A starting guide to piano improvisation

learn to improvise piano

Piano scales

Major, minor & other scales

How to improvise on piano

By improvising on the piano you don’t play after piano notes as in sheet music, but after your own ideas. You could instead use your knowledge about scales and chords, but freely, without a given plan or directions. In this guide you will get some easy tips on how to begin improvising.

Play only on the white keys

This may be the easiest way to start improvising on the piano: only play on the white keys is rather effortless and it can sound great too. The white keys all belong to the C Major Scale, alternately the A Minor Scale (they are relative keys), and therefore you can use all the white keys without any dissonance.

Major: If you start from a C key with both your hands you will play in Major (try also to end with C and emphasize this note) . It is more fun with some backing music:

C Major soft ballad

Minor: . and if you start on an A key it will sound Minor. Try to end the improvisation with A and during the improvisation emphasize this tone. Once again, it can often sound better over some music:

A Minor pop ballad

Dorian: There is also a third way, if you start on a D key you will play in the Dorian Mode and if you combine this with the chord progression Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7 you could make it sound like a jazz improvisation. Try to play with some music:

Pentatonic: Let us also mention a fourth way. By playing all the white keys except F and B (which makes it the C Pentatonic Major Scale), you could bring the sound of a pop song to the piano. Try to play chords like C, Em, F, G and Am with your left hand and then create melodies from the white keys C, D, E, G, A with your right hand. As a suggestion, you could mostly combine C, D, E (tones) with C, F, G (chords) and G, A (tones) with Em, Am (chords).

Minor Pentatonic can be used instead of a Natural Minor over a song in minor.

Blues improvising

The style of blues is to a high degree made upon improvising and there are some easy ways to start. Among the first things is to get familiar with the 12-bar blues. After you have studied the fundamentals of 12-bar blues you could also bring some licks into your repertoire and one way is to create your own blues licks from the blues scales.

It can be tricky to handle it all by yourself, instead you can let some musicians do some of the job and when focus only on jamming along with some scale:

E Minor slow blues

Jamming to backing tracks is a perfect way to start play blues improvisation on piano.

Solo over chords

A very common concept in the area of improvising is to play a solo over chords. The most obvious way to do this is in form of improvising is to combine a scale with chords in the same key, for example, playing the C Major Scale over chords belonging to the same scale.

Superimpose scales

After a while you may be searching for new ways to express yourself and in that case the next step could be to superimpose scales. This is done by using scales over chords that don’t obviously fits together. One approach is to move a pentatonic scale a whole step, for example from C to D. Try to play the G Pentatonic Scale over the chords F, C and Dm. You will notice that it sounds a little different, but pretty good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *