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#2070325 - 04/24/13 11:24 PM How to you Improvise a melody?
AtomicBond Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 64
Hi, I'm 15, I've been learning piano for around 7 years now and am up to Grade/Level 8.
I've never 'properly' learned how to improvise, I basically just use my knowledge of chords and such, and play a chord progression.
This means that I never really play with a melody, how do you do this? I just can't seem to think of a melody to play while I'm sitting in front of a piano.
When I'm doing other things (like in the shower smile ), I can 'imagine' a melody, but I just can't seem to do it on a piano.
Can anyone help?

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#2070336 - 04/24/13 11:38 PM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Polyphonist Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 7648
Loc: New York City
Experience. Knowledge of repertoire in the style you want to improvise in. Strong basis in theory/harmony (you need to harmonize the melody on the spot).
_________________________
Regards,

Polyphonist

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#2070352 - 04/25/13 12:05 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
Once you have the knowledge and the experience, it is largely a question of trial and error.
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#2070355 - 04/25/13 12:10 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Polyphonist Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 7648
Loc: New York City
Not if you have enough experience.
_________________________
Regards,

Polyphonist

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#2070367 - 04/25/13 12:53 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: Polyphonist]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
Not if you have enough experience.

Once you know, you must do. If you think you can do without making a mistake, then I would very much like to meet you... because you'd be the first. wink
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#2070494 - 04/25/13 08:35 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Gerard12 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/19/10
Posts: 759
Loc: South Carolina
Start small. Doodle with just a few notes. For example, from a major (or minor) scale, start with scale tones 1-3-5. Then add 2 and 6 to the mix. Then maybe add some chromatic passing tones, or add 7 and 4. It may seem mechanical, but it gets the juices flowing.

Speak a sentence to a rhythm matched to a steady pulse (kind of like rapping....) and play your melodic "doodling" to that rhythm. Don't forget to place pauses in your rhythms.

Take a snippet of a melody that you really love and transpose it to the other 11 keys (in a cycle of 4ths) - this is my usual warmup exercise when I practice improvisation. It helps the ear, and might help you to play those melodies that you hear in the shower on the keyboard.

Sing everything as you play - to yourself, at least.

Keep what you like, discard what you don't.

You might want to post in the non-classical forum for advice, also.


Edited by Gerard12 (04/25/13 08:43 AM)
_________________________
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#2070812 - 04/25/13 05:23 PM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: Gerard12]
Sand Tiger Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 1069
Loc: Southern California
Is that original poster asking about doing four bars of jazz as part of a group? Writing original melodies? Adding embellishments to a lead sheet?

It sounds more like the second, writing original music. There are any number of ways people come up with melody lines. A grade 8 person can likely write out a score on paper, or use a composition program (MuseScore is freeware and excellent). There are those of all levels that like to noodle (or doodle), by picking a key and playing some semi-random notes and chords until something comes to them.

There are others exercises I suggest for beginners. Try to duplicate a melody after one listen. It might be from a new TV commercial, a new TV show, a new movie trailer, a new song on the radio. It tends to be savants that get an exact match on one listen and one try to duplicate. For the rest, the result is often a derivative, but different (perhaps original) melody. Another is to write melody to lyrics (either your own or lyrics from a more experienced lyric writer).

For composition, spending time on the task is a key step. Every piano beginner understands the need to move ahead one step at a time, with hundreds if not thousands of hours of practice time. However, I see so many would-be composers that want some kind of pill or magic hat. A select few can do that way, but most of us in the songwriter/composer tribe, do it the old fashioned way, by spending endless hours working at our craft. There is an art side to the task, but there is a craft side too.

For any would-be composer reading this, spend an hour a day, actually writing music. Record the best snippet from each day. Start the next day from that. At the end of 30 days, I promise you that you will have written something interesting. That's for 30 hours (one hour per day for a month). Do it for three months (90 hours) and you'll likely amaze yourself.
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#2070933 - 04/25/13 08:23 PM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
AtomicBond Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 64
What I'm really looking to do is something like Chooka Parker, What he plays is very simple, but he plays it with assurance and vitality. I can play this piece that he plays in the video, learned by ear, but I can't make something like this up on the spot.
It seems like a general consensus that it's just experience. I'll take all of your notes into consideration.
Thanks everyone.

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#2071010 - 04/25/13 10:00 PM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Sand Tiger Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 1069
Loc: Southern California
Originally Posted By: User0fDoom
What I'm really looking to do is something like Chooka Parker, What he plays is very simple, but he plays it with assurance and vitality. I can play this piece that he plays in the video, learned by ear, but I can't make something like this up on the spot.
It seems like a general consensus that it's just experience. I'll take all of your notes into consideration.
Thanks everyone.


For Mr. Parker, it is rather obviously his magic hat. Get a hold of his hat and you will have the power. Ha ha. Just kidding.

