New Year’s Eve Thoughts

Sometimes I think my job as an improvisation coach is more psychological — getting people over their fears — than musical — demonstrating tips, tools, and techniques. When I started teaching online group jazz piano lessons, my original idea was to charge participants a higher tuition to appear on camera because I thought it would reduce expected competition for the limited available slots. Boy, was I wrong. Only a few participants consistently and courageously dig in to learning new skills in front of others. Self-consciousness gets in the way of more active, more valuable, more inspirational-to-others participation by all of my students than it should. That’s okay. I don’t hold it against them but neither will I give up on encouraging them to come out of the shadows. The same thing happens when I ask for volunteers to explore a creative concept with me at music education conferences. I wait and wait … Read more…

How a classically trained pianist learned to improvise

My friend, colleague, and co-founder of 88 Creative Keys improvisation workshops, Leila Viss has been writing weekly blogs full of fun ideas about teaching piano for quite some time. In addition to being a skilled musician and innovative piano teacher, Leila is a lifelong learner and interested in all things musical. This is my favorite post she’s ever written because it reminds us that classically-trained musicians with a growth mindset can learn to improvise. If she can do it, you can too! – Bradley Sowash How a classically trained pianist learned to improvise Author: Leila Viss Perhaps you are one of those classical pianists who was lucky enough to have a teacher that encouraged creativity beyond the grand staff? Lucky you. The rest of us have one thing in common that keeps us from pushing beyond our creative boundaries. We are burdened with baggage called “excuses.” These excuses may include: I’m a visual learner. I … Read more…

Jingle Bells Variations

One of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching creative music making is to witness the variety of approaches students take to rethinking a tune according to their own tastes and preferences. Every year around this time, I ask select students to come up with new versions of Christmas tunes. I might throw out a few suggestions to get them started but I specifically avoid guiding them very much at all. The idea is to get them to get them to apply what they’ve internalized from their studies as independent creative musicians. Mashup Here are three different versions of this classic holiday tune as interpreted by my students. 1. Fourteen year old Michael Wade creates new music easily. At some point in almost every lesson, (usually while my back is turned) he’ll launch into his latest composition. Here is his twisted version of Jingle Bells in a minor key with a “jump bass” or “basic stride” … Read more…

How to Teach Your Piano Students to Improvise

Inspiration and How To Tips After hearing my presentations about improvisation at a couple of conferences, my friend and fellow piano teacher, Gilya, suggested I consider offering “less cheerleading and more content.”  Her wise comment helped me solidify advocacy into a two-pronged strategy for integrating improvisation into music lessons. As an advocate for musical creativity, half of my job is to encourage (okay, prod) the uninitiated to “dive in” by closing the music books now and then. The other half is offering teaching tips to those who have already taken the “off page” plunge. You’ll find plenty of both by digging deeper into this blog, my “That’s Jazz” books, and by attending my professional development events on this topic.  And now, thanks to Andrea and Trevor at Teach Piano Today, you have a new way to check out my ideas on this topic. Podcast Grab some headphones and listen in for “hands-free” professional … Read more…

Improvising with Friends

Since one of the purposes of this blog is to inspire musicians and music teachers to get around the idea that one must be innately gifted to play by ear, I thought it would be fun to share three very different improvisational encounters with the hope that it will inspire you to put away the written music now and then and do your own thing. Jamming with a fellow musician must be like Mr. Spock’s Vulcan mind meld. In some ways, you learn more about someone by improvising together then you would by sharing a long, soul-searching dinner conversation. How they lead and follow, perceive time, utilize their imagination, hold onto or abandon ego for the sake of music… all reveal what they think and feel, at least, at in that particular moment. II III II III II III II III II Leila Viss My business partner, Leila Viss helped me … Read more…

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