Practicing technique at the piano is often boring and requires a lot of scale running and Hanon playing. Over the years, I teach less and less rote technical work and spend more time teaching people to improvise. NO – there is nothing wrong with scales and arpeggios if you are training to be a concert pianist, but what if you are using the piano to accompany yourself singing, or you are a songwriter or someone who has non-classical music on the brain. What if you just need something new to practice? Piano improvisation is a great skill for pianists of all levels!
For Piano Teachers
If you are a piano teacher looking for a new set of activities to work on with your students (especially now that we are all teaching remotely and need some new tricks up our sleeves!). What if you are just needing a new outlet to reconnect with your muse and find some enjoyment with your music again? Piano improvisation is an incredible skill that people of all levels and genres can and should experience. (You don’t have to be a jazzer to improvise, people!!)
In this short tutorial, I show you a great technique to explore improvisation: using an ostinato. You can use this technique in its simplest form, or make it more complicated if you are a more advanced pianist. Give it a try! (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment!). You can also check out these other resources on piano improvisation.
An ostinato is a continually repeating pattern. Ostinatos are a great way to start improvising on the piano, because they give the LH an easy job to do while the RH explores melody. In these examples, your LH will play the ostinato pattern and your RH will improvise using the notes of the C Pentatonic Scale. At first, you may need to focus on the LH to get it steady, but as you spend more time, you should notice your LH going on autopilot so you can focus on creating improvised lines with the RH. Play around with the pedal and see how you can use it to support your improvisation.
As you improvise using the notes of the Pentatonic Scale, explore the feeling of each of the scale’s notes. Find a note that is interesting to you, or one that sounds tense against the ostinato, and repeat it. Where does that note want to go – up or down? Explore all of the white notes of the piano and see which ones are interesting to you. This is a great way to explore piano improvisation!
- Write your own ostinato pattern
- Explore different keys
- Explore different time signatures – 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, 5/4, etc.
- Try exploring more challenging LH ostinato patterns that require more LH independence, such as syncopated rhythms
- Try playing an ostinato in your RH, while your LH improvises. (This is tricky!!)
Want to try another improvisation exercise?
Want to learn more about improvisation?
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