Tag Archives: piano improvisation

Piano Improvisation: Melodic Embellishment

Piano improvisation - embellish melodyMelodic embellishment is the one aspect of piano improvisation that lends itself to your sounding “pro” very quickly, considering how little effort is needed on your part. What you do need is to resolve to have some fun with a few very easy concepts. Impressive results tend to manifest faster than you might expect.

There are many aspects of piano improvisation that can serve as great approaches to effectively embellishing a melody. There is one technique that I particularly like for beginners that is conducive to great sounding melodic embellishments. What is it? Well, it involves the use of the blues scale. It should be pointed out and emphasized here that knowing the blues scale as most people do is one thing. However, using it to create tasteful piano fills is another.

There is the common tendency for beginning piano improvisers to overuse the blues scale and thus sound rather “robotic.” But this will improve with experience and maturity. In addition, this “learning curve” can be reduced dramatically when utilizing the blues scale in a fashion that is proven to be effective right from the beginning. This is a topic that is a favorite of mine so I actually created a video session dedicated to helping learning improvisers and piano stylists to get a handle on this special, easy-to-grasp improvising technique. The title of the session can be rather deceiving since it can lead one to believe that it is dedicated to learning blues piano exclusively. This is far from the truth. The video session actually shows example of how you can tastefully utilize the blues scale to create some very interesting piano embellishments when playing standard songs.

The name of the session is 5 Blues Piano Licks You Just Gotta Know and it can be accessed online instantly. It’s rather amazing how just using a simple strategy in such a subtle way can really make you come across as a player who “stands above the crowd.” The reason is simple: when you play something that sounds as if it was produced in an effortless fashion, the listener picks up on that.

Try A Little Piano Improvisation

Here is a little piano improvisation experiment you can have fun with. You are highly encouraged to take a standard song that you are confident when it comes to playing it. Now, locate the end of a phrase that is inactive. Specifically, I am referring to an area in the melody that includes a note with a duration of at least 3 beats (dotted half note or more). Next, play that entire melodic phrase and, right after you’ve played that note, instead of holding it to its fullest extent (3 beats or more), play a couple of notes from that melody in an effort to “echo” a portion of what’s been played.

Don’t be concerned with your choices. Don’t overthink this. Rather, adopt a very accepting attitude of yourself and your efforts. This is key. You see, when you are confident, your audience knows it. So practice confidence when you are playing alone. You’ll find that, before long, this confidence becomes transferred when you are actually playing for others!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

 

Piano Improvisation Tips: Use Those “Other” Notes

Piano-Improvisation-TipsOne of the best piano improvisation tips that I ever had been exposed to was that of “going outside the chord.” I mean, when most of us first learn to improvise, we are encouraged to utilize the actual chord tones of the chord we are playing. By the way, this is good advice. That said, you can add even more dimension to your use of those chord tones when you consider using those “other” notes.

What is being referred to here? Okay, let’s take a look at a Gmin7 chord. In it’s basic root position, this chord is spelled as follows:

G  Bb  D  F
1    3    5  7

When playing a Gmin7 chord, it makes perfect sense that these chord tones are compatible for improvising. You can even come up with some pretty interesting improvisational ideas simply adhering to these chord tones.

If you have limited yourself to improvising in this fashion, then this will be one of the most eye-opening (and ear-opening) piano improvisation tips you’ve stumbled upon yet. It’s pretty easy to grasp, too. When you play the Gmin7 chord above, the notes once again are:

G  Bb  D  F

Let’s consider a chord/scale relationship here. This Gmin7 chord can be thought of as being related to a G Dorian scale (or mode), which looks like this:

G  A  Bb  C  D  E  F  G

Notice the chord tones of the Gmin7 highlighted in red above. Now, look at those other tones that are in between those chord tones. What are they? Yes, those “other” notes are A, C, and E. We could even included the top G again and have A, C, E, and G. Question: what chord do those tones spell?

Right! It’s an Amin7…

Now, go ahead and play a Gmin7 chord with your left hand. While doing this, play those Amin7 chord tones one at a time. Come up with some melodic ideas using those Amin7 chord tones. You’re sure to come up with some pretty interesting improvisational ideas!

Okay, now continue to do this and then have your improvisation resolve to the actual chord tones of Gmin7. One example might look like this: Piano-Improvisation-Tips Notice that the first four eighth notes are simply those “other” notes… yes, the chord tones from Amin7… and the following four eighth notes consist of only chord tones from Gmin7.

