To that end, I would like to share a couple of the improv activities I have been doing with my students this month. These activities are simple enough to do with beginners, and quick enough to fit into any lesson plan. They encourage students to play with a steady beat, and help them to organize their ideas into a simple A-B-A form. Best of all, these improvs only require 5 notes--the five black keys!
1. Black Key Blues
- Help students improvise a melody over a 12 bar blues pattern! Start by playing a teacher duet made up of a simple 12 bar blues pattern in E-flat major, using the chord pattern below. Play four quarter note beats per measure, using blocked or broken chords or a simple blues pattern (such as the intervals 5th-6th-7th-6th).
Ab | Ab | Eb | Eb |
Bb | Ab | Eb | Eb |
- Next, ask students to create a melody over your duet part using steady quarter notes on the black keys. These notes are part of the E-flat blues scale and pair perfectly with our 12 bar blues pattern!
- After playing the 12 bar duet, try a fun "call-and-response" rhythm activity. Using one of your blues chords, play a four-beat pattern and have the student echo it using one of the black keys. Try 8 measures of call-and-response, then repeat your 12 bar blues pattern (with the student once again creating a melody in quarter notes) to end the improv.
2. Pretty, Pretty Rainbow
- Create a lyrical duet using only the black keys! Start by asking the student to create a simple melody using the phrase "pret-ty pret-ty rain-bow" for the rhythm (equivalent to four quarter notes followed by two half notes). Students may use any black keys they wish.
- Once the student is comfortable with the melody, accompany them by playing harmony on the black keys. Any black keys will work! Aim to repeat the phrase "pretty pretty rainbow" four times to create an 8-bar phrase.
- Next, have your student improvise a middle section for the improv by creating "rainbow" sounds on the black keys. They may play the black keys one at a time or in clusters, going down the piano and then back up. Don't forget to hold down the damper pedal for maximum colorful effect!
- Finally, repeat your 8-bar "pretty pretty rainbow" section to finish the piece.
What do you think? Have you done any improv activities with your students this year? Please leave a comment below!