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Early Impromptu Improv


Early Impromptu Improv. That’s what you can do spur-of-the-moment when something like this happens: your pre-note-reading siblings arrive with worried smiles and one says, “I forgot my instrument.”

“No problem,” you say, “I have several others around the studio.”

“And my books…”

Uh oh.

“…and I forgot what you showed me last week.”

The younger sibling chimes in (with frank cheerfulness), “I don’t have any of my piano books either!”

Instead of various reactions of a negative nature that spring to mind, you could do an Early Impromptu Improv with them.

Here’s how I did it that frustrating week. After the above conversation, I took a deep breath and said, “Other than forgetting stuff, what was your day like?” Then I took my cue from their answers. I showed them where to place their fingers and which notes/strings to choose from. I vamped an accompaniment that might match what they talked about. Conveniently, a few of them were super excited about the gorgeous fall color and raking leaves. I asked them to play a soundtrack for the falling leaves. What happens when a gust of wind comes up? What if there’s not even the tiniest breeze?

Another student had football practice later, so our Early Impromptu Improv went that direction. For another, I asked what song they used at dance, and I matched that mood for the improv.

These students made no progress in their books that week, but make no mistake—they learned loads about improvisation, matching/switching moods, patterns, rhythm, structure, playing with an accompanist—making music.

The older students typically remember their materials. So I watch for days when they seem down-hearted or have had a week with no practice. Then I’ll make suggestions according to their level, and we have a go at improv.

I confess I used to feel riled when students forgot their music. Especially new students who couldn’t sight-read for the duration. Now I look forward to offering a new experience.

By the way, the siblings asked to rake my lawn while they waited for their ride. I encourage you to give Early Impromptu Improv a try—I can’t guarantee your lawn will get raked, but it should be fun for you and your student!

Here’s a great article on improv from Teach Piano Today. Plus a YouTube idea that might help get you started:


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