Probably, every beginner pianist asks the following question – how to improvise on piano?
It seems to many people that improvisation is something very difficult and requires many years of training and practice. After all, there are pianists who study for many years and do not know how to improvise on the piano. And there are pianists who are great at improvising but can’t read sheet music. But this has nothing to do with the term of study or hours of piano lessons.
Piano improvisation is a special skill that requires certain steps and exercises. But thanks to our simple tips, you can start improvising from the very first music lesson!
Piano improvisation is an exciting creative process and a great way to express yourself through music. Do you want to play your own music, or create an interesting simple melody with varying rhythms? This is a musical “playing” in the full sense of the word! It’s interesting, creative, fun, and magical.
When we hear the words “improvise on a piano”, we first think of jazz and blues. But it’s not only jazz! You can improvise in any musical style, moreover, you can play the same melody or song in different music styles and it will sound different in their own style.
- 1 How to improvise on piano? Some basic techniques
- 2 Time to start playing
- 3 Building music structure
- 4 Complication of the musical structure in 3 steps
- 5 3 Exercises for Piano Improvisation
- 6 3 Guidelines to Soloing
- 7 FAQs
- 8 Conclusion
How to improvise on piano? Some basic techniques
Let’s begin our journey to improvising on the piano. To begin with, you should learn some basic techniques that will help you quickly start improvising on the piano and master this type of piano playing.
We’ll start with scales. You’ve probably already heard what scales are in music theory classes. There are two main types – major scale and minor scale.
Scales are a great foundation for your future improvisation, so it’s important to know how to play at least one music scale.
The simplest scale is C major scale. Let’s see how it looks. If you can’t read piano sheet music yet, you can find some tips here.
Fingering for the right hand – 1 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5, and for the left hand – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – 3 – 2 – 1. First, work out each hand separately, and then try playing the scale with both hands. If you are already fluent in the C major scale, you can use it as a basis for improvisation.
You can use not only C major, but also other major scales. Later, try using a minor scale or a blues scale. The blues scale will be useful to you if you want to learn blues or jazz improvisation.
Chord progressions – Triads
The next important basic skill is the knowledge of simple chords – triads. A triad is a chord of three notes one note apart, such as C-E-G. On each note in the C major scale, we can build a triad and thus get 7 chords.
There are 7 triads in the key of the C major scale: C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, and B diminished. We have 3 major chords, 3 minor chords, and one diminished chord. To play these chords – triads, we use the following fingers – 1-3-5 for the right hand and 5-3-1 for the left.
Practice playing chords first with separate hands and then with both hands at the same time.
Low Position Improvisation
A little advice. If you still find it difficult to play the entire C major scale, you can use the five-finger position first. In this position we take only the first five notes from the scale – C, D, E, F, G. The fingering for the right hand is 1-2-3-4-5 fingers and, accordingly, 5-4-3-2-1 for the left one. If you are a beginner and find it difficult to remember the location of the keys, labeling the keys on a piano can help you.
Time to start playing
You are already familiar with the basics – major scale, chords (triads), and five-finger position. Now let’s complicate the task and move on to the next exercise. We will link the chord played in the left hand to the scale in the right one.
When you play a C chord with your left hand, you must also play a C major scale with your right one. When you play a D minor chord with your left hand, your right hand plays the same scale of the same note. Each scale goes only through the white keys and you need to play with the same fingers – 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5.
Please note that each next chord and scale sound a little different!
In the event that you decide to start with a five-finger position, you need to change this exercise a little. The left hand also plays chords, while the right hand will only play five notes along with each chord.
Building music structure
Now a very important point that will help you overcome the fear of the unknown and take the first steps towards easy and free improvisation. Come up with a structure for yourself within which you will improvise. It can be a scale, a sequence of chords, or even a few notes.
First, try the simplest, for example, connect two chords – C and F to the basic chord progression. With your left hand, play the C-F chord sequence several times. Then try adding a group of five notes in the melody.
You can further complicate the chord progression. A very beautiful combination of chords – Am – G – F – G, or Am – Dm – G -C.
Complication of the musical structure in 3 steps
Consider the stages of creating improvisation using the example of the common chord progression Am – Dm – G – C.
1. The first step is to learn the chord progression in the left hand.
2. After you have learned the chords, you can proceed to the next step – add the scale corresponding to each triad. Play chords with the scales. Here’s what it looks like.
3. Once you have achieved free play at this point, try changing the order of the notes in your right hand. You can create melodies out of the scale. Try playing the notes with your melody in a different order and you’ll get a different melody lines. For example, this one.
