Improvisation means to perform something without planning or preparation. In music, improvisation is highly valued as it means you can play any song on the spot, and even compose your own music in one sitting!
Many jazz musicians regard improvisation as an ultimate form of expression and artistic creativity, as it is during improvisation that one can truly invent new sounds and weave together stories.
While the commonly taken classical piano ABRSM syllabus does not emphasis on improvisation, many pop and jazz keyboard piano lessons for beginners in Singapore do train students on improvisation skills.
For the piano players out there, you can try your hands at improvisation even if you are just a beginner. All you need is a little patience, and the courage to try! Here are some tips to get you started:
If you are a complete beginner, coordinating two hands might be a tough thing to do, especially when it comes to improvising.
Start off with separate hands, and improvise simple melodies on the piano. This is a good time to experiment with different rhythms, and get familiar with the colours of the different notes.
At this stage, you can learn what notes go together and what notes don’t work together. You could also limit yourself to improvising with only two notes at first, then later three, and increase it as you go along. This way, the keyboard won’t feel like such a daunting instrument to conquer.
Play in one key
Why do some melodies sound ‘nice’ and others ‘weird’? Melodies are bounded by the key they are in, which make them sound anchored and give them direction.
Before you start improvising, decide the key that you will be playing in, and then only play on the notes of that key. For example, if you decide to improvise in G major, you should only play the notes G A B C D E F#.
As a general rule of thumb, melodies tend to start and end on the root note of the key. That is, in G major, your melody would typically start and end on G. Of course, these are just beginner tips – as you progress, you will become more confident to break these rules and create your own unique sound!
Use triad chords
When you decide you are ready to try out some chords, it is best to begin with the most basic: triad chords.
The triad chords are built using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of the scale. Experiment with playing them all at once, and then in broken chord style (one at a time), and with different rhythms and styles.
For most pop songs, you will notice that some chords are more important than others for every key. In a major key, the most prominent chords would be the root, subdominant (4th), and dominant (5th). Thus, in C major, the important chords are C major, F major, and G major. Once you have mastered these three chord triads, you will be able to improvise on a multitude of songs in the key of C major!
Learn from the masters
Look up your favourite song and videos of other pianists improvising on the song. Note how the different musicians change up the song, and from there you can gain many different ideas of how to improvise on a song.
A good way to practice is to source for lead sheets (sometimes also called fake books), and practice improvising on them. You could even take the ideas that a pianist has done for a song, and apply it to another song. You’ll be surprised at the variety of moods and sounds you can come up with!
This is just the tip of the iceberg to improvising on the piano – there’re so much more exciting sounds, styles and techniques you can learn to add into your improvising vocabulary! If you are keen to expand your piano or keyboard playing skills, do check out Singapore keyboard lessons for beginners for courses that will help you reach your potential in music!