Unfortunately, if that is the goal, it may not come from long hours and experience. Putting in the work will help you develop your own composing/improvising voice, or may let you duplicate certain performances note for note. However, it is unlikely that your original composing voice will be like Mr. Parker's, which is a good and bad thing. Bad, in that it likely won't be as popular. Good, in that it will be your own.

/edit to add: a person can learn to improvise and compose in a similar style by using deconstruction. Deconstruction involves taking apart the original, looking at each small piece, perhaps each phrase, each chord, each arpeggio. Study the pieces, then those pieces can be put back together or rearranged for another person's original work. However, because Mr. Parker came first (perhaps he copied someone else even), any copycats will be considered in that light. The bad news is that many copycats pale in comparison to the original artist.


Edited by Sand Tiger (04/26/13 01:38 AM)
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#2081613 - 05/12/13 10:26 PM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
AtomicBond Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 64
I've been trying much of this lately and I find that I seem to have trouble 'finding inspiration'. I've just been looking at some more of Chooka's videos and I feel that I could play just about anything he does, in fact, I can much of what he plays by ear after listening to it just once or twice! So I really can't think of why I can't make it up my self!!! It's really frustrating! (although it's actually easier than it [may] sound, he plays very simple stuff in reality)
Maybe listening and playing with greater variety will help?

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#2081650 - 05/13/13 01:01 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: User0fDoom
I've been trying much of this lately and I find that I seem to have trouble 'finding inspiration'. I've just been looking at some more of Chooka's videos and I feel that I could play just about anything he does, in fact, I can much of what he plays by ear after listening to it just once or twice! So I really can't think of why I can't make it up my self!!! It's really frustrating! (although it's actually easier than it [may] sound, he plays very simple stuff in reality)
Maybe listening and playing with greater variety will help?

I find that inspiration comes from perspiration. Much like muscles grow larger and stronger when we exercise them regularly and repeatedly.

Keep pushing through, even when there's no "inspiration", and I think you'll find those inspired moments occurring more frequently. smile
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#2081658 - 05/13/13 01:52 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
I see this thread has been revived.

Doom,
I read your original post when you first wrote it. Others here, eager to respond, seem to understand what you are asking. I still do not.

From your original post,
[1] Do you wish to create some music that will last for a while, and can be played again and again?
=OR=
[2] Is it your hope to learn to improvise an impromptu melodic line over a pre-determined chord progression (as in jazz improvisation(?
=OR=
[3] Do you hope to simply play random stuff on the piano for your own enjoyment?
=OR=
[4] Something else?

All are very different things. It may be just me, but I believe a clearer statement of what you hope to accomplish will help you get accurate and appropriate advice.

Ed
_________________________
In music, everything one does correctly helps everything else.

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#2081664 - 05/13/13 02:14 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
AtomicBond Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 64
more [2] and [3], mainly [2], though improvising in lots of different styles, not just jazz (do a YouTube search for Chooka Parker, that's what I want to do).
Here's a video of where my improvising *is* at the moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMYJvTeKjCU
[Please excuse the advertising talk, I am very aware of my limitations, but that's not how you get people to watch your YouTube videos, especially if they don't know your limitations.]

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#2081668 - 05/13/13 02:29 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5314
Loc: Europe
UderofDoom.

I'll be outright honest here...

I find nothing special in what Chooka is doing, nor in what you're doing, I'm afraid. And while at first read this may seem harsh, let me comment some more: Chooka's melody in the first video was honestly nothing special. The jury going crazy, etc, was... bleh! for me! His movement all over the place, his hectic playing (and the idea "playing as I go on"... I mean this is what ALL improvisators do pretty much...), so... His melodies are quickly forgotten (or aren't there in the first place), his rhythmic ability gets mingled up, because he can't control his fingers...

Based on your second video (posted right above this) you've almost reached the same levels, but lacking some of the technical abilities...

I would suggest that you try to look up at other musicians, composers, etc and to reach those.

Sorry to be so blunt, but after 7 years of study you deserve to look up to some great people, not people your age who've gained some popularity and not much else...

EDIT: Saw the final of 2011! "Mozart floating around and decided to stick to you"... COME ON! OH COME ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Edited by Nikolas (05/13/13 02:31 AM)
_________________________
http://www.musica-ferrum.com

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#2081681 - 05/13/13 02:58 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
AtomicBond Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 64
Nikolas,

I agree actually, that's why I said 'I'm very aware of my limitations', In that video of mine I was really just trying to make it sound like him, normally I pull it back a lot and try to get the notes right smile

I'll certainly take your advice into account, in fact, thankyou for being blunt! My piano teacher is what you'd probably call blunt (that's why I never improvise for him :)), he was [is] honest enough to tell that I'd probably fail my exam (more specifically he said that the way I played for him, on my lesson before the exam, he'd fail me for it). That's how he got me from Preliminary to Grade 8 in four years (Mum taught me at first, 7 years ago. Then I moved on to my current teacher after I was confident in the basics).