The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to come up with new melodies and improvisational structures! And after a while you will be surprised to discover that improvisation on the piano is an easy and enjoyable creative process for you.
3 Exercises for Piano Improvisation
If you’re already comfortable with playing simple improvisational structures or sequences, it’s time to make your improvisations more varied. I offer you three exercises to develop your improvisation skills.
First, let’s make the left-hand part more difficult. Instead of a simple minor triad, we can use the following pattern. These chord patterns are not difficult but they sound good!
Agree, the accompaniment part sounds much more interesting! Similarly, you can replace all triads with similar music patterns.
First exercise – the melody in eighth notes. I think you should remember that the base notes in music are quarter notes, which usually correspond to one beat. Eighths are shorter, two eighths per bar. Thus, each note of the melody will match the note of the accompaniment. To begin with, you can practice using a group of five notes in your melody line.
When you master this exercise, you can move on to the next one.
16th Note Exercise
The next exercise is playing the melody in 16th notes. More notes will give you a faster melody and a more agitated character in your improvisation. It is also worth starting the playing of 16th notes from the position of five fingers. Play same notes but more faster. Notice how now for every note in the accompaniment there are two notes in the melody!
You can also combine 8 and 16 notes in your melody and get different interesting options!
If you’ve learned how to play 8th and 16th notes, try adding turns to your improvisation. Trust me, this is the real icing on the cake! So your improvisation will sound very interesting and professional. By using these techniques and combining them, you can get many variations of the same chord progression.
Beautiful Beginner Piano Improvisation (Only 3 Chords)
Let’s see a little tutorial on how to create a simple improvisation based on a 3 chord progression.
3 Guidelines to Soloing
Performing solo improvisation is not just chords and scales. You have already learned several tricks, and are able to make your improvisation quite interesting and varied. Now I want to offer you three more tips for a more advanced level.
Leave Gaps In-Between Lines
I don’t recommend playing a long melody with your right hand without pauses and stops. So your improvisation will sound like one long sentence. Don’t forget to take “breaths” between musical phrases, sometimes stop the melody, and add long notes or pauses.
Start Each Line On a Different Note
A common mistake is to start each new line on the same note, for example, on note C. This will make your improvisation sound boring and monotonous. Don’t be afraid to give yourself freedom, try starting the melody on different notes.
Start Each Line On a Different Beat
Often beginner pianists do not pay attention to what beat they start playing a melody in each bar and always play only from the first beat. In the standard size of 4 beats, you can start the melody not only from the first, but also from the second, third, fourth beat. Try to play first note on another beat! So your melody will sound different every time, and your improvisation will become even more interesting.
Remember, improvisation is freedom, don’t limit yourself!
We reviewed some tips and exercises for improvisation on the piano. If you have any questions, perhaps you can find the answers here.
What is improvising on the piano?
Improvisation is a work of art that is created in the process of performance or in the process of its very creation. Improvisation on the piano is the creation by the performer of a new piece of music right during the performance. Improvisation is not playing according to piano sheet music, it is a creative process. It is a way to express yourself and your feelings through music.
Is it hard to improvise on piano?
Improvisation on the piano is not difficult but requires certain knowledge and practice. Learn our tips, do all the exercises, and you will be able to master the art of piano improvisation.
Can anyone learn to improvise on piano?
Of course! You can go to a piano teacher and ask him to give you some piano improvisation lessons. This is the best option that will help you achieve good results the fastest. In addition, you can find many tips and exercises on YouTube and various online piano courses.
Learning to improvise on the piano is a very fun and creative process. I believe that the ability to improvise is a very important and useful skill for both amateur piano players and professional pianists. No matter what style of music you prefer – classical, jazz, rock, or other – this skill will help you get even more pleasure from playing the piano.
It’s great fun to choose a few favorite songs and play each one in a new music style, different from the original song. Your creativity and imagination also need to be trained and developed like any other skill. Do not limit yourself to the works of composers, each of us can create our music!
If you play digital piano, I also recommend using different sounds in your improvisations. Make the most of your musical instrument and imagine that you are playing along with other instruments. It’s very interesting and fun.
Free comfortable playing on the piano requires certain skills. If you’re having trouble playing chords or scales, I suggest you check out my tips for daily piano practice.
I hope that in this article you have found the answer to your question and I hope that learning improvisation on a piano will become a part of your piano lessons and your life.
Best regards, your Lucy.
Hello! My name is Lucy.
I am a musician, pianist, and piano teacher with over 10 years of experience. I, along with my professional team, created this website. Here I want to share my experience and knowledge with you. I write articles about learning the piano, its features and history, and reviews of the best digital pianos and accessories.
I hope my site will be useful to you!