I enjoyed teaching the 1st day of my Piano Improv class today, up here in Alaska at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. Most of the students in the class had never improvised before, and were classically trained. And by the end of class, all of them were improvising as if they'd been doing it for years!
The secret? Relaxation.
I don't mean that we all did yoga and got massages to relax in that way. Rather, we spent about an hour playing fun musical games that gradually relaxed their self-criticism and enabled them to freely improvise, even if it was their first time.
It's really miraculous to see someone who has been scared of improvising become comfortable doing it in the course of an afternoon. It's actually amazing.
This kind of relaxation is essential to piano improvisation, at all levels, and it can be learned and practiced. In fact, it's a big part of how we can prepare for performances. Sometimes it comes quickly, and at other times it takes a while. Sometimes it happens before we play the first note, and at other times it happens gradually over the span of the performance.
But however it happens, relaxation is the starting point for piano improv.
Relaxing our self-criticism.
Relaxing our need to be "perfect."
Relaxing our desire to control the music.
Relaxing our nervousness about making mistakes.
Relaxing our wanting to know how the ending will sound before we begin.
When all of these begin to relax, the music begins to flow in ways we'd never before imagined, all coming through our fingers.
Yes, is the starting point for piano improv. See for yourself!