I really only want to play like Chooka because he got famous playing like that, I'm not likely to get famous playing Gershwins Prelude no.1 (a very fun piece, but not likely to appeal to most people my age, unfortunately)

"Sorry to be so blunt, but after 7 years of study you deserve to look up to some great people, not people your age who've gained some popularity and not much else..."
by great people, which composers do you suggest I focus on? (I'll assume I should practice all of them smile at least, all of them that aren't too difficult)

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#2081685 - 05/13/13 03:08 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5314
Loc: Europe
You're 15, right?

As time goes by, learning becomes a little more difficult... It certainly doesn't mean that your mind can't take learning, but if you get 25 and get a job, you get out of the 'learning mentality'. I repeat that it's not possible to learn anything: After all our ABF is very populated and a happy place! But it means that if you've got the chance to learn something, DO IT NOW! Don't let go!

Your aspiration to learn piano like Chooka is almost done. You will NOT become famous playing like him, simply because he's done it, and he's a country boy, with no teachers around, and a very Australian accent, the small mustache and everything.

I mean, you can check out classical pianists, like Richter, Horrowitz, Yundi, Gilels, and whoever else you can chose. They all have HUGE careers (so they ARE popular playing Beethoven, Scriabin and the such) and they are so high up, that's worth looking up to them! Of course all the names I provide are classical pianists and do not improvise...

Or you can check out huge names in the jazz-fusion-whatever-field. (I don't know anyone apart form Keith, so it's not worth it mentioning names).

Really though, get out of your "I want to become Chooka in the place of Chooka (reference to goscinny here)! It's not worth it...

As for Gershwins prelude, it might not appeal to the children (<- yes) your age, but once become 20 you might see a shift in their interest in music, and yours as well (especially if you carry on playing the piano and studying, in which case most of the people you meet will be musicians anyhow) wink
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#2081687 - 05/13/13 03:12 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4834
Loc: USA
Start off improvising in your head.

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#2081696 - 05/13/13 03:36 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
AtomicBond Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 64
Nicolas,

Sorry if I didn't quite make my position clear, I don't actually want to become famous, I just want[edcrazy] to play like Chooka because he became famous playing that way.

I really just want to play for my own personal enjoyment, and a little adulation from peers would be nice as well.


"
As for Gershwins prelude, it might not appeal to the children (<- yes) your age, but once become 20 you might see a shift in their interest in music, and yours as well (especially if you carry on playing the piano and studying, in which case most of the people you meet will be musicians anyhow)]
"

I personally like Gershwin, Bach, and Chopin (not Mozart though :)), so my interest in music isn't very likely to change (then again, it probably will) (I don't like most 'modern' music because it's way too simple, a melody backed by a simple chord progression?!?!? you've got to be kidding!)


Edited by User0fDoom (05/13/13 03:58 AM)

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#2081709 - 05/13/13 04:27 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4834
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: User0fDoom


I personally like Gershwin, Bach, and Chopin (not Mozart though :)), so my interest in music isn't very likely to change (then again, it probably will)


Yep.

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#2081712 - 05/13/13 04:33 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5314
Loc: Europe
Your taste in music changes. I'm 35 and my taste keeps changing! wink

Though, yes I got a different message than what you got. In that case do as you please... I mean if you want to play like chooka, in order to feel fine and happy, by all means! smile

________________________

Now, the 'how to improvise' idea...

You need to fill your head with what's out there... You need to keep playing things on your own. You need feedback from others. You need to make sure you know what you're doing, otherwise you'll end up accidentally improvising a wonderful piece, that isn't wonderful, and was done randomly years ago!
_________________________
http://www.musica-ferrum.com

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#2095856 - 06/05/13 01:03 AM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
AtomicBond Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/13
Posts: 64
sorry to dig up this old thread, but I've discovered something. You guys were right! My taste in music is changing. I'm starting to like this Mozart piece I'm learning smile

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#2096206 - 06/05/13 01:08 PM Re: How to you Improvise a melody? [Re: AtomicBond]
Michael Martinez Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/22/12
Posts: 426
Loc: California
Improvisation is about harmony. You need to know which set of tones (notes) are allowed for each chord, and certain tricks for keying the ear onto the harmony:

* emphasizing the chord root with its leading tone and the chord's 1, 3, 5 with approach tones or arpeggiation
* anticipating the chord change on the beat before the change happens
* phrasing
* do not weaken the harmony with the chord's tension tones until you have already established its basic tones

The set of tones you can play over a chord are the basic chord tones plus the allowed tensions. (Yes, there are other tones that can be used, but you need to get proficient in the foundation before moving on.)

A side effect of the above is the notion of counterpoint. When you construct an "alternate melody" (something an improvisation should try to achieve) it basically feeds from the original melody with counterpoint.

now that's all fine and dandy, but actually getting down to doing improvisation, the important things are the anticipation of the beat, working your way around the 1,3,5 of each chord, and figuring out which tones need to be "avoided" so as not to create an unintentional change in harmony. We all recognize when a tone sounds out of place - those are the avoid tones.


Edited by Michael Martinez (06/05/13 01:10 PM)
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Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
http://www.michael--martinez.com/music/

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