Issue 133: Improvisation for learning piano scales

How can you make learning scales interesting?

Here is my favourite version of “Pianists” from “Carnival of the Animals”

and here’s a little improvisation activity to enjoy, based on knowing your scales;

With your left hand, just play the first and fifth (here’s a chance to use the terms “degrees of the scale”, “tonic” and dominant”) notes of the scale, either as chords, or as a steady, alternating pattern – 1 5 1 5 etc

with your right hand, make it us – the only rule is that you must use the notes of the scale.

I don’t insist on using the correct fingering, as that goes haywire if you want to make your improvisation jump about in pitch. The objective here is to get the notes of the scale and the key signature straight.

I’ll start doing this kind of thing from very early on with beginners, in C major. I’ll play the left hand and let the student improvise (“just play the white notes – any of them – go ahead”!), or I’ll footle about on the white notes while they keep a steady pulse on C and G, using two hands if necessary.

So, in the key of Bflat major, your left hand uses Bflat and F, and your right hand can play anything chosen from Bflat, C, D, Eflat, F, G, and A. It works, honest! Some notes sound nicer than others, but this is IMPROVISATION. Which means experimenting, figuring out what different combinations of notes sound like.

This also works for harmonic minor, melodic minor, pentatonic, and blues scales.

I find this a useful little activity in all sorts of ways – to reinforce the scale, to prepare for working on a new piece, a fun little filler when you have three minutes to use up at the end of a lesson, or as something to do as part of a practice plan.

Great Wall of Chimebars

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