Spontaneous Improvisation

By John Hart

In my January 2016 blog, “Discovering Your Musical Purpose”, I wrote:  

 “As a long-time music teacher and performer, I believe that a well-rounded musician needs to be able to do the following:

  1. Sight-read scores written with standard musical notation.
  2. Improvise spontaneously using chord progressions.
  3. Accompany a singer or solo instrument (using a keyboard) from a score that uses only a melody, lyrics, and chord symbols.”  

My last blog addressed the issue of sight-reading, and now we will discuss spontaneous improvisation.

When our five children were young, I taught them all to improvise at the piano.  To this day, none of them know how to sight-read music.  Even though they don’t even know the names of the notes on the staff, two of my daughters play well enough to lead worship in church, and one plays and sings regularly in a band.  (Looking back, I regret that I did not teach them to sight-read before teaching them how to improvise.)  

Improvisation skill can be developed very quickly; whereas, excellent sight-reading ability takes many years of practice. Spontaneous improvisation involves learning chord patterns which we call “progressions”.  I teach the C scale (which is all white keys), then teach the C triads in root position (which can be done in one lesson.)  From there the student learns how to string those triads together and enrich the chords so they are played in a manner that fits the style of music they are playing.  Once the student learns these basic skills, they can begin making up their own music spontaneously.  On many occasions I’ve played the piano spontaneously for over and hour at a time without any written music—not even a chord chart.  After much encouragement from my wife, I recorded an hour long CD of spontaneous piano improvisation.  The album is entitled, “Come Walk With Me in the Garden” by John Wesley Hart.  (It’s available on Spotify, Amazon, and iTunes.)

If you are an Andrew White School of Music (AWSOM) student, a 12 week multi-sensory course, including workbook and instruction, is available for you to start now.  It’s entitled, “Music Improvisation Course” by John Hart & Andrew White.  Talk to your AWSOM piano teacher for more details.