How to Improvise on the piano? Heart and Soul can teach you! [Part VIII]

This blog post takes the chords and tune in Heart and Soul and shows how they can help you learn how to improvise on the piano!

This is part VIII (eight) of the Heart and Soul series. Before you try this at home, make sure you’ve covered these steps:

How to play Heart and Soul’s bass and chords

How to play Heart and Soul’s tune

You’ve learned the primary chords with Heart and Soul

If you can check YES to all of the above, now it’s time to focus on how Heart and Soul can teach you how to improvise!

Improvising is hands-on. It helps piano students get off the page and into the keys. It shakes off the idea that there’s only one right way to play something. All options are open, all you have to do is unleash your creativity and go for it!

Improvise a new bass line and chords

Let Heart and Soul inspire you to try your hand at improvising! Anytime you noodle around or experiment on the piano, you are improvising — making it up as you go.

  • this is music you come up with yourself
  • you may put your own twist on music you already know
  • you may never play it again in the exact same way

Improvising on the piano has the same feel and rush as playing a sport. You might know in general how it may play out, but you won’t know the exact details until they happen.

There’s an element of surprise!

You’ll experience in-the-moment decisions and the unexpected!

Play the video for the live tutorial that matches the blog below!

Play this!

Begin by playing Heart and Soul’s famous two-handed chord progression.

Notice that this chord progression:

  • is in the key of C
  • uses chords C, Am, F and G (I, vi, IV and V — one, six, four and five)
  • three of the chords have overlapping keys, or notes in common
Notice the overlapping notes chord-to-chord.

Try This!

Start both hands in a new and different place on the piano (pick any letter name). Try a similar overlapping chord pattern. Chords that have notes in common (common tones) sound good in progressions.

  • try going up first instead of down, keeping chord tones in common
  • change it up! Try it backwards or in new, untried directions
  • keep experimenting until you find a chord progression you like. Jot down reminder letter names or take a video on your phone to help you remember it

Try This!

Try this alternative Heart and Soul chord progression:

Notice that this chord progression:

  • is in the key of C
  • uses a new chord — chord ii

Use this chord progression to inspire you to replace a different chord in the pattern, or to try other similar patterns, either in the key of C or other keys.

Try This!

Try playing the Heart and Soul chords completely backwards!

Doesn’t that sound cool? It has a fresh, current, alternative sound!

Join composer Rebekah Maxner for a two-in-one online studio event! 1) Inspire your students to compose with the “Be a Copycat!” composition workshop! This reveals the biggest trade secret of the greatest composers and inspires your students to try it, too! 2) Then, in the Piano Mini-Fest, your students get to play their favourite piece for feedback and a masterclass! Find out more! >>

Improvise a new melody

Begin by playing the melody as you know it.

Some ideas for dressing up the melody:

  • Add grace notes
  • Add intervals like thirds above or below
  • Add repeated notes with an “in-between” swing

Some ideas for switching up the melody:

  • “shadow” the original melody: keep the same rhythm, but start on E or G instead then keep playing on new keys you make up yourself
  • “invert” the melody: start on repeated Cs and next play it all in opposite directions to the original

There are no wrong sounds or notes. If you hear a sound you don’t like, all that means is that you have an ear for music. It means you are able to decide between sounds you do and don’t like, and that’s a personal thing. You don’t have to like everything you hear. Simply try again until you hear sounds you like better.

The big message here:

Improvising gives you permission to play outside the box!

  • there are no wrong notes
  • experiment as much as you want to!
  • be as musically imaginative as you want to be!

Let your curiosity get the better of you! Keep playing around on the piano keys until you’ve experienced music on your own terms! That’s improvising! Have fun!

Ready for the next step?

There’s more to Heart and Soul than meets the eye! This gem of a piece can teach the primary chords, how to transpose, relative minors and even how to improvise and compose! Start this amazing musical journey by clicking the link below and then follow the tutorials!

How to compose piano music? Heart and Soul can teach you! [Part IX]

Do you like this post and want more? In the side menu click “follow” to get notification of my posts each week in your inbox.

I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤

Rebekah Maxner, composer, blogger, piano teacher. Follow my blog for great tips!

Video of the Week

White Frost on My Window (Elementary, Level 1) is a delicate, expressive piece composed over an ostinato LH. Check out the White Frost on My Window eSheet, here! Also available in the print and eBook The Color Collection Junior, 10 expressive piano pieces to color your days, Elementary to Late Elementary piano solos. From gorgeous character pieces to the blues, from black-key pentatonic to disco, this collection has it all!

Here’s an audio clip of Silver Heels!

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