No matter what style of music you or your child may be interested in learning, improvisation is a motivating, fun and expressive musical endeavor, which can be started on day one of one's musical journey. It provides many benefits for the learner.

improvisation, improvising, pentatonics, scales, ear training, aural, auditory, expression, musical, learning by rote, beginner

Article Body:
Improvisation – in its essence – is ‘on the spot’ composing. (Little kids respond well to calling it ‘making it up as you go along’.) The process is fascinating – and of great benefit to the student!
Some of the benefits are:

1 Ear training:
A good way to get students started on the road to improvisation is to have them imitate simple phrases in rhythm. If the students have ‘heroes’ they will listen naturally and try to imitate. When improvising, we listen to the music in our heads and then play it. The ear will tell us whether we produced what we intended.

2 Self expression:
Too often music is taught as pure reproduction of sounds written down on a page. While reading music and interpreting the masters of the past is an indispensable practice for the music student, music too often gets reduced to mere reproduction. When improvising, the pure delight of making music comes through – the student hears himself or herself and in time will come to recognize their own unique ‘voice’.

3 Putting scale and pattern exercises to good use:
Learning scales, chords, arpeggios etc. are an important part of attaining proficiency on an instrument. The practice of playing scales from beginning to end and top to bottom can become boring. Improvisation offers a great way to put fun into this practice and to capture the musical potential of scales and chords.

4 Thinking ahead:
Music is sound over time – in order to make music that is in time and on the beat we need to constantly think ahead and hence hear the music before we actually play it. Improvising adds an additional layer of complexity to this endeavor as what we are about to play does not even exist yet!

5 Underscores the study of Music Theory
Improvisation puts music theory concepts into creative practice.

6 Getting into an open, receptive and meditative state
Master improvisers struggle for words when attempting to describe what happens inside as they are improvising beautifully. ‘In the zone’, ‘open, like a vessel’, ‘somewhere else’ are words often heard. When the music truly ‘flows’ the musician has uninhibited access to his or her entire palette of skills. This state is elusive, yet can be practiced and cultivated. It is o delicious that it grabs a hold of the audience as well.

Steps for the beginner:
In its simplest form and in lesson one – we begin with a defined pool of notes. On the piano, the use of just the black keys is a great place to start: they form the F# major pentatonic scale. Easy to finger and easy to see, the beginner can jump right in and is less overwhelmed by too many note options. Similarly, on the xylophone, removing all Fs and Bs (fish and bananas!) results in a C major pentatonic scale. As is the nature of this scale, all notes will sound pleasant with each other.

Most likely the student easily grasps the concept of which notes to use, yet is still stumped, however, as to how and where to begin. What is lacking at this point is a concept of rhythm. A good way to get students started with improvising is to set a rhythm machine to a driving groove and count out four beats – four for the teacher, and four for the student, until the student senses the beginning and ending of a bar. Then the teacher plays a very simple phrase, confined to one bar. The student imitates it. After a few go arounds of this, the teacher invites the student to make up his or her own for the teacher to imitate. Before you know it, a conversation is happening.

Shyness and self doubt can play into this process. These problems can be beautifully dissolved by the encouraging and playful teacher. The music can be used to ‘talk’ about the shyness. At first the teacher invites the student to play one note, very softly, and with shy demeanor. The task is so easy that the student can execute it and experiences success. What’s intriguing is that even one note – played in a certain way (softly) – has communicative value: it’s a little ‘shy’ note. Nothing needs to be put into words to explain this. From there, the dynamics and notes used get more and more energetic, involved and varied.

No theory, no note name learning, no complex techniques need to be studied before this process can take place. Presented in this fashion, music is something that can be immediately experienced and enjoyed. Often times the student starts to get curious about why certain notes work better than others. To a student who has gotten to the point of asking questions about theory, scales and chord progressions, music theory will come easy, because it has an immediate practical application and value.

These processes reveal time and time again, that music is a language. It is a sophisticated yet basic form of communication. It is immediately accessible to us. It is fun and delightful.