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“Improvisation”

A scary word for many of us musicians. I know the thought of improvising makes me shake in my boots a little bit. I’m not a big note reader so you’d think that improv would be my thing but, improvising makes me feel a little vulnerable and nervous. Can you relate?

I’m learning to step outside my comfort zone with this and so can you! Here’s how.

Create a safe little set of rules to play within. These little rules will serve as your security blanket so you don’t have to worry about doing something “wrong.”

…Although with improv, can you really be wrong?

In this case, the rules are simple. We are going to use the most common chord progression of all time. We will play I, iv, V and VI chords, in that order. More simply stated you are going to play C, A minor, G, and F, with your left hand using 5ths.

Simply place the 5 finger (baby) of your left hand on the chord or root note and then play the note that is five notes above that. For C you will play C and G, for A minor you play A and E, for G you play G and D and for F you play F and C.

All you need to do is play each of these once. That’s it!

Now, take the 5 finger of your right hand and place it on C above middle C. You will notice your 2 finger naturally lands on the G. All you need to do is play C, G, C, G on and on and on. Basically just rock back and forth between those two notes. Each time you play a C and then a G, play one of the bass 5ths in your LHSounds great, doesn’t it?

Get comfortable here. Settle in. When you get bored, start trying new things. Change your rhythm, play some of the notes that lie naturally under your hand. The sky is the limit. If you play something that sounds “bad”, try something else! This is the beauty of improv.

Hope this exercise gets you curious and having fun!


Lisa Witt

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 18 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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