Improvisation on piano

What is improvisation ?

Improvisation is an activity of doing something spontaneously, or finding solutions based on the limited resources available. We are all guilty of this activity when we engage in casual conversation or cook without a recipe. The level of competence varies from person to person. Some people can stand at a podium and address a group without planning every idea, every joke, while others have to deliver by reading from a script.

In the Arts

DancersThe Arts is the most popular field in which expressions can flow from prepared text or from improvisation. At an evening of poetry, the performer can memorise the poems or deliver prose ad lib. Dance concerts usually have items that are choreographed and rehearsed, while at a dance party everyone tends to improvise according to how they feel and to what music they hear.

In music

Many composers over the centuries recorded their compositions on sheet music so that we, many years after, could play and interpret the music almost exactly as they intended it to be played. A violinist or an orchestra can play a musical piece today and it would be identical in melody and harmony, with maybe a minor variation in interpretation, as that played fifty years ago.

There is also another method of composing where the music is created in the moment. The performer might not be able to repeat the exact performance because they usually don’t remember the details of what they did. This is shown in a regular jazz group. The question by an onlooker might be ” How do they know what to play and not conflict with other musicians in the group?”

The explanation is that in a given piece of music there are chord progressions that are known and agreed upon by all the musicians. The melody and harmony are also clear to all players. The performance starts with the musicians playing one or two rounds of the song so that the listeners know the song to some degree. Then the musicians take turns improvising on their own instrument, mainly bass, piano, drums, horns and guitar. They all play by ear.

The piano

As with other instruments, improvising on piano is modelled from your grasp of the progressions, melody, patterns and creative skills applied at the right time. A pianist can do far more than other instrumentalists. Because it is the only two hands on pianoinstrument in which two hands are used, with any or all of ten fingers at once, the pianist can produce some of the most complex arrangements and vary the styles of delivery over several octaves.

How can  this be achieved?

Learning to play piano or keyboard is an exercise in patience. You learn to apply fingering to scales chords and progressions, and to sharpen your listening skills. Wouldn’t it be great if you learned to create in several different ways so as to deliver a performance that is melodic, and interesting? You might now be playing from music sheets, and can give a good performance as you interpret what is written. With this knowledge and these skills, you could learn improvisation and this would take your piano playing to whole new level. All you would need is to take these simple steps:

  • listen to improvised music
  • observe the styles used in the progressions
  • learn some new and interesting chords to ‘add color
  • do what you have always been doing. That is, practice, practice practice.

If you are a beginner, you can also work at learning to improvise while learning form written music. You would be developing both sets of skills together. This is the ideal.

Are you ready for the challenge?

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