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When did you last sit down at your instrument and improvise a piece of music? I find it a great way to boost my creative energy. Were you even encouraged to do that as a student? I know I wasn’t. My job, growing up, was to play my scales, pieces, studies, and sight-reading with impeccable fidelity to the required text and technique, and then to close the piano lid when it was time for dinner. Anything else was considered ‘playing around’, and was strongly discouraged.

These days, fortunately, children who learn instruments generally feel a lot freer to play and to improvise at their instrument, and we can learn a lot from them.  What do they do when they sit at the piano? Experiment with sounds and colors? Enjoy the feeling of flapping their hands up and down on the notes? Stick to the extreme ends of the keyboard?

As a piano teacher, I often begin by improvising around a simple chord sequence, and inviting the student to create a melody. If they’re shy, I set a tempo and suggest they play only whole notes to start with. When they begin to become more confident, I move to half notes and then quarter notes, before encouraging them to start to create a more inventive rhythm. What works particularly well is to play in F sharp major and let the student know that playing just on the black notes will work fine. [···]

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