Suggestion: using this as a guideline, create some of your own improvisations over the Gmin7 chord. Feel free to add your own “twist” to the idea you see above. Mix up those chord tones. Your possibilities are endless!

Also, apply this improvisation concept to some other chords. You are just beginning to explore your creative, musical potential!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

PS Want some more piano improvisation tips? Visit here

Piano Scales: Minor Pentatonic & The Blues Scale

Piano-ScalesWhen it comes to piano scales for improvisation, the pentatonic is one you will want to have fun with in all keys. Now, we already acknowledged the major pentatonic scale. Let’s look at it here, specifically the C pentatonic scale:

C  D  E  G  A  C

As we have mentioned before, the major pentatonic scale consists of the 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the major scale. It cannot be overemphasized that learning this and other scales in the other keys will certainly be conducive to massive confidence.

Now that we have looked at the major pentatonic scale, we will use it as a foundation for playing the minor pentatonic scale. Just like the major scale has a relative minor scale, the minor pentatonic scale has a relative minor pentatonic scale.

If we begin the C major pentatonic scale on the A instead of the C and end it on an A, we have:

A  C  D  E  G  A

There we have it! Yes, this is the A minor pentatonic scale. It’s one of those piano scales you’ll want to master. So, the formula is as follows: begin any major pentatonic scale on the 6th degree and end it on the same degree an octave higher and the result is the relative pentatonic scale.

We also have already spent some time acknowledging the blues scale. Well, let’s use this minor pentatonic scale as a foundation for playing a blues scale beginning on the same note. Maybe you have already noticed that the only difference between the minor pentatonic and the blues scale is one note.

Again, here is the A minor pentatonic scale:

A  C  D  E  G  A

Now, let’s simply add an Eb (or a flat 5) to this and here is the result:

A  C  D  Eb  E  G  A

Yes, here we have the A blues scale!

So, there you have it! To arrive at any blues scale, simply play the minor pentatonic scale that begins on the same note and then add the b5, and you’ve got it!

It really helps when you can make associations like this when comparing scales. Let’s face it… we only have 12 different pitches. So, inevitably, there will be many similarities between the various scales that we will learn. Whenever the opportunity arises for us to associate one scale to another, this makes it easier for us to see a new scale for what it really is.

Again, you are highly encouraged to learn these scales in a number of different keys, as you confidence will absolutely soar as a result of doing so. As you become more and more technically in command of those keys, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Scales: The Dorian Mode

Piano-ScalesOf the many piano scales that you will want to familiarize yourself with is the Dorian mode. Let’s take a look at this special scale, which you will find yourself using frequently while improvising on piano.

First, to easily understand the construction of the Dorian mode, we will begin by taking a look at the major scale. Specifically, we will spell out the C Major scale here:

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

What scale do we arrive at if we start this C Major scale on the second degree which, in this case, is D… and if we end the scale with D as well?

Here it is:

D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D

Wahlah! There we have the Dorian mode. Specifically, we have D Dorian mode.

The Dorian scale (or mode) is a minor scale. As we look at the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of this scale, we have:

D  F  A  C

Yes, the Dmin7 chord!

Play a Dmin7 chord with your left hand while playing the D Dorian scale with your right and listen closely. Do you hear how well this scale sounds when played with this chord?

This is one of those piano scales you will want to learn in the other keys, too. To do this, play any major scale that you are familiar with and then start that scale on the 2nd degree of that scale and play up to the same pitch name as we did above. So, as another example, if you start with the G Major scale:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  G

and then start this scale on the A and end on A, we arrive at:

A  B  C  D  E  F#  G  A

Yes! That’s the A Dorian scale!

We mentioned that this scale is also referred to as a “mode” and we are going to get into further explanation of modes and we’ll also be looking at more of them. However, now that we know this scale sounds so good with the min7 chord, have some fun with playing some patterns. using it.

For example, play an Amin7 chord with your left hand and, with your right hand, play a pattern starting on the first note (A) like this:

A  B  C,  B  C  D,  C  D  E… and continue. Listen to this!

Okay, now go find a favorite standard song that you are learning to improvise on and, when you have a minor 7 chord, consider improvising an idea over that chord. In other words, use what you are learning. It is in the  where the “gold” exists!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Tips: Building A Vocabulary

Piano-Improvisation-TipsOne of the most valuable piano improvisation tips one can learn to implement is that of overusing a concept to the point of it becoming part of one’s nature. Perhaps we can more easily understand this if we equate this to the language that we speak, since music is a language in itself. When we learned to say a certain word like, “Wow!” we found many places within our conversations to implement it to the point of it becoming natural to do.

When learning a new improvisation idea, make it a habit to incorporate that idea into many areas of a song wherever possible. Yes, it might sound a bit monotonous to begin with but practicing and performing can be thought of as two separate activities. Incorporating a musical idea into a song over and over leads to confidence in using it on command. Do this with several improvisational ideas and your confidence with improvisation, in general, will definitely soar.

For example, let’s say that you are playing with a small improvisation pattern like this:

Piano-Improvisation-Tips

The notes in this particular pattern can be played with many chord situations. Look for areas in your song that might have a chord progression that goes something like this:

Cmaj7  Dmin7  /  Cmaj7  Dmin7  /

or

Cmaj7  Dmin7  /  Cmaj7  Dmin7  /

or

Amin7  Bdim7(b5)  /  Cmaj7  Dmin7  /

Even if you can find a succession of chords in which the pattern does not sound absolutely great to you, consider modifying the pattern a tiny bit so that it fits well, like changing a couple of notes in the pattern. Also, consider using a portion of the pattern like one measure of it or half a measure’s worth. One of the best piano improvisation tips you can learn to put into practice is adapting an idea to a given situation as we are mentioning here.

The more you apply yourself in this regard, the more equipped you will be when it comes to improvising. Use the new idea that you are learning in a number of different songs as well. Overusing an improvisation technique, strategy, or concept is a bit like swinging a bat with a weight on it several times. Then, when performance time comes, you feel “lighter” and more confident when it comes to actually implementing the ideas you have learned and repeatedly put to practice. In short your confidence when it comes to improvising increases tremendously.

Suggestion: Pick one idea today, like a piano fill that you would like to get better at using in your songs whenever you become inspired to. Find as many possible places that you can use it in a favorite song of yours. Yes, even modify it a bit to adapt to certain situations.

As you become more and more inspired to play creatively, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Tips: Playing Patterns

Piano-Improvisation-TipsAmong the piano improvisation tips that you could be offered, one you’ll want to not overlook is that of playing patterns. The possibilities are endless. If you’ve never experimented with patterns, there’s no time like now to get started, so let’s do it!

Let’s say that you are playing a chord progression in the key of C Major. A most popular of these progression is:

Cmaj7  Amin7  Dmin7  G7

All four of these chords consist only of notes that are included in the C Major scale:

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

Cmaj7:  C E G B

Amin7: A C E G

Dmin7: D F A C

G7: G B D F

Since this is true, if we simply create piano improvisation patterns that include notes from the C Major scale, what we play will be compatible to this chord progression. Let’s take a look at one such pattern:

C D E F   D E F G   E F G A   F G A B   G A B C   A B C D   B C D E   etc.

Notice that each set of notes in this pattern climbs starting on a subsequent note of the scale and climbs up four scale degrees. One possibility is to play these scale tones as eight notes. So, if each chord is played for four beats, then it would take two sets to complete a measure.

So, for Cmaj7, we could play the following as eight notes:

C D E F   D E F G

Then, as we play the Amin7, we continue the pattern starting on the third set (E F G A   F G A B)…

Now, even while adhering to this simple pattern, it becomes very interesting what kinds of variations we can come up by starting the pattern on different scale degrees. In other words, we can actually start this pattern on any scale tone of our choice while playing the Cmaj7 chord. This ultimately changes what scale tone we will be playing when we arrive at the Amin7 chord… and the Dmin7 chord… and the G7 chord.

Experiment with this pattern starting with different scale degrees on that first chord of the progression (Cmaj7) and notice how it sounds over the entire chord progression. Listen in particular when the chords change and what the starting note sounds like for each chord. So, if we start the pattern in eight notes on E, by the time we get to the Amin7 chord, our starting note will be G… and for Dmin7 it will be B… and for G7 it will be D.

Then start on a different note and continue exploring. Chances are good that you will like some better than others. That’s one of the great things about improvising! This is one of those piano improvisation tips that you can really investigate your potential with.

Try other patterns, too. Here is another:

C D E G   D E F A  E F G B etc.

Notice that we climb up three steps in the scale starting on the first note in the scale and then skip a tone. Then we begin on the second note of the scale and do the same thing, etc.

How about playing with each of the above patterns, starting on different notes of the scale. After you’ve had some fun with that, create some patterns of your own! The sky’s the limit!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,
Davewww.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Handbook

Piano-Improvisation-HandbookA piano improvisation handbook for beginners  that will serve as a starting point for those who feel as though they would like some encouragement in this area is available. This guidebook is brief and is accompanied by a short video that demonstrates the easy approach presented. If you have felt inspired to improvise on piano but wish you had an easy way to get your feet wet, you are likely to find this one quite eye-opening (and ear-opening).

The piano improvisation handbook/video combo is entitled The One Improvisation Secret You Must Know and has proved to be rather popular. This popularity is most likely due to its simplicity. This is not a book on improvisation that is meant to be read in an armchair. Actually, it will not take you long at all to read through it. It is not something that is meant to be studied intensely. Reading through this guidebook once along with exposing yourself to the piano video session once is likely to be enough for you to grasp the concepts and begin applying them immediately.

In college, one of my teachers (in harmony class) who was also a trumpet player, alerted me to a very simple approach to improvisation. I had been familiar with the concept but actually hearing it from one I considered to be an authority confirmed for me that this was a way of learning to improvise that was worth paying attention to. This improvising strategy is so simple that many are likely to discount the real power of it. Why is this improvisation technique so effective? Well, it’s practical and it promotes musicality.

By the way, this teacher informed the entire class that he had attributed his ability to improvise to taking this route. I heard this guy playing a gig at a local club just up the road from Berklee College of Music and, wow, could he ever play! Bebop was where it was at that night and he cooked on that trumpet!

Okay, here it is:

Learn to improvise by learning the melody of that tune you are playing like you never knew it before. Play it over and over again and, little by little, use small embellishments. Over time, it works like magic. You see, by improvising this way, you show respect for the melody and, as a result, your improvisations really take on a nice shape.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with learning scales and patterns and incorporating them into your solos. It is actually encouraged. But this improvisation method that we are referring to here does not require thinking along those lines. You can start as simple as approaching a melody note by a half step below. If the melody note is G, for example, and is played for two beats, you can just play the Gb for a half beat and follow with the G for the remaining beat and a half… or you can change the note values, of course. The possibilities are endless. The piano improvisation handbook mentioned above can help you tremendously with this method of improvising.

As you implement this improvisation technique more and more, you’ll find yourself becoming more creative around those melody notes. The result? Your improvisations will have coherence and you will be developing your own personal style!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Tutorial: Pentatonic Scale Solos

Piano-Improvisation-Tutorial-Pentatonic-Scale-SolosIf you have an interest in developing some pentatonic scale solos, as a beginner this is a good choice since you can really come up with some impressive sounds with little effort. Who said it needed to be complex to be good, right? It certainly doesn’t. Actually, when it comes to creating simplistic solos that sound “pro,” the utilization of pentatonic scales is an excellent choice.

Let’s see how to come up with a pentatonic scale:

“Pentatonic” is derived from “penta,” which means “five” in Greek. Therefore, a pentatonic scale is a five note scale. Let’s first take a look at a G Major scale:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  G
1   2   3  4  5   6   7    8

Let’s extract the following scale degrees from this major scale:

1, 2, 3, 5, and 6

Thus, this leaves us with the following, which is a G Major pentatonic scale:

G  A  B  D  E

Of course, we can repeat the 1 as we do with the major scale, resulting in:

G  A  B  D  E  G

An  interesting characteristic of the pentatonic scale is the unique flavor we get from simply playing it in either an ascending or descending fashion. However, some of the real magic can happen when using bits and pieces of this scale and creating patterns with it.
Here is one example of a descending pattern that can be used to create some interesting pentatonic scale solos:

G E D   E D B   D B A  BAG etc.

The use of the pentatonic scale is unlimited. The possibilities go way beyond the scope of this particular piano improvisation tutorial since this is simply an introduction. Below is a short video clip excerpted from Sneak Peeks #2, illustrating the G Major pentatonic scale. Of course, you will want to play this scale in other keys as well!

Once you know how to play a major pentatonic scale on a given root, it is very easy to also play a minor pentatonic scale as well. If we take a look at the G Major pentatonic once again and simply begin that scale on the 3rd note of that scale, which is B in this case, we instantly have the B Minor pentatonic scale:

B  D  E  G  A  B

So, you see, both of these pentatonic scales (G Major and B Minor) consist of exactly the same notes. You are highly encouraged to explore and have fun with both of these scales in as many keys as possible. Your confidence when it comes to improvising on piano will undoubtedly increase in a very short amount of time!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Technique: Chord Tones

Piano-Improvisation-TechniqueOne piano improvisation technique that you absolutely want to make a regular part of your practice routine is the use of chord tones. Please don’t make the mistake of underestimating the power of this improvisational approach.

