Year 3 Music: Improvising on the piano 1

A chocolate-coloured keyboard at the Art & Historic Museum, Geneva
A lot of children play the piano; they practice set pieces for a while until they reach a certain performance level. After a while, playing piano becomes a chore and children cannot really exercise their creativity on this wonderful instrument.

In a classroom setting, teaching piano keyboard is quite difficult because children are at different levels of piano playing; some have no piano background while some is already preparing for their Grade 5 exam. When I had my Dalcroze training in Geneva, I was deeply inspired by the piano improvisation class. Although I play a certain level of piano, my music background has given me very little preparation for improvisation. I attended the most elementary improvisation class and the class content proved to me that everyone can demonstrate a certain level of creativity on the keyboard - even if one has NO piano background at all. Most importantly, it promotes the idea that playing piano is FUN!

Based on this philosophy, I encourage students to come to the piano and improvise with me; and, within expectation, they all do very well. Here are two games I recommend.

The 1-note composition

A student is asked to pick ONE note on the piano keyboard and given 1 minute to improvise a song. (He/She can play with the speed, the articulation, use of the pedal, dynamics, etc - as long as he/she sticks to the "one-note" rule. This eliminates the opportunity for piano players to "show off" their skill and the feeling of inferiority in the non-piano player) Other students are asked to analyse what the piece is like.

Improvise a story

Ask 2 students come up to the piano and each pick a note from a high and low register, give each note a character (e.g. The giant and the bird). The 2 students start improvising and "making conversation" on the piano. Certainly, more characters can be added to the "story". You'd be amazed by how these two random notes can entertain a class of 30.

Next, I think it's important to let children know how the piano work, before showing them the inside structure of the piano (which will surely will create some chaos in class. =p), I use the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's Kids site to teach them about the basic first. Click to the following link to access to the piano game (and many others):

Or alternatively, show them this Tom & Jerry video, these two little characters certainly show us how a piano work through Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2. =)

Finally, let's compose a song using a mini keyboard - this help children relate piano keys to notes on staff lines: