For centuries, people have tried to explain one of the most mysterious skills of humankind: creativity (we can also call it inspiration, intuition etc.).
Some researchers say that you have to be born with it – and that not everyone has this gift. Others consider that it’s a question of practice, determination and experience – and that there are many ways of ‘awakening’ your dormant creativity.
In each of these theories there is a grain of truth – but the entire truth, as always, is a combination of both!
Each day, I keep discovering one thing:
There are no limits to what you can achieve when you’re passionate about something!!!
If you want to learn how to improvise on the piano, be sure of one thing: it all depends on YOU! 😉
The art of piano improvisation is not so difficult! However, before you begin working on your ‘improvising skills’, there are several things you should know:
Being ‘naturally creative’ is fantastic, of course. However, having such a talent doesn’t automatically make you a good improviser! At the same time, you can definitely be a great improviser and ‘awaken’ an amazing creativity even if you were born with less ‘improvising talent’.
The truth is that we are all creative – but most of us simply don’t know about it! That’s why some people seem more creative – while others seem more ‘rational’.
Our modern education is mostly based on ‘rationalization’ and mechanical memorization of facts. In the end – this is an extremely limited approach! One of its main drawbacks is the fact that it develops our rational mind too much and it doesn’t allow our creativity to manifest. This is especially obvious in those people who were always ‘good obedient students’. Rebels, on the other hand, are usually much more creative!
Often, we cannot improvise because we allow our rational mind to get in the way. On the other hand, lack of knowledge can also be a great impediment!
Any imbalance will inevitably affect your creativity, success, happiness and fulfillment. This is one of the main aspects of my holistic approach on life and piano playing.
For being creative, we have to balance all the aspects of our personality: spirit and intellect, body and emotions.
Now let’s narrow our ‘quest’ even more.
We can compare the art of improvisation with speaking: when you speak, you’re not simply reciting a text that you memorized in advance! You use words and phrases that you have learned before – but each time you combine them in a new way! The same can be said about improvisation.
Ideally, for becoming good improvisers, we have to combine and balance knowledge with freedom of expression.
1. First, we have to learn the language – otherwise, how could we express our thoughts? In the end, any form of creativity requires knowing the language (may it be singing, piano playing, painting or dancing). For saying something new, you gotta learn how to speak first!
- Study music theory and harmony;
- Practice pieces by great composers;
- Practice some easy jazz/blues/pop/rock pieces by reading them from scores.
When you study theory and harmony – you’re learning the letters, the words and many great word combinations. You learn different chords progressions and correlations, you begin to ‘find your way’ in any tonality, you create handy playing reflexes that appear only as a result of practice! Learning the rules of harmony is the first step in any ‘improvising’ quest!
Practicing pieces by classical composers is similar to reading great classical books: you’re improving your vocabulary, you learn correct spelling in an enjoyable way, you discover many new ‘advanced’ word combinations and phrases, you widen your horizons and you simply become wiser .
When you sight-read and play modern jazz/pop/rock pieces, you’re in fact adapting your ‘academic’ knowledge to the realities of the present time! After all, I’m sure you don’t want to improvise in polyphonic form! Certainly, your future improvisation will have a modern character, being similar to blues/jazz/pop pieces . So why not learn the needed modern language directly from modern pieces? That’s what I do, by the way!
One more thing: learning never stops. Our entire life is one never-ending learning experience. Even when we’ll be 80 years old, we’ll continue to learn and discover new things.
There is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that I simply adore:
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
In piano practice terms, it means that you should NEVER stop exploring, practicing and mastering the masterpieces of the pianistic repertoire! The more you practice, the more you read, the more you discover – the better you’ll be able to improvise! It’s guaranteed!
Think of your piano practice as an expedition of exploration: no matter how much you explore – there are still so many new things to discover! It’s a journey, a process, a lifestyle!