If you know the chords to a tune you are playing, then you’re already half there. Of course, knowing what they are and using them to their potential are two different things. Let’s face it: there are people who might say, “Yeah, I know how that works” and there are people who will actually make it work.

Become acquainted with the chord changes to the point where you are not only able to play those chords as the accompaniment to a given melody but you are also able to play them as arpeggios. Let’s take a look at a few measures from a popular jazz standard tune like All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) in Ab:

/  Fmin7  /  Bbmin7  /  Eb7  / Abmaj7  /

Now let’s consider how this piano improvisation technique can really work for us once we establish what the chord tones are for the chords in these four bars of this great standard. The chord for each of these chords are acknowledged here…

Fmin7: F Ab C Eb
Bbmin7: Bb Db F AbEb7: Eb G Bb Db
Abmaj7: Ab C Eb G

With your right hand, play each of these chords as arpeggios (one chord tone at a time from bottom top). Then reverse this by playing the arpeggios from top to bottom. Play these arpeggios in a rhythmical fashion. One way you can easily approach this is playing each chord tone as an eighth note while both ascending and descending. For example:

If you play the Fmin7 chord as an arpeggio in eighth notes ascending, that completes two beats. Starting at the top of the chord and descending completes the measure with another two beats.

/  F  Ab  C  Eb Eb  C  Ab  F  /

Following this, treat each of the other chords the same way…

Doing this for the entire tune will accomplish a couple of great things:

1) You will learn the chord changes in a way that you didn’t before

2) You will come up with some really great piano improvisational ideas in the process

I will acknowledge here that, at first, you may feel as though this may sound rather “robotic” or redundant. You would be right about this; however, keep in mind the reason you are doing this. You are opening your ears in a way that you really get to hear those chords as arpeggios and doing this will lend itself to your coming up with different ways of playing those chord tones as you create your own improvisations. For example, you can change the order of those chord tones anytime you please. Perhaps you will start the improvisation for one chord on one of the middle chord tones and climb up… then climb down… etc. For Fmin7, this could mean you play Ab  F  Eb C. As you proceed to the next chord, mix it up as well. The combinations are endless!

Your ears will open up in a way they never did before. Also, those improvisations will really begin to take on some interesting shapes!

Have a ball exploring this piano improvisation technique and as you do so, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Tutorial: Love Those Half Steps

Piano-Improvisation-TutorialThis piano improvisation tutorial focuses on a very simple technique that you will love to love if the idea of improvising is new to you. It involves using chromaticism, or using half steps.

This is a piano improvisation technique that is so easy to implement, but don’t let its simplicity fool you! By using this easy-to-use strategy over and over again in various areas of those favorite songs of yours, you will very likely not only become confident with it but it’s probable that doing so will lead you to other ideas of your own as well. Now that’s good news!

I’m including this easy piano improvisation tutorial here because it’s my belief that if you are to make one tiny step (another pun intended) toward learning to improvise on piano, this is the one that will open doors for you.

How do you apply this piano improvisation technique? It’s as easy as pie. Simply approach any note in that melody by a half step below. Let’s say you’re playing Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon in the key of C Major. The first melody note is a C (played with an Amin7 chord). Before you play that C, play the B one half step below it and then immediately resolve to that C.

By the way, you can apply this to any of the melody notes in that first measure. You can even use this improvisation technique on every melody note. Now, understand that, by doing so, you may consider the result to be a bit redundant. But that’s okay, because you’re learning to implement the technique. As I always encourage my students, when you learn a new technique or concept, overuse it to the point where you are feeling very, very comfortable with it. Once you do, it’s rather easy to apply the idea less often. By overusing a certain idea, it’s kind of like swinging a baseball bat with the weight on it and then taking the weight off. Swinging becomes a whole lot easier. Thus, you’re more in control!

Let’s say the melody note is normally played for one beat. Well, consider sharing the value of that beat with both the melody note itself and the note that is one half step below. So, you’re playing two eighth notes. This is just an option. As you become more and more acquainted with this concept, you can play the note that is a half step lower for a shorter duration and the melody note for a little longer. If the melody note is normally played for two beats, then the note that is one half step lower can be played for one beat, a half beat, or a duration of your choice, and then the melody note can play for the remainder of the two beats. After a while, you will really get a feel for this!

Have fun with this half step approach to piano improvisation and as your playing becomes more and more tasteful, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com