How To Improvise On The Piano


I've been an on and off piano player for several years now. But this time, I'm determined to keep playing without giving up. The reason I'm so excited about playing the piano all of a sudden is that I finally know how to improvise. Improvising on the piano is beyond fun. Playing with the notes on the keyboard, making music out of just chords on a page... that's incredibly cool. I started out by just learning all the chords, so that I could play whatever song I wanted by just searching for the chords online, like at Ultimate Guitar. And once I got to know the chords, I decided to try out improvising, something that I've been so hecka scared to do.

For those of you out there who want to try out improvising on the piano, here is my how-to for y'all:

Pick a song you want to improvise on

It can be any song. It can be a pop song, a Broadway song... whatever. Just pick one and get the chords for the song. I personally started improvising with Titanium by David Guetta, one of my favorite songs ever.

Start by just playing the chords of the song, nothing more

Don't improvise just yet. Familiarize yourself with the key that the song is in. Remember which sharps or flats are in the song (though if you've studied music theory, like me, you would know which sharps/flats are present just by looking at the chords) and make sure your fingers are comfortable with the song. For something super easy to play, try find a song in the key of C, F, G, or D (the easiest keys to play in IMO) or, if you can, you can transpose the song you chose in the beginning to an easier key.

Listen to the actual recording of the song

Listen to the pattern of the music in the background. Pick up some ideas, pick up some notes that you want to try out. It's okay to copy exactly what the piano is doing in the actual recording. One good way to learn how to improvise is to copy other piano players.

Let your fingers and your heart do the work

Play. Just play. Don't think. Just play. Do whatever. Improvise with the notes on the piano. Improvise with some of the notes you heard over the recording. Copy from the original, make your own... Just play. There's just ONE rule to keep in mind: remember the key you're playing in. Don't go off key when improvising. You'll just make the song sound weird. For example, if you're playing in the key of D, you shouldn't play E# or F, you should play E or F# instead.

Now for the hard part...

Let yourself make mistakes

Here's a fact: you're going to sound horrible. At least at first. It takes a bit of time for your fingers to get used to improvising. Experiment on different notes on the piano, try different patterns... The key to improvisation is to make mistakes and learn from them. If you're too afraid to make mistakes, it's going to VERY hard to learn how to improvise.

Keep practicing

The only way to improve ANYTHING in life is to keep practicing. Don't give up and keep pushing on the notes on the keyboard. Play music, make heaps of mistakes, and improve more and more everyday.

P.S. I used to be an absolutely horrifying improvisor, but by following the steps above, I'm pretty good now. Of course, I still have a lot to learn and I need to experiment more, but I've improved quite a bit. So try out these tips. They really do help.

-Barista Mia-

Image: Knar Bedian