Over the years I’ve been asked the same question over and over again from budding young pianists to experienced players – how do you improvise on the piano?
Playing the blues and boogie woogie, or even jazz on the piano isn’t easy – but then nothing is! However, most people I come across seem to think it’s beyond them; but whether you are a complete beginner or have been playing classical for many years – I can assure you it is possible to learn how to play the blues and improvise freely.
Learning to improvise is just like learning anything else – there is a method to it, and although it requires a lot of practice as you would expect, it can be taught and learnt by anyone willing to put the hours in and who is passionate.
Why is it so hard to improvise?
Although it is a difficult skill to master, most people think it’s actually a lot harder than it really is. How you approach improvisation and the way you learn it is the most important part – don’t give up the idea until you’ve tried it!
One of the main reasons why people are put off by learning to improvise or find it too difficult, is because they think it’s only possible if you’re a virtuoso on the piano and need some kind of natural amazing ability to pull it off. However, this just isn’t true.
So how do you learn to improvise?
Learning to improvise requires an understanding of what it actually means to improvise. One of the biggest misconceptions about improvising and playing blues piano is that you are simply ‘making it up on the spot’. This just isn’t true, and when you watch and listen to someone improvise they are actually in fact playing what they already know and have played and practiced beforehand many times.
The key to improvisation is knowing that it’s all about timing and knowledge. Someone who is great at improvisation has the ability to retrieve melodies and riffs at will, but who can also insert them into the rhythm using the correct timing.
For example, if you were playing solo blues or boogie woogie piano you would need to learn a left hand bass line. For further information on how to do this, please click here. Once you’ve mastered a particular left hand, you are now ready to begin learning some amazing right hand melodies.
The next stage is to then attempt to put both hands together, ensuring they sync nicely. Once you’ve mastered the art of playing along to your own left hand boogie or blues bass line, you are now officially playing the blues piano!
But what’s next…?
Improvising requires the knowledge of hundreds of different right hand melodies
If you’re at the stage where you know how to play a few different blues melodies to your left hand bass line, this is where you can now begin to attempt improvisation.
Remember – improvising is not about making up the music on the spot! It’s about regurgitating melodies you already know and learning how to insert them into your playing.
Of course, it takes many years to build up this knowledge and store them in your musical memory banks, but this is just like anything else you learn. Whether it’s learning to speak French, or how to build a fence; all of these skills take thousands of hours as you would expect.
Once I’ve learnt lots of right hand melodies – what’s next?
Now that you’ve built up a good knowledge of right hand piano blues melodies, it’s now time to see if you can fit them together as seamlessly as possible – and this is all down to personal choice.
The amazing part of playing the blues or boogie woogie on the piano is it’s completely down to you what you play and how it sounds. Combining melodies takes a lot of practice and patience – and if it doesn’t sound so good the first time or even the fiftieth time, don’t lose heart. Keep at it and before you know it you will start to realise how it’s possible to improvise and extract those melodies you’ve learnt and create your own amazing blues piano song.