Among the numerous piano improvisation tips I am able to share with you, if I was asked to share one that stands out above the crowd in terms of effectiveness, it would be this one:
Respect the melody and have fun playing around it.
Sure, there is much benefit when it comes to understanding chord/scale relationships, learning scales, and practicing patterns of all sorts. You are highly encouraged to be open to making all of this a part of your routine. However, if your attention is devoted to taking this approach exclusively, there is a chance that your improvisations can come across as sounding rather “robotic” or “mechanical.”
Remember, we’re playing music. Sounding mechanical is not the goal. At least it isn’t in the eyes of those with good musical sense. Again, practicing scales and patterns certainly has its place during practice time. But when it comes to sounding musical, having respect for the melody of the tune you are playing is most conducive to your improvisation coming across as coherent, lyrical, and creative. Does this make sense? This is one of the most powerful piano improvisation tips that I have ever learned.
Taking the “mechanical” route when improvising over tunes can lead to those improvisations rather repetitive from one song to another. When you really think about it, what is the first and foremost aspect of a tune that serves as its identity? Most would agree that it’s the melody. Many tunes exist that either share the same chord changes as others or are least close to being similar, but it’s the melody that gives each tune its identity. That being the case, it stands to reason that respecting the individuality of the melody of a given song when improvising will lend itself to that improvisation having its own uniqueness. Remaining cognizant of the melody while improvising over those chord changes is a sign of musical maturity.
During my time in college, a teacher in one of my harmony classes who happened to be a trumpet player shared with the class that he learned to improvise by learning the melody well and then eventually embellishing it, while always keeping it in mind during his improvisations. I had the privilege of hearing this guy play a gig and his playing was totally awesome. His improvisations cooked!
Choose a favorite song of yours and learn that melody well. Sing it or hum it (or whistle it) during the day. Really become acquainted with that melody. Then, when at your instrument, learn to use that melody as your “safety net” as you embellish it a little at a time. For some help in this area, consider taking advantage of this easy-to-follow program which consists of a short video session and guidebook that, once you implement the techniques suggested, will have you feeling more and more confident when it comes to creating solos that are not only coherent, that sound good, and are uniquely you!
PLAY WITH PASSION!