Updated: Sep 28, 2021
We are always encouraging our students to explore the piano and make their own music with whatever knowledge they have so far and whatever developmentally appropriate tips that we can give them. But, for some of us, doing this, let alone sharing our own creations, can make us feel vulnerable especially if we learned music from the page from the beginning.
So, as a teacher who has experienced this feeling, here I am leading by example. I didn't record this at the time with the intention of sharing but decided it was a good opportunity to live what I teach. This piece is called Heart Song because I was inspired to work on this by a creative challenge from one of my mentors. The challenge was to create something based on a heart shape - you can’t see it in the video but my arpeggios and chord inversions have the shape of a top of a heart but also I’m playing this from the heart so there you have it! The piece is part composition and part improvisation, which is why you'll see some moments of hesitation.
Why do we encourage improvisation from the very beginning?
Improvising our own music has huge benefits for our brain function, and actually has a different impact on our brain than playing music from a page or from memory. It also enhances the learning experience immeasurably.
Making our own music through improvising or composing gives us a much deeper understanding of music. It helps connect us on a deeper emotional level to music and to the musician within. There is something completely liberating in sitting down at the piano and letting sound flow from your fingertips - it is a totally different feeling to playing music written by others.
The key is to cast all judgement to the wind, and to not be put off by words like 'improvising' or 'composing' - we are simply making our own music when we want to, which is much less intimidating. We aren't setting out to be the next Mozart or write a no.1 hit (although you might, who knows!) It doesn't have to be perfect or conform to what someone else's idea of 'good' might be. Anything you play is music - there are no wrong notes. There are just notes we want to play and notes we might not want to play, there are just sounds we like personally and sounds we don't, and some of those sounds we don't like might grow on us as we experiment. Exploring the piano through improvisation in this way helps us make our own discoveries about music, which enriches the whole experience.