5 Most Common Mistakes Teaching Improv
1. Skipping over it
Lots of method books have a bit of improv in them and I have seen these books with a big penciled X through the improvisation page from previous teachers. Don't skip this valuable tool when you teach. Become friends with improvisation.
2. Telling students to play any note they want
Students want to sound good. Give them a good bass structure and just two or three notes so they can hear good music immediately. It’s infectious when it sounds good.
3. Using music
Improvisation is about playing what’s in your ear and your fingers, not what’s on the page. Reading music takes brain power. You need all of your brain to listen, listen, listen. That’s the number one skill when improvising. Clear the piano of all written notes.
4. Not playing for them
Getting students to listen and copy you is highly overlooked. Ask them to close their eyes and listen. Keep it simple. Play 3 notes ascending until they hear it. Then 3 notes descending. Let them copy you first and if they play it differently than you copy them!
5. Not improvising long enough
Improvising for 3 minutes a week isn’t enough. Sometimes I’ll sit down for 15 – 20 minutes and really explore a chord progression. The longer you play the more tired your left brain gets and the sooner it lets the creative right brain come out to play! Send students home with some improvising homework.
Click here for a backing track they can bring up to play along with.
Here’s 3 options for the RH to play along:
a) B C D
b) The first 5 notes from the C major scale C D E F G
c) Another penta scale – C D F G A
While you play, try to repeat notes, stop and ‘play’ some rests, hum along, leap over some notes, and LISTEN to the groove.
The longer you play the easier it is to become inventive. Enjoy!
(This blog is the first in a series on teaching improvisation)
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