2. Express your own thoughts by using the language that you’re (constantly) learning. Allow your imagination to dominate your rational mind! You already know the letters and the words, you have mastered so many word combinations and technical patterns! Now it’s time (even if it’s only for 20 minutes a day) to ‘switch off’ your logic and allow your creativity to manifest. Don’t think – feel! Don’t try to explain – let the words flow!
However, this is not all.
If you want to learn HOW to begin your ‘improvising quest’ (and find out what exactly you can do to ‘awaken your creativity’) – join my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com! On the Private Members Forum you’ll have access to the entire article (including the remaining ‘improvising’ tips) – and you’ll also find many other exclusive video and written piano playing tutorials.
Also, many new articles and video tutorials are coming soon on PianoCareer.com. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Google + (and now also on Pinterest!) to get instant updates, support and motivation! 😉
If you enjoyed this piano tutorial, here are some other piano learning and practice topics you’ll like:
How to Use the Sustain Pedal Correctly: The Bio-Mechanics of a Healthy Piano Pedaling Technique
The Matrix – Clubbed to Death. Piano Tutorial. Lesson No 85 (Video Course for Beginners)
No Time to Practice? 5 Powerful Solutions for Lack of Time
The life-changing benefits of learning classical music
How to avoid piano injuries | Get rid of tension and pain in your hands, wrists, arms and back
What do you mean by improvisation? After all, it was something that was prevalent in classical music at one time. Also the classical improvisation and jazz improvisation draw from the same well as it were, but are played with different feels. By that I mean classical improvisation is more on the beat and jazz improvisation is played with a swing that goes behind and gives the feeling of being ahead of the beat at the same time. A lot of classical pianists find it hard to swing, but most jazz pianists find it easy to be on the beat when playing classical pieces. Also, you can learn theory without having to read music and use this to apply yourself to learning to read music later. I’m curious as to how you approach this subject of improvisation. Going back to your point about language. We all learn to speak well way before we learn to write. So going back to where you say “Study music theory and harmony”, do you mean written or by listening and doing? Sorry about the long note. Take Care and I Wish You Well. Lamarr.
Thank you for your comment! 😉
I’ll reply to your question tomorrow – explaining in detail what improvisation really is and how we have to study theory and harmony.
In the meantime, have an amazing day!
Hi again Lamarr!
I couldn’t reply to your question earlier – the Piano Career Academy Forum keep me busy 24/7 :).
Improvisation is the ability to sit at the piano and express your thoughts and feelings by inventing something on the spot! You can do it in different styles, according to your preferences: some pianists like to improvise in classical style (by using the rules of classical harmony as a guide); others prefer to improvise in jazz style (again, using the rules of jazz harmony as a foundation); and so on!
Also, you can learn theory without having to read music and use this to apply yourself to learning to read music later.
Actually, it’s impossible to learn musical theory without learning how to read music! It’s like saying that you can learn the letters and the words without learning how to read!
Going back to your point about language. We all learn to speak well way before we learn to write. So going back to where you say “Study music theory and harmony”, do you mean written or by listening and doing?
There are two ways of studying music: professional and amateur. Of course, nobody says that you can’t learn how to play ‘blindly’, without knowing how to read a score. Yes, you can, and up to a point you can also make a nice progress.
However, if you REALLY want to learn how to play piano, you MUST study musical theory and notation from the very beginning. This is the professional approach and it works. I began to study piano professionaly when I was six and my own experience is a guarantee of the effectiveness of this method ;).
So when I say “Study music theory and harmony” I mean written AND practical experience!
I hope this covers your question! 🙂 If you want to continue this interesting conversation, join our Private Members Forum at PianoCareerAcademy.com – you’ll find lots of exclusive tutorials there!
well thanks for the lesson God bless you
Because I teach jazz piano, it’s quite structured with a great deal of harmonic vocabulary and scales, modes etc that can be played over specific chords. Unfortunately, all this theory tips out of balance and many students end up playing scales at the expense of their spontaneity. We of course need the vocabulary, but the trick is to then let it go and just express ourselves in the moment.
Best wishes from London
Thank you for sharing these tips! 😉