How To Improvise On The Piano

How To Improvise On The Piano

Being able to improvise a piano solo is one of the most satisfying and impressive skills for any pianist to have in their toolbox. Not only does the ability to improvise make playing with others all the more fun, but it also allows you to explore music in an entirely new manner, allowing you to create your own unique expressions of musical creativity.

Improvisation is a skill that is mostly learned over time and dedicated practice, but if you are looking to improve your skills, or even just to get started with improvising these quickfire tips will give you some great inspiration to help you begin your journey! Be it for performing, composition or if you are simply looking for a fun way to rethink your practice structure, look no further and get started with improvising today!

Jazz pianist improvising

Getting Started With Improvising

For many pianists, we often find ourselves bound to the constraints of the material that is put in front of us. Where many mostly focus on learning specific repertoire, the ability to improvise allows you to add your own spin and unique flare to both iconic pieces or even your own creations. The best thing about improvisation is that it can be applied to almost all styles of piano playing, be it jazz, pop, classical or any other genre. 

In order to get started with improvising, one exercise we like to do is to start by finding a chord pattern that you like and singing along some improvised lines that you think might sound nice. Play around with the root notes and sing along accordingly, singing or humming along with your improvisation. If you are finding this too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to start with just a single root note on your left hand and humming a tune you think might work.

This exercise may seem silly at first by over time will help you realise if the improvisation fits well with what you are trying to achieve. This will make you realise any notes or rhythms that feel out of place, as well as help your understanding of how different notes and chord patterns work together.

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Playing With Constraints

Many pianists often struggle with the idea of improvisation because either it feels: Too overwhelming or too boring. If you find it too overwhelming it is likely because you haven’t given yourself enough constraint and if it feels too boring, it’s likely you are overthinking your playing.

One great challenge to begin improvising is to create an improvisation using just three notes. By constricting your playing to just three notes it allows you to play around with three concepts that are perfect for improvising: Musical instinct (what works and what doesn’t), Rhythm (How the improvisation should feel) and finally your use of repetitions.

Piano hands improvising

That third point may need further explanation, but it is often forgotten that repetition is a good thing in music, think about almost any famous song or piece, they almost always have repeated verses, choruses or passages of music that help enhance the overall composition. With fewer notes to choose from you’re going to be forced to repeat yourself more, which is great backbone for improvisation.

Once you have embraced how constraints can actually improve your musical freedom you will find that improvisation is not only far easier, but also far more enjoyable instead of being overwhelming. 

Learning How To Improvise

Whilst the more seasoned improvisationalist may be to simply make up tunes on the fly, for those just looking to get started it is a good idea to try transcribing your improvisations.

Too often as musicians do we make up an improvisation or pattern that we love, go away for a few minutes and then completely forget what you just played. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but writing improvisations down will help you internalise them for future use and mean that you can tap into them as and when you need them.

Another way of learning improvisation is simply to slow things down to understand what you are playing and why it does or doesn’t work. If you are still unsure here, take things a step further and break down your improvisation hand by hand. Many people focus purely on the right hand for melody when first improvising, but it may in fact be the left hand that is throwing the improvisation out of kilter. Focus on the piece as a whole and begin experimenting with different chord progressions or scales to experiment with what you do and don’t like.


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Practice Makes Perfect

In the same way that we all make mistakes when learning any piece of repertoire, it is not uncommon to make mistakes or feel a little silly when first learning how to improvise. Instead of getting frustrated or annoyed with these mistakes, embrace them! Don’t worry about ‘getting it right’ straight away as true improvisation technique can take a lifetime to master, however know that with every improvisation, you are developing your skills and finding your own unique voice.

Exploring New Genres

Once you are comfortable with the basics of improvisation in a genre that you enjoy, it is a great exercise to try improvising something in a style that you would never normally play, for example if you like classical, try making up a jazz piece or vice versa. This exercise will not only help you develop your skills as a more holistic pianist, but will actually help better your improvisations in your favourite styles of music as you will be able to apply different genres to your own, giving them their own unique twist!


Have you ever tried improvising? We would love to hear what creations you can come up with! Share your sound with us on social media here, or if you are looking to upgrade or part exchange your current piano, our experts would love to help! Visit our showroom or contact us today!

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