To learn how to improvise it is helpful if you work with a tune you have already memorized and do not have to be reading as reading keeps your mind engaged while you are trying to let go of thinking. So if you have a tune you know by heart you can start getting into improvising more readily.
So let’s say you are playing Mary Had A Little Lamb.. and you want to start improvising and playing it slightly different then it is written… well if you play it in the key of C… (all white notes) it will help.. and just play the melody to start with… and play it several times… then start wandering away from the melody line just a few notes to the right of the melody and then a few notes to the left… for instance… try this … play the middle E note.. then middle D… then middle C….as in E-D-C-D-E-E-E……D-D-D-E-G-G…. Ok that’s how it is written.. so lets try wandering around in the melody but keep it close to home…. like this…E-D-C-D-E-G-G….D-G-G-E-G-G… improvise.. be creative.. but keep the melody and your forays into improvisation in the beginning close to home… and this applies to all songs.. pop and classical…. take a chance… keep the chords the same but get into playing the melody slightly different everytime.. and you wil start getting into the habit of being a little creative and improvising around on everything you play.
Deep Breathing helps get you in touch with your emotions and more into the flow. It also relaxes you and slows down the intellectual process which is what we want. A student once remarked after I encouraged her to focus on her breathing while she was playing that she “can’t breathe and think at the same time.” EXACTLY! Improvising is more about letting go while playing than thinking about what to do and how to do it, so when you first sit down at the piano, before playing a note… take 3 slow deep breaths. Inhaling slowly and deeply, exhaling slowly and completely, 3 times. Do the same while you are playing; slow deep breaths will help you to relax, get into the flow and enjoy playing much, much more.
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player the idea of improvising holds a certain allure as it means to play spontaneously from your own natural feelings and creativity, freely and without sheet music – Who wouldn’t want to do that?
And improvising is something we can all do, so here are a few tips on how to do it and a Free Video Lesson called the Black Note Flow Lesson from my Sonny’s Play Piano Instantly DVD Kit and Weekly PianoTV Show Series. This lesson gets you into playing spontaneously without thinking and without sheet music and is an exercise in creativity designed to connect you to your feelings and musical intuition.
When people first do this simple 10 minute lesson they often think, “Oh, that was easy.” They may have followed along with me on the video or they may even have just watched me do the exercise and that’s it: Easy, done, finished. But le contraire! The secret to getting this exercise to work for you is to keep doing it for at least 20 minutes every time you sit down to play. Use it as a warm up BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE. It will get you into the flow and help you to play more spontaneously without thinking. Actually, it takes about 20 minutes of playing before you warm up physically and mentally, and up to the 20 minute mark your mind is thinking and analyzing… the key to improvising is to stop thinking and just flow.. feel.. let go; Play without the critical side of your brain judging everything you are doing. One of the real secrets to improvising is that THERE ARE NO MISTAKES; You are learning how to flow and are just exploring the piano and the sounds that the black notes can give you. You are not playing a Chopin Prelude, so don’t start and stop… just keep playing… do not listen to that little voice in your head that says, “That was good”, or “That was bad, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? It isn’t working.” By silencing that voice you free youself from the stress and worry of playing perfectly and the music inside of you can find its way to your fingers.
So when doing this Video Lesson remember There Are No Mistakes and play along with me as I demonstrate it. And then, play it on your own for longer and longer periods of time and you will be amazed at what will happen, your creativity will kick in and interesting melody lines will appear and you will begin playing without thinking. Try it! And Try it again… and again… and again…