Welcome to the Piano World Piano Forums Over 2.5 million posts about pianos, digital pianos, and all types of keyboard instruments
Join the World's Largest Community of Piano Lovers
It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!
Last year I returned to the piano after about 20 years away, and I have been loving it. I'm conscious that I'm neglecting a couple of important skills though - scales and theory... I try, but I just find it all really hard to get my head around (and I know they're so good for me but I feel about scales the same way I feel about broccoli...). In terms of playing I'm around grade 3, but in terms of theory and scales I'm really starting from scratch.
Anyway, one thing I do really enjoy is improvisation, but I find it frustrating that I don't have any idea what notes sound good together or what I should be doing.... This morning I had a brainwave - theory will tell me what I need in order to improvise! I know this is an obvious thing, but it has taken me a year to figure out. I'm the sort of person who learns best by doing, so I'm hopeful that this approach might help me a lot. I've found a load of useful resources out there, which I'll list below in case anyone else finds them useful.
Does anyone have any resources they would recommend, or any tips and tricks? My initial plan is to choose a key signature and work on scales and arpeggios first, then create a chord sequence and do some improvisation around that. I'll work on the same key signature for a while until I feel comfortable that I've learned it reasonably well then move on to another.
In terms of style, personally I'm a lover of classical music, and it was reading biographies of Chopin and Liszt that made me think that improvisation should be a really important part of my piano learning. There are so many jazz and blues resources out there that look really good too though, and I'm definitely open to learning about these styles too.
I'll make a couple of posts below with some of the resources I've found, but please contribute your thoughts and resources too! I did a search but could only find a few useful posts, so thought it would be nice to have one thread with lots of resources in it.
What to do after chord/inversions and playing progressions? http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/ubb/showflat/Number/2696380/Searchpage/3/Main/185415/Words/%2Bimprovisation/Search/true/what-to-do-after-chord-inversions-and-playing-progressions.html#Post2696380
Books focused on practicing chords and learning harmony http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/ubb/showflat/Number/2552821/Searchpage/4/Main/174865/Words/%2Bimprovisation+%2Btheory/Search/true/books-focused-on-practicing-chords-and-learning-harmony.html#Post2552821
These were the most useful threads I could find using the search term 'improvisation'. If anyone knows of any others please link to them!
This is an area I know very little about so I don't feel qualified to comment on the many resources available. Here are a few books and websites that have been recommended in the other threads (sorry, I don't know how to quote from other threads so just adding the quote and crediting the person who wrote it):
Charles Cohen: [/quote]
There are several "jazz piano methods" which you could look at. I'm working through Tim Richards' "Improvising Blues :Piano" and "Exploring Jazz Piano (v1 and v2)". They're very good for self-study -- step-by-step instructions.
Has anyone used this book? http://www.pianoimprovisationsystem.com/ It looks potentially like it covers what I'm hoping to learn, but it's quite expensive so would be interested to know if anyone has any experience to share.
One piece of advice - work out the theory directly on the keyboard, it's the most practical way to learn it. The layout of the keys is pure music theory. The only thing more pure is the music itself.
For example, a paper diagram of the Circle of 5ths diagram can leave your head spinning. But if you play root triads on the keyboard and follow the 5ths, you'll end up going round the Circle in a very practical way and probably learn a few useful things in the process. It's this kind of direct exploration that leads to all kinds of exciting practical discoveries.
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams.
You don't just need to focus on improvisation, try some composition too. Improvisation is (kind of) composition on the fly, with less structure depending on how good you are at improvising. So sometimes take your time and spend half an hour working out eight bars that sound REALLY good, structured, intentional and consistent, rather than just spending half an hour noodling. Actually, do half an hour of noodling, and then compose something for half an hour.
And second, don't always think you need to work out a chord progression and then put a melody over it, or even have a chord progression at all. If you have more of an abstract ear you can explore the theory by just trying out notes and seeing what works for you. Play four random notes and work out how it sounds - if it's good, build something around it; if it's not good, work out why it's not good and change it.
I began looking into improvisation last year, and found that learning scales fit into this nicely. One thing that helped me was to learn a simple song and grow with it. For example, I used Autumn Leaves. The melody is simple and the chord progression can be learned quickly. I also played Misty, Fly Me To the Moon, and other jazz standards. FMTTM is nice because it's in C so the chords and melody are mostly white keys.
After learning these basic chords and melodies, I learned very simple improvisation by ending each run on the beginning of the next measure and intentionally landing on the root. For instance, I would end on Bb if that were the root of the next chord. Learning the scale thus become part of learning to improvise and makes it easy and fun to lead, when 'in context'.
From there I began to spread the chords over two hands to increase the sound and flexibility. Study such as this can take you anywhere and everywhere at all levels. I never perfected it, though, as now I'm focusing on classical music and don't have time for everything, but hope to get back to it at some point.
There is an Autumn Leaves study thread on the forum if interested.