Helping young piano students to find the confidence to be creative on the keys can be a difficult task. Without years of experience under their belts, they can feel a little shy when it comes to freely exploring the piano. However, instilling this confidence and giving young, beginning students the tools to be creative has many positive benefits.
And this is why I like to spice things up with a little introductory improv.
Introductory improvisation helps your new piano students play beautiful music right away, develops their sense of rhythmic pulse, and teaches them to listen as they play… all very good things!
Paint Chip Improv For Early Elementary Students
Prepping for Paint Chip Improv is about as easy as it gets: head to your local hardware store and grab a few 4-color paint chip strips.
Why a paint chip?
First off, kids just love them.=! Ask a child to choose from a stack of paint chips and they’ll be immediately excited about picking a favorite color. Next, paint chip colors have wonderfully creative names. This is essential for paint chip improv for two reasons: 1) the creative names spark your students’ imaginations, and 2) the paint chip names provide the necessary rhythm to make this activity work.
How To Make Paint Chip Improv Magic Happen
1. Have your student choose a paint chip. Read the names of each of the four paint colors and determine their corresponding rhythms (by clapping… of course). For example, one of my paint chip colors is called “Tangerine Dream”. This becomes two eighths, a quarter and a half note. It’s easiest if you work within 4/4 time when deciding on the matching rhythm.
2. Write each rhythm you come up with directly in each of the four squares on the paint chip. Don’t worry if some of the rhythms have eighth notes (these can often be taught by rote if your students’ method book hasn’t yet introduced this rhythm).
3. Clap through each of the four rhythms with your student either saying the counting or saying the paint chip name. Then, practice playing each of the four rhythms on any group of three black keys.
Now it’s time for the Paint Chip Improv
1. Begin improvising in the left hand using the chords of Gb Major and a Db Major (I switch back and forth between the two chords in a progression that “works” with what I hear happening with the choices my student is making). Make it smooth and flowing and use the pedal. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy at all.
2. When your student is ready, she can play the first Paint Chip Rhythm on any group of three black keys while you improv the accompaniment. All that matters is that she nails the rhythm; which black keys she plays and in what order is irrelevant… it will sound “right”!
3. If your student is comfortable and catching on quickly, she can simply move through each of the four Paint Chip Rhythms (staying on the same group of three black keys). If not, she can repeat just one or two of the rhythms.
You’ll be surprised at the beautiful collaborations you come up with! Choose a new paint chip each time and keep them in a special place in your student’s piano binder where you can then grab one and jam away instantly!
If Your Kids Like Improv They’ll LOVE Composing
If you’re looking for a great step-by-step composing method that is fun and easy to teach (not to mention… hilarious) then you’re definitely going to want to check out our resource, The Curious Case of Muttzart and Ratmaninoff. These 12 composing lessons will give your students the tools to begin composing from day one!