Improvising Easy Introductions

A good musical introduction creates anticipation for the listener by suggesting the key and style of a tune about to be played. Ready? Set, Go! The easiest way to set up a tune is to play a V7 intro chord. This works because it takes advantage of our expectations about functional harmony. Since most tunes begin with a I chord, a V7 chord played just before leads our ears right into the melody through its natural resolution. Listen to how the C7 in the Birthday Song seems to say, “Here we go.” Drum Roll Please… Stretch the V7 intro chord “Liberace” style with hand-over-hand arpeggios to pump up the audience. Corny and overstated? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. Students love it because it sounds impressive without being difficult. This example adds drama suggesting, “Ladies and gentleman, the show is about to begin.” The Following Preview… State the last few measures of a tune … 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…

Even Young Kids Can Create at the Piano: 3 Easy Tips for Getting Started – Kristin Jensen

I’m happy to welcome Kristin Jensen as a guest writer.  Kristin is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching younger children how to create their own music.  Her philosophy of mixing creativity with traditional skills is exactly what the Eye Ear Revolution is all about. – Bradley Even Young Kids Can Create at the Piano: 3 Easy Tips for Getting Started Tip #1 Encourage Exploration You wouldn’t believe how many adults tell me that when they took piano lessons as a kid, they felt like their teacher discouraged them from exploring and creating. It was probably unintentional. There’s never enough time during a lesson to accomplish all that we need to. Because we feel rushed we try to get through all the critical elements and expect the student to stay on task—and that can mean no time for playing anything other than the assigned material. If we’re not careful, students can … Read more…

Talk to the Hand

One of the most consistent challenges beginning improvisers face is keeping track of the form while playing creatively.  If you’ve ever watched a middle school jazz ensemble, it is common for a young soloist improvising over, say a 12 bar blues, to stop playing in measure 10 or 14.  The solo may be compelling but then it fizzles out without a satisfying ending usually because the soloist is completely unaware of where they are in the chord progression. For solo piano players learning to improvise, playing with both hands further compounds this problem.  Often, the role of the right hand is to be free and easy, spinning out creative melodies and acting on impulse (right brain).  Meanwhile, the left hand’s job is to adhere to a given chord progression or accompaniment pattern (left brain).  It’s a little like writing one’s name with one hand while drawing a picture with the … Read more…

Bright Blues Scale Improv

In a previous post, I discussed the pentatonic scale as a collection of “fallback” notes for improvisation that will sound good in almost any style or chord progression that stays in one key. Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 You can also think of it as a major scale minus the 4th and 7th notes. C Major Scale = C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C C Major Pentatonic Scale = C  D  E      G  A      C (major scale minus 4 and 7) Like a painter preparing his or her palette for a new still life, a great way to bring a bit of jazzy color to this “pitch palette” is to add the flat 3rd “blue” note to the pentatonic scale.  The result is a note collection that I like to call the bright blues scale. C Bright Blues Scale = C  D  Eb … Read more…

Pentatonic Improv

Imagine a collection of notes that would sound good regardless of when or how you played it. Such a thing exists.  It is called the pentatonic scale and it is one of the great secrets of improvisation. Creative musicians around the world playing many different styles rely on these 5 notes (a “nickels worth”) as a basis for improvisation. For tunes that stay in one key, the pentatonic scale will sound good regardless of how you order the notes or what chords are under your improvisations (5 notes worth their weight in gold). The reason this works is because there are no half steps to create dissonance.  Pentatonic Scale Formula: Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 The pentatonic scale is similar to a major scale except that the 4th and 7th scale degrees are omitted. For example: C Major Scale = C  D  E  F  G  A  B  … Read more…

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