Are you scared to start using improvisation in your piano teaching? I’ve totally been there.
7 or 8 years ago I had basically never sat down at the piano without a piece of paper in front of my face. It would not have even occurred to me.
But then I discovered improvisation.
I found out that teachers were improvising with their beginner students, that it wasn’t the reserve of highly trained jazz pianists. And if beginner students were doing it, surely I could manage it.
All I had to do was start scared.
Diving into Improvisation
I watched videos, read articles and explored the improvisation ideas I was learning about in my own practice. But at some stage, I think you just have to jump in with both feet. So that’s what I did.
The first student I tried duet improvisation with was an adult learner. I believe in “fake it ’til you make it” with this kind of stuff. I’m prepared, I’m organised but I know there’s no way to ease yourself in when you’re trying something this new.
You can be a scared-y cat on the inside but you need to be a confident (and slightly foolhardy) puppy on the outside.
(Sidenote: Cats aren’t really scared of much, are they? Where does that even come from?)
That first experience could have gone more smoothly. But it got me started.
From there I was off to the races and I came to see improvisation as much more than just an activity to try to include in my lessons. It became a core part of how I teach.
Bringing Improvisation into Your Studio
So what does this mean for you?
I wanted to write this article in case you are me 7 or 8 years ago. Perhaps you knew improvisation was a thing, but not that it was a thing for YOU. Or maybe you’ve been thinking about this for ages but you’ve yet to take the leap.
It’s ok if you’re apprehensive. It’s ok if you’re downright terrified.
But please don’t think that you need to become a master-improviser yourself before you include improvisation in your lessons. That’s often just what we want to tell ourselves so that we don’t have to try something new and scary.
“I’m not expert enough.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I’m going to fall flat on my face.”
If you’re thinking like this right now, first of all, know that you’re not alone. Lots of private music teachers struggle with imposter syndrome. Don’t let that self-talk stop you.
Do it scared.
Your students will thank you later. And you will too.
Favourite Improvisation Resources
If you’re ready to jump in but you need some guidance and a framework to get started I have two resources to recommend.
Vibrant Music Teaching courses
The first is the courses inside Vibrant Music Teaching. These are the lesson plans I wish I had when I first started teaching.
They’re not just improvisation prompts. These step-by-step plans will walk you through how to use improvisation to teach core concepts so that your creative work is doing double-duty.
Find out more about Vibrant Music Teaching and sign up here.
Create First by Forrest Kinney
If that doesn’t sound like a good fit for you – I still want you to improvise!
Create First is another great way to explore improvisation and one that I love to use in my own studio, especially during buddy time.
Are you scared to include improvisation in your lessons?
Or have you been doing this for years? Can you remember what it was like when you first started? Share your experience in the comments so that we can inspire each other to jump in to improv.
4 thoughts on “Improvisation and Cats: How to Start Scared!”
Forrest Kinney’s Pattern Play resources were very helpful to get started with improv., something I didn’t have much experience with previously. The Create First is easier for young students and I also like Teach Piano Today’s seasonal improvisations that inspire me to improvise with my students throughout the year. I’m still not an expert, but improv frees up my creative side for more enjoyment at the piano.
Absolutely! I’m no improv “expert” either but the beauty of improvisation is that you don’t need to be. 🙂
I’m also new at this! Some of my students are taking to it quickly. But others look at me like a deer in the headlights when i suggest they play with the keys; make it up as they go.. usually they loosen up as we go on. I do not want my students to be tied to the music like I was … and therefore not able to even play happy birthday!
Exactly! We don’t want the question, “Oh, you play piano? Play us something there!” to be answered by the sheepish “I don’t have my books with me…”