Improv for Beginners part 2

 

Welcome to part 2 of starting beginner’s on their improvisation journey. Last week we started off with what I believe is a great foundation to getting a beginner going. There are a number of different opinions, theories and options. However, this is how I like to introduce those just starting. I have seen it work and believe it builds a strong foundation for their playing. I would encourage you go back to PART 1 and read through that if you are just joining us.

The next step is introducing MELODY. Where do we get melodies from? First, we get them from the music we play. What songs are the students learning? If they are really young students are they learning those early nursery rhyme type songs? All of these are melodies. Reading music is important, but have the students learn to play the melody without looking at the music. Internalize it. Once we learn the melody we can use it later. The melody can be embellished with a variety of tools, but they mean nothing without the foundation of the melody. As an exercise, have a student take Happy Birthday and improvise on it. If they have been working on rhythm and listening, you would be surprised at what they can probably already create with it.

Still not sure if you think it is a good exercise? Check out this video made by Wynton Marsalis in France a few years back:

Where else can we get melodies from? One of the scale types used in virtually every culture is the pentatonic scale. There is something melodic about that particular scale that has been creating melodies around the world for generations. If a student still needs to work on their major scales they need to be learning those in addition to the major pentatonic scale (minor scales are important too, but get the major one’s down first). While I do not believe running up and down scales themselves is how you should learn to improvise, they are important to know because they give us a color palette to choose from when improvising and the pentatonic scale is a melodic gold mine.

Combining the two elements of the melody of the song the student is learning with the pentatonic scale in the home key is a great place to get them thinking creatively. The pentatonic scale in the home key can be used to target key notes (landing areas) in the melody. For more information about how you or your student can use a pentatonic scale to creatively target notes you can check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. 

Remember these are just beginning students. Give them achievable goals to start with before adding more complex ideas. I find a higher success rate with beginners that are given a few details to work with and then adding more pieces when ready rather than dumping everything at once. In my teaching studio, rhythm (time, feel, etc) and listening are the foundation. Melody is the next layer. Check back next week for the next layer 🙂

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Improv for Kids-Part 3 Feeling Rhythm

Part 3. Last week we talked about keeping things simple. Simplifying the amount of information that the children have to pick from while improvising. In this part I want to talk about the importance of having children learning to feel rhythm. This is just as important (if not more) then the notes themselves.

When children are young is the best time to work on ingraining proper syncopated and swing-type rhythms to where they become second nature as they continue to progress. Every student I’ve met that grew up around syncopated rhythm (either in the home, churches, community organizations, etc) always have a better feel and pickup on improvisation better than those that don’t.

Have the children clap along with you to some second line and clave rhythms. (On the second line example, have them clap along with the bass drum).

Then have them clap some of those same lines while listening to you play a chord progression on the piano or a play-along. Be sure to make it swing. This helps them understand that the clave pattern CAN be used in more than just Latin-type music.

Finally, have them play the 3 to 4 note grouping you gave them from last week’s post and use the second line and clave rhythm. This gets them thinking about rhythm and note choices. To me, the rhythm should be thought of first…then the note choices.

I talk about this in more detail for adults in my book, Breaking the Monotony. You can check it out by going to my Digital Store for more information. There are also a few reviews listed above in the tabs at the top of the page. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to you and your students!

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