4 Tips To Begin Improvising On The Piano And Keyboard
Improvisation means performing something without planning or preparation. In music, improvisation skill 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 genuinely invent new sounds and weave them together as a story. While the commonly taken classical piano ABRSM syllabus does not emphasize improvisation, many pop and jazz piano lessons for adults do train students in 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!
4 Improvisation Steps on the Piano or Keyboard
1. Always Start Simple
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 colors 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.
2. Play in One Key
Why do some melodies sound ‘nice’ and others ‘weird’? Melodies are bounded by the key they are in, which makes them sound anchored and gives them direction. Before you start improvising, decide on 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!
3. Use Triad Chords
When you decide you are ready to try out some chords, best to begin with the most basic: triad chords. The triad chords are built using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes 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!
4. Learn From The Masters
Look up your favorite 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 them to another song. You’ll be surprised at the variety of moods and sounds you can come up with. Taking up a segmented piano lesson like Jazz and Blues also helps a lot to improve your improvisation skill level because it will be faster if you have someone experienced to tutor you along the way.
Bonus Tip: Play in a Band
Sometimes the improvisation inspiration could come from the current mood or the excitement to learn a new thing directly which is often found while playing with other musicians or in a band. While performing in a band you and other musicians of different instruments will create a bond that mutually inspires each other that can be developed into a new pattern of improvisation. For example, if you are playing blues music in a band, each member will automatically give a solo part for each instrument where the tones will be in sync.
This is just the tip of the iceberg to improvising on the piano – there’re many more exciting sounds, piano styles and techniques you can learn to add to your improvising vocabulary! If you are keen to expand your piano or keyboard playing skills, our piano teachers are ready to help you to maximize your potential. Fill in the form below and our team will get back to you soon.