Improvising Beautiful Melodies On The Piano

Lisa Witt  /  Chording / May 7

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Today I’m going to share a secret. My secret, to improvising beautiful melodies on the piano. This quick tip actually came about by request. Some of our recent videos have focused on the left hand, and people wanted to know, “what do I play in the right hand to make it sound beautiful?”

So I’m here to tell you!  I’m here to give you my secrets, and the first secret is: It’s super simple.

Improvising a beautiful melody does not have to be complicated, and you don’t have to have years of experience to try this.

We are going to play a simple chord progression in our left hand, staying in the key of A minor.

The progression will be: Am F G Em. We’ll just play fifths in the bass.

So let’s begin!

Tip # 1

The best and easiest way to start is to just play the root note of the chord in our right hand and follow the progression. This helps us to get in the mindset and really understand and get comfortable with the progression we are going to play. There’s nothing scary about this.

Tip # 2

Now we are going to explore chord tones. Chord tones are just the notes that make up the chord. We’ll start simply by playing the root and the third of the chord that we are on. So for Am, that’s an A and a C. For F it’s an F and an A and so on…

We can take that a step further by playing the third and the fifth of the chord. So we let our left hand play the root note, and our right-hand plays the third and the fifth. So for Am our right hand would play C and E. The best thing about using chord tones is that these notes are guaranteed to sound good together.

Tip # 3

Now it’s time to be a little braver and explore a little bit more. Instead of playing only chord tones, we are going to use the first five notes of the chord that we are in.  

But while we do this, we still need to make sure that we are keeping all of the notes within the key signature of the song. For this example, we are in A minor. A minor has no black keys, so our E minor tones will be E, F, G, A, B. We do NOT play F# because it’s not in A minor.

Tip # 4

Now we are going to branch out even more and play ANY of the notes in ANY order that belongs in A minor scale. This is a real process of trial and error. Some notes will sound better than others, but it’s all up to you as to what you think sounds good.

This is the time to really explore, and be willing to forgive yourself if you play something you don’t like.

Final Thought

In this example we are in the key of A minor, so all the white keys are safe. If you are playing this in a different key, you’ll need to make sure you pay attention to what sharps and flats are in the key. 

Improvisation can be scary, and nobody wants to sound bad, but the best way to improve your improvisation skills is to practice and allow yourself to make mistakes. By finding out what doesn’t work, you will also find out what DOES. And you take that and apply it to make beautiful melodies.

Good luck!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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