Beginning Improvisers Curriculum

This sequence of lessons will get you improvising in a variety of musical styles, while teaching you chords and basic music theory along the way.  The first goal is to get you improvising in a way that comes easily, and without self-criticism.  Watch the Flowing Water Overview and then learn the first 2 lessons in the series.  It’s very important to play these lessons slowly and with a steady beat.  By doing this, you’ll be preparing a good foundation for everything that comes later.

“Flowing Water” Overview: Learning how the Flowing Water lessons will get you improvising fluently

“Flowing Water” Lesson 1: Starting very simply with white notes

“Flowing Water” Lesson 2 (Beginner): Slightly picking up the pace

If you can read music, then you can can skip the Piano For Kids lessons and continue with the ‘C’ Major Scale Workout, below. But if you’re new to reading music, or want to be extra thorough, then the Piano For Kids series will teach you through the basics of note-reading while also introducing you to the basics of improvising.

Piano for Kids: Lesson 1 (Beg):  Starting with Middle C (and a little improv!)

Piano for Kids: Lesson 2 (Beg):  Playing C, D and E in the Right Hand

Piano for Kids: Lesson 3 (Beg):  Hot Cross Buns (and more “fingerpainting”)

Piano for Kids: Lesson 4 (Beg):  C Position in the Right Hand

Piano for Kids: Lesson 5 (Beg):  Playing Middle C with the Left Hand

Piano for Kids: Lesson 6 (Beg):  Adding 2 more Left Hand notes (and Contemporary Pop improv)

Piano for Kids: Lesson 7 (Beg):  Introducing rests (and Black Key improv)

Piano for Kids: Lesson 8 (Beg):  Rock and Roll, Blues, and Repeat signs

Piano for Kids: Lesson 9 (Beg):  Adding F and G in the Left Hand

Piano for Kids: Lesson 10 (Beg):  Both hands at the same time

Piano for Kids: Lesson 11 (Beg):  1950s Rock and Roll!

Piano for Kids: Lesson 12 (Beg):  Beginning the Blues Scale and Playing a Waltz

Piano for Kids: Lesson 13 (Beg):  8th notes and more Blues Scale improv!

Piano for Kids: Lesson 14 (Beg):  Introduction to tied notes

A big part of becoming a fluent improviser is using what you already know, instead of always learning “hard” stuff.  Let’s have some fun using the C Major scale. Enjoy!

‘C’ Major Scale Workout (Beg/Int)

Spend enough time with each of these Flowing Water lessons until you can play them slowly, steadily, and without thinking too much.  Let the music flow naturally and easily.

“Flowing Water” Lesson 3 (Beginner): Adding an independent LH part

“Flowing Water” Lesson 4 (Beginner): LH plays a popular repeating bass part

“Flowing Water” Lesson 5 (Beginner): Changing direction with the RH

“Flowing Water” Lesson 6 (Beginner): Creating more complex melodies

Let’s start learning the C Blues scale, one note at a time. (Even if you already know this from the Piano For Kids series, play through Lessons 1-6 one time each.  It’s helpful to simply ‘jam’ with material you already know.  After all, this is one of the goals of improvising: to have fun playing music with what you’ve already learned.)

Rock and Blues Basics 1: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 1) (Beg):  Getting a good start, one note at a time

Rock and Blues Basics 2: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 2) (Beg):  Adding a 2nd note

Rock and Blues Basics 3: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 3) (Beg):  The first three notes in the Blues Scale

Rock and Blues Basics 4: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 4) (Beg):  Adding a blues note; F#

Rock and Blues Basics 5: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 5) (Beg):  Almost the whole scale

Rock and Blues Basics 6: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 6) (Beg):  The complete ‘C’ Blues Scale

Now let’s begin a thorough study of chords.

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 1: An easy way to learn major chords

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 2: Major chord workout

Here’s an overview and demonstration of how to use the sustain pedal.  You can use it with the Flowing Water lessons that follow.

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 11: How to use the sustain pedal

“Flowing Water” Lesson 7 (Beginner): Adding chords to the LH part

“Flowing Water” Lesson 8 (Beginner): Arpeggiating the LH chords

“Flowing Water” Lesson 9 (Beginner): Improvising over a contemporary chord progression

Have fun jamming with the C Blues scale for a few minutes!

