Finger painting (Improvising, part 2)

Hello Piano Lovers:

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Today I’d like to delve further into the question, why should we improvise?

Firstly, if you read my post from yesterday, Improvising, Part 1, you know that brain scans ( fMRI) show that improvising activates a whole other part of the brain. It is called the Brodmann 9. The Brodmann 9 deals with short-term memory, verbal fluency, error detection, empathy, attention to emotions, planning, calculation and a host of other brain functions. Brain stimulation alone is reward enough. But improvising brings other gifts:

Once you become more comfortable with improvising, you’re able to cover up memory slips in your playing much more easily. You trust that you can fill in a couple of notes while you recover and keep going.

Recent studies show that improvising has a “releasing” effect on your creativity and originality in general. When you practice improvising, you are practicing letting go, opening your mind, inventing, risking, and imagining. You are becoming more adaptable. Adaptability is an important component of aging well.

As Sophia Loren said,

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.

Let’s face it, studying the piano can be tedious. Practicing an exercise and playing a piece is challenging, and coming up against a difficult passage can be frustrating. Sometimes we just need to let loose and play something with no right- or wrong-ness to it.

Being creative is tapping into our humanity. It is an expression of our inner experience and our uniqueness. It is like a spoken history of who we are, and where we have been. Let the piano be your palette; paint a picture with your music.

Have I convinced you that improvising is at least worth a little experimentation? If so, try this:

BLACK KEY IMPROVISATION

  • Hold down a low F# octave (the two lowest F#s on your piano) with your left hand. Keep repeating the octave whenever it starts to fade away. With your right hand, play the black keys from the C# below middle C, moving up the keys for a few octaves. Then play the black keys moving back down to where you started. Next, move up and down within one octave.
  • Continuing to play F# octaves with your left hand, have your right hand skip around amongst the black keys. Play some that are next to each other, and some out of sequence.
  • Now vary the rhythm. Imagine that some are quarter notes, some are eighths moving twice as fast. Play some half and whole notes. Form a pattern with your rhythm such as quarter, quarter, eight, eighth, quarter, across the keys.
  • Repeat any phrases that you like, and make a mental note of them. Experiment with different key patterns such as moving up two keys then down one, over and over.
  • Now vary your dynamics. Play some notes forte, others piano.
  • Next vary your tempo. Play some notes allegro and others largo.
  • Try playing the black keys imagining you are in 3/4 time. Then go to 4/4. Then play with no meter, just let the music flow.
  • Try this improvisation again at another time and record yourself. Or write down any musical phrases you liked. You can use standard musical notation, or any type of short hand such as writing down the letters of the notes you played.

How was this for you? Did you enjoy it? Keep reminding yourself to let go, and not to judge. Think of it as finger painting! Dip In.

With love and music, Gaili

PS If you’re interested in learning more about how improvising affects the brain, watch this Ted Talk by Charles Limb.

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5 Replies to “Finger painting (Improvising, part 2)”

  1. Interesting video. I don’t know about the brain science at all, but one thing I do know and that is that I love Keith Jarrett. I have many CD’s by him and sometimes try to play the chords he uses. Then with my right hand I doodle around and attempt to make it sound good. I am an early beginner. Trying though. Thanks Gaili, as always, Aimee

    1. Hi Aimee I am so happy that you are doodling! That’s wonderful start. This is difficult and I salute you taking a risk. I agree about Keith Jarrett. He is so wonderful to listen to. There are some transcriptions of his pieces online if you google it. I love Be My Love and Over The Rainbow.

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