creating music spontaneously is the most joyous musical act.
- Creativity is a natural human desire, and many students will quit if they are not encouraged to create something unscripted. Don’t we all wish to be able to speak words freely without relying on a script? In the same way, I believe all musicians secretly wish to have the same kind of ability at their instrument! To improvise is to be able to “speak” music freely without such a musical script.
- It is a wonderful way to introduce musical materials such as scales and chords, and teach music theory in a lively way.
- An excellent way to teach flowing technique in a musical way.
- Duet improvisations are a natural and highly effective way to teach rhythm.
- Duet improvisation offer an immediate way to make music with nearly anyone.Improvisation provides a foundation for composition and interpretation. All the greatest composers from Bach to Bartok were master improvisers at a keyboard instrument – it is the source of much of the music we play and hear today, the wellspring of our classical tradition. The ability to improvise was considered the essential music act. Contests such as those between Mozart and Clementi or Beethoven and Hummel were centered around determining which musician was better at improvising on the same theme. In modern times, we have such a wealth of literature, we have forgotten about the primacy of musical speech.
- Improvisation allows us to play spontaneously from our own feelings, to play in an intuitive and personal way whenever we choose.Improvisation encourages us to listen deeply to tones from the beginning, and RESPOND to them. That is the essence of musical artistry: listening and responding.
- With improvisation, we can teach these essential skills and sensitivities from the first lesson onward.