Improvisation in music lessons

One of things that drive what I do is to propagate the notion that music can be creatively learnt and played. While many of us (including myself) might have learnt music to follow notes on the music score, what has happened is that over time, our ears become shut to the sound of music while our eyes have become too dependent on the score.

But if you think about it, music is first HEARD. Heard with our?….Ears, not eyes. If you like a piece of music, that’s because you first HEARD it, not because you first read the score! If a piece of music fascinates you, that’s because you HEARD some part of it that moved you, not because you have read the notes.

So it is with the learning of music. We must first HEAR it – what style and mood is this music that I am hearing? Is it slow? happy or sad? How does the melody sound? Is it memorable or repetitive? What about the beat and rhythm? Is it straightforward and steady or syncopated? The list goes on. All of this is done through HEARING.

While sight reading is important, so is aural awareness and ear training. I believe this is one of the main reasons why many find it challenging to improvise, compose, arrange, etc.

Did you know that Chopin composed most of his preludes while IMPROVISING on the piano? Did you know that Mozart challenged Beethoven in their chance meeting, not to play the pieces note for note but to improvise instead? Did you know that Bach used the figured bass concept to improvise over the chorales?

It is through creative improvisation that you start to learn the ropes of how music can be composed, and how you can compose eventually. It is through improvisation and not sight-reading that you train your ears to hear the different possibilities of sounds that can occur within a song. It is through improvisation that you learn to develop your own musical ‘voice’ in music making (not just playing note for note). It is through improvisation that things are kept afresh and new, requiring you to manoeuvre through different turns and corners, making you think a bit more, since there is always the element of unpredictability and ‘failure’. Improvisation is a key and core element in music learning and in music education. It cannot be relegated or thrown out completely from music classes. Otherwise, piano lessons, or any other music lesson, will eventually become a chore.

Piano lessons need not be boring or repetitive. It can be fun, dynamic and refreshing. It requires careful planning and a heart for mentorship from the teacher, inspiring the student in every way to have a lifelong passion with music – and improvisation must be featured in some way or another!