Opportunities to Learn About Improvisation

In a recent thread on a social network group for piano teachers, I asked this question: “True or False? Improvising enables your students to express themselves musically.”

The supportive comments that followed remind me of the importance of my work as an educator specializing in improvisation.

monkeyM.H. wrote:
“I think limiting lessons to reading can be crippling to a potential creative thinker who can become a true musician. There is more to music than what’s on the page, and how else do people create new music? They experiment with sounds and use the useful knowledge of theory to explore and enjoy the art of creation. I felt like a trained monkey at the piano until I learned how to play off the book, without a guide, scales, chords, improvisation.”

L.H. wrote:
“Students develop the ability and confidence to create music on their own, by us showing them that it is fun. Also, that it is o.k. to have a note that clashes once in awhile. Teach them how to resolve it. They aren’t using the music, as much or if at all, so they can listen better to themselves and the tone they are producing. The key is baby steps. Start with a really small task, but make them feel really good about what they have done and gradually expand your tasks. It doesn’t take too much lesson time to do this, and it will help all other areas of playing. They will know how music is put together in a much deeper way, teaching new repertoire and technique will become less time consuming and easier, plus they can use the technique learned to create more of their own music. It is important for them to have some portion of the lesson where they feel their ideas are treasured.”

Both of these piano teachers really get it about the value of teaching creativity at the keys.  Here is the comment, however, that reminds me that this is still a brand new area for most teachers:

R.J. wrote:
“What suggestions do you have for creating opportunities for improvisation? I mean, I think this is a really important area, but it tends to fall by the wayside because of everything else that I concentrate on… And it’s not really part of the methodology of teaching in most methods.”  

Rather than reply in the thread, this comment inspired me to write this blog post. Here’s my short list of resources and training for piano teachers who are looking for inspiration and tips on teaching “off page.”

CKC-Leila-and-BradleyCamps and Conferences

June/July
88 Creative Keys  – The only camp to focus exclusively on improvisation for pianists with tracks for studentsadult pianists and educators at locations in Denver, CO and Columbus, OH.

  • Immersive – Continuity of instruction going deeper each day rather than an overview
  • Hands on – learn with a keyboard at your fingertips
  • Interactive – play with peers in large and small groups
  • Focused – single topic of improvisation
  • Study privately – optional individual lessons are available

July
Southern Methodist University Institute for Piano Teachers – This summer’s topic is ‘The Creative Pianist’ with a dream team of top clinicians lined up.

February
MusicEdConnect – Online conference for all areas of classroom and studio music teachers including improvisation pedagogy.

March
MTNA Pedagogy Saturday Improvisation Track – There were 9 hours of insights from experts offered last year to a standing-room-only crowd.  This year’s session is already sold out but I bet this track will continue so stay tuned and register early next year.

July 2015
National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy – the 2015 conference is expected to feature creative music making prominently. Details TBA.

Books
Clavier Companion
– This magazine associated with the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy has long had an editorial policy of covering the gamut of approaches from classical interpretation to  It is essential reading for all piano teachers.

That’s Jazz Series – America’s top-selling jazz piano method. I know the author well and he’s a good guy! 🙂ThatsJazz1

Improvisation Aids – Lean, clean PDF eBooks to answer common improvisation questions that include an unlimited reproduction license for life.

The iPad Piano Studio by Leila Viss; Everything you wanted to know about teaching music with an iPad but were afraid to ask.  Includes numerous examples about teaching creativity with the iPad.

Websites
Eye Ear Revolution Blog – With guest writers and videos and connections to improv teachers, you’ll find many great teaching tips right here.  Get on the list to receive email updates in the right corner above.

Other websites
88 Piano Keys
Blog of the Improvised Line
Bradley Sowash Music Store
Compose Create
Ear Training and Improv
Elissa Milne
The Piano Shed
Tim Topham

Competition/Festivals
Social Music Works
– a division of BRAVURA innovations, has launched a new concept in piano competitions, the International Video Upload Competition with a category for jazz.  Deadline: May 15.

Festival for Creative Pianists – This festival is the only competition of its kind in the world, combining both classical and jazz idioms in a constructive educational setting.

Social Networks
Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ all have groups (Google calls them “communities” run by and for piano teachers.  Search and join them for lively coversations on all aspects of our professions including teaching creativity.

Do you know of others?  Let me know in the comments area below so I can add them to the list.

Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey,

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Bradley Sowash

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