‘C’ Blues Scale Workout (Beg/Int)

These next few lessons will help you begin to develop real hand independence while improvising.

Rock and Blues Basics 7: Moving LH (Part 1) (Beg):  Beginning to move the LH

Rock and Blues Basics 8: Moving LH (Part 2) (Beg):  Playing a 12-bar blues progression

Rock and Blues Basics 9: Moving LH (Part 3) (Beg):  A classic rock chord sequence

Rock and Blues Basics 10: Moving LH (Part 4) (Beg):  Alternating between 2 chords

Here’s a fun way to bring out your natural musicality!

“Fingerpainting” at the piano (Beg/Int): Learn to use musical ‘gestures’ to free your musical imagination

Let’s learn more chords:

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 3: Major and minor triad workout

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 4: Minor triad construction

Here’s a left hand technique that I use all the time!

“Flowing Water” Lesson 10 (Beginner): Exploring a more ‘open’ LH sound

Let’s learn to improvise in other keys, beginning with G Major.

‘G’ Major Scale Workout (Beg/Int)

“Flowing Water” Lesson 11 (Beginner): “Flowing Water” in the key of ‘G’

“Flowing Water” Lesson 12 (Beginner): The famous I/vi/IV/V chord progression in ‘G’

“Flowing Water” Lesson 13 (Beginner): Open voicings in ‘G’ for a beautiful LH texture

‘D’ Major Scale Workout (Beg/Int)

Pachelbel’s Canon 1 (Beg):  Getting to know the piece’s repeating bass line

Pachelbel’s Canon 2 (Beg):  Continuous quarter-note melody in RH

Pachelbel’s Canon 3 (Beg):  Playing chords with the LH

This lesson will show you how to play pop ballads using chords.  You can use these same techniques with many songs.

Classic Rock/Pop/Country Lesson 1: The Rose (Part 1: Beg): A versatile ballad accompaniment pattern

More chords:

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 5: Diminished and augmented triads

Pachelbel’s Canon 4 (Beg):  Using chord tones in the RH

This sequence of Rock and Blues lessons will help you get to a new level with improvising over LH accompaniment patterns.

Rock and Blues Basics 11: Hand Independence (Part 1) (Beg):  A more active LH pattern

Rock and Blues Basics 12: Hand Independence (Part 2) (Beg):  Continuing with LH boogie style

Rock and Blues Basics 13: Hand Independence (Part 3) (Beg):  More independence between the hands

Rock and Blues Basics 14: Hand Independence (Part 4) (Beg):  Steady quarter-notes in both melody and accompaniment

Rock and Blues Basics 15: Hand Independence (Part 5) (Beg):  Varying the melodic rhythms

Rock and Blues Basics 16: Hand Independence (Part 6) (Beg):  Adding dotted quarter-notes

Rock and Blues Basics 17: Hand Independence (Part 7) (Beg):  Applying a boogie pattern to the 12-bar blues

Rock and Blues Basics 18: Hand Independence (Part 8) (Beg):  Jamming on the chords to “Freebird”

Here’s an exercise I created that includes every triad in a fun way.

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 6: Comprehensive triad exercise

This lesson will get you thinking about the major scale in a whole new way.  It’s the basis for everything that follows.

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 7: Harmonization of the major scale

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 8: Getting to know each key better

Now let’s play in the key of F major.

 ‘F’ Major Scale Workout (Beg/Int)

“Flowing Water” Lesson 14 (Beginner): Improvising in the key of ‘F’

“Flowing Water” Lesson 15 (Beginner): Aiming for a more continuous melodic line

“Flowing Water” Lesson 16 (Beginner): A flowing melody over LH arpeggios

“Flowing Water” Lesson 17 (Beginner): Gaining melodic fluency in ‘G’

“Flowing Water” Lesson 18 (Beginner): More flowing melodies in ‘F’

Here’s a LH pattern that Mozart used.

Pachelbel’s Canon 5 (Beg):  Playing an ‘Alberti Bass’ pattern

Pachelbel’s Canon 6 (Beg):  Continuing with the ‘Alberti Bass’

Since you already know the major scale very well, it will be interesting to see the similarities and differences in the minor scale.

