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Time to include improvisation

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As a teenager, I hated music improvisation. Well, I thought I did.

You see, I thought that piano improvisation was entirely limited to the domain of jazz. Which I was never taught to play.

But quite honestly, I was improvising constantly. ‘Making up’ music was a consistent part of my day, I just didn’t connect it with improvisation.

The reason? No-one told me that’s what I was doing. So when everyone was talking about how much improvisation they included in their daily practice, I felt ‘less than’. A bit of a constant feeling in classical music, let’s be honest.

Now, as a composer and educator, I’m asking us to broaden our view of improvisation for our students.

Improvisation is something ‘created spontaneously or without preparation.’ It is not about using a blues scale, or creating the most interesting harmony.

Improvisation is spontaneous creation.

Why do I care about this? Because it’s about giving your students a real musical voice. Rather than just following someone else’s ideas, it’s time for them to speak their own music.

As is my constant refrain to all music teachers: don’t overthink this.

Give your student a simple, familiar chord progression. Whatever notes they put with it are OKAY.

Music isn’t perfect, after all.

I could give you more advice about music improvisation. But improvisation is personal to each music student you teach, and they will all take it in different directions. Some might stick to entirely instrumental creation, some might want to add words, some might shun all melody and want to create their own harmonies.

Remember, you are the professional and capable of supporting your student with this.

If spontaneous creation still feels too much for some of your students, I humbly recommend my Row Your Boat resource. It applies improvisation principles to an existing piece of music, which should support you in your journey towards including improvisation in your music lessons.

Also, in the next few weeks there will be a brand-new improvisation resource heading to the shop; subscribe to hear when it’s launched!


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

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