Music Teacher's Helper Blog

“Get It Going!” Improvisation Mini-Series

Are you looking for?

  • A few ideas for a fresh new way to start off a lesson?
  • A few quick improv games to use in a group setting?
  • A reward activity for a student’s hard work on an assignment?
  • Starter ideas for the next composition:

In each part of this series, to be continued over the next few months, we’ll explore one or two approaches to fun and easy improvisations. This will be an opportunity for us to get a collection of activities for beginning or continuing to bring creativity into our music studios. I’m saying “we” because I’m hoping that as I share my ideas, you will reciprocate!  Try these things out, and let us know how they work and how you adapted things for your particular teaching situation. Add other improv ideas that have been successful with your music students.

“Get It Going!” Improv Starter #1 ~ The Creativity Tool Box

Have each student start his own creativity “tool” box, or ring. Start a collection of index cards, in a shoebox (which they can have lots of fun decorating), or on a single ring binder. You can also find pouches and plastic cases for index cards at your local office supply store.  Make one to keep in your studio as well. Start the “tool collection” by writing the names of:

  • Three different scales, one on each of three cards. (i.e. C major, a minor, D dorian)
  • A different interval on each of the next few cards.
  • Words describing a weather condition (i.e. sunny day, raging thunder storm, blizzard)
  • Dynamic and agogic markings (p, mf, staccato)
  • Interesting sounding word/rhythms (kerplunk, giGANtic, thing-a-ma-jig)
  • Triads (add chord extensions for more advanced students)

As you start doing this, you will come up with more ideas to add. Your students may even add new ideas. I like to use colored index cards, selecting a different color for each type of tool (scales on blue cards, intervals on green, triads on yellow, etc.)

Now that you have your collection of improvisation tools going, have the student choose (with cards writing side down) from one to three cards (depending on his comfort level with improvising). Ask him to use the idea on the card and just start moving his fingers on the keys and start playing. If at a loss, you, the teacher, may provide a bass line or sustained chords and ask him to join in. You may even need to give him an example to get him going.

Feeling like a fish out of water?

To make teaching improvisation really easy for you, the music teacher, I have written three creativity flip books,   Flip for Improvisation, Original, Junior, and Senior.  These improv flips actually evolved from the tool box idea. (You can find them at

I keep the books on hand in the studio for the students to use in private lessons and group workshops. I will often send one of the flip books home with a student, for the week. Some choose to purchase their own flip to keep.  This makes it fun and easy to get going with daily improvs. Having your students improvise on a regular basis is the best way to help them to become more comfortable, and better skilled at improvisation.

PLEASE RESPOND with your results and ideas, so that in the next few months we will have a nice collection of ideas to get some creativity going in our music studios. I can’t wait to hear your ideas!! Check in again soon for my next one!

P.S.  In case you’d like my comp/improv blog articles in hard copy…I’ve published them in a 23 page book form: Music Creativity in Bloom ~ Dozens of Inspiring Ideas to help you teach Composition and Improvisation. You may find this and more music creativity teaching tools at

About the Author


  1. Mel Stallwood

    My wife and I live and teach in a lovely area of the North Pennines which couldn’t be described as cosmopolitan but nevertheless has its challenges. Many of the families who have brought along their children for music lessons (over the last 20 years or so) are either hill farmers or other professional families and they often bring 2 or 3 of their children along at once so they can go off somewhere to do a bit of shopping. As we only have one small room (as examiners will testify) and no waiting area it can be a problem keeping the siblings that are waiting for their one to one lesson amused. Crayons, books and paper don’t always seem to do the trick anymore with modern children and because they are sat at my computer desk anyway (and as young people today seem to live, eat and breathe modern technology) I began to allow them access to free music games and puzzles I had downloaded from the web. I could now teach in relative peace.

    I was building websites as a hobby and I had also started producing my own simple music quizzes on the computer as there never seemed to be enough time in a 30 minute lesson to cover much theory. I began using my websites in conjunction with assigning theory homework and also so that youngsters could upload their performances, compositions and vocal recordings. This proved a roaring success and everyone seems to love this facility. My theory site (up to grade 5) acts as a supplement to the exam handbooks because of the way it is structured, but the inclusion of aural training, flash-cards, knowledge of the orchestra, composers, memory aids, music glossary, print-outs, quizzes and puzzles of course, helps to broaden the learning spectrum a bit more and their are many links to sites giving more specialised information. Incidently, I have produced a downloadable version of the whole thing which can be used offline in a stand-alone program (there is a small fee for this though). It is called the One-2-Five music theory E-tutor. I hope some of you may like to try it out for yourselves.

    I have also written an e-book called ‘The Piano Teacher – a brief survival guide for the beginner’ which contains all the tips, tricks and invaluable information I have painstakingly gleaned over more than 30 years of teaching. This information should prove very useful for the newly qualified or more experienced music teacher. LCM printed this article in the ‘Forte’ magazine a couple of years ago and the feedback we received was very encouraging.

  2. Suzanne G

    What a great idea. Children love being given some boundaries and guidelines and just take off from there!!

  3. Piano Teacher NJ

    Great concept, Christine. I’ll use it with my students. I’ve developed a ringed flash card system for the younger students and I love your concept for more musically mature students in my classes.

  4. […] Music Teacher magazine. There are also some great articles on improvisation in the blog archives here […]

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