Improvising On The Piano: Jazz Musicians Do It -- Why Not Other Styles?

Why jazz piano improvisation?

Why not gospel piano improvisation?

Is it not possible to improvise classical music, or sacred music, or any other kind of music?

Bach improvised many of his fugues and inventions while playing organ in church. Many others in all musical styles have improvised within the context of their own persuasion. So why study improvised jazz? Why not study improvised classical music, or improvised gospel music?

The answer is access.

Jazz piano improvisation is so much more accessible than is improvisation in other areas. Some classical pianists do improvise, but at performances they are generally expected to play Chopin or Debussy or Mozart, rather than to make up their own music. There are gospel pianists who do improvise, but the expectation of their listeners is not primarily to hear music created on the spot.

But the expectations of a audience of jazz fans is expressly to hear music created extemporaneously, without benefit of written score. And so jazz, far more than any other musical style to date, has become the music of improvisation. Not because there is anything inherent in the tunes jazz musicians play that calls for improvisation, but because of the expectation of improvisation that has built up over the years.

This fact makes it possible for an interested observer to study jazz improvisation like he could study no other kind of improvisation. He has easy access to concerts, recordings, transcriptions of jazz recordings, and even local jam sessions. When can he attend a classical concert and be sure of hearing music improvised? When can he attend church with assurance that the pianist will improvise? But with jazz, his sources are many and are readily available.

Can the principles derived from jazz improvisation be applied to other musical styles?

Of course.

Every pianist uses the same 88 notes of the keyboard. All music consists of some kind of melody, some kind of harmony, some kind of rhythm. Elements from one style can be transplanted to another style; in fact, this is happening all the time. Notice lately how much of contemporary pop music is flavored with elements from jazz, country-western, and even classical music. Cross-pollinization of styles abounds in contemporary music.

So improvisation can be studied by the student of classical music, the church pianist, the worship team keyboardist, the new-age pianist, the country-western piano player, and any other style of music. The benefits and rewards of learning to improvise on the piano are enormous.

So next time you see or hear a jazz pianist play, pay close attention to what she or he is doing. Ask yourself what's