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 9: Chords of the Natural Minor Scale

Since you’ve already developed fluency with the Flowing Water and Rock lessons, it will be easy to apply this to the Pachelbel Canon chord progression!

Pachelbel’s Canon 7 (Beg):  Steady half-notes in the RH

Pachelbel’s Canon 8 (Beg):  Adding 8th-notes in the melody

Here’s another aspect of minor keys that you’ll see in many songs.

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 10: The Major V chord in minor keys

Let’s rock!

Rock and Blues Basics 19: “Rockin’ Blues” (Beg):  Uptempo 1950’s Rock and Roll

Now you’re ready for chord inversions. You can use them on all types of songs and styles.

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 12: Understanding inversions

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 13: Using inversions with the I – IV chord progression

Have fun with this one!

Rock and Blues Basics 20: “Blues Scale Boogie” (Beg):  Putting the elements together

More uses of inversions.

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 14: Smooth voiceleading with I – vi

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 15: I/vi/IV/V with smooth voiceleading

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 16: “Stand By Me” with smooth voiceleading

Classic Rock/Pop/Country Lesson 2: The Rose (Part 2: Int): Becoming fluent in playing chord inversions; Soloing on a ballad

Here’s a fun written-out piece.

Rock and Blues Basics 21: “Cool as a Cucumber” (Beg):  Applying the blues scale to cool jazz

The next 3 Flowing Water lessons will take your playing to an exciting place where you can freely improvise over complex LH accompaniments.  Enjoy!

“Flowing Water” Lesson 19 (Beginner): An exciting LH pattern using continuous 8th notes

“Flowing Water” Lesson 20 (Beginner): A flowing melody over continuous 8ths in LH

“Flowing Water” Lesson 21 (Beginner): “Daydreaming”

Here’s a fun improv exercise that will help you “see” chords up and down the keyboard while you develop your hand independence with rhythms.

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 17: An improv exercise with major and minor triads

Now that you know chords and inversions pretty well, we can look at ways to create accompaniments using these skills.

Solo Piano and Accompaniment Styles 1 (Beg):  A Basic 2-Beat Accompaniment

Solo Piano and Accompaniment Styles 2 (Beg):  2-Beat Accomp in LH, Melody in RH

Solo Piano and Accompaniment Styles 3 (Beg):  Using the V7 (dominant 7th) chord

Solo Piano and Accompaniment Styles 4 (Beg):  “Lightly Row” (2 style choices for the same song)

Solo Piano and Accompaniment Styles 5 (Beg):  Russian folk song

Solo Piano and Accompaniment Styles 6 (Beg/Int):  Melody and chords in the RH

Solo Piano and Accompaniment Styles 7 (Int/Adv):  A complete bluegrass arrangement

Here’s an exciting piece in the Flowing Water style.

“Flowing Water” Lesson 22 (Beg/Int): “Rushing Stream”

These next lessons are a little easier and will broaden your musical approach.

“Flowing Water” Lesson 23 (Beginner): Improvising in ‘D’ Major

“Flowing Water” Lesson 24 (Beg/Int): In ‘D’ with a simple bass line

 “Flowing Water” Lesson 25 (Beg/Int): Playing a more active melody

“Flowing Water” Lesson 26 (Beg/Int): Improvising 2 melodies at once

“Flowing Water” Lesson 27 (Beg/Int): Playing half-notes in the LH

 “Flowing Water” Lesson 28 (Beg/Int): Flowing Water’ in the Renaissance

 “Flowing Water” Lesson 29 (Beg/Int): Creating your own chord progressions

Pachelbel’s Canon 9 (Beg):  Going for a continuous flow

Pachelbel’s Canon 10 (Beg):  Mixing up the melodic rhythms

Pachelbel’s Canon 11 (Beg/Int):  Playing from a leadsheet

Congratulations!  You’ve become comfortable improvising using a variety of techniques and in different styles.  It’s a great feeling!  At this point, you have several choices as to which direction you go in, depending upon your individual interests.  You can continue in the Rock and Blues Basics series, go over to the Classical Piano Improvisation or Contemporary Worship series, or start the Jazz Piano University: Beginning Curriculum.

Have fun and let me know if you have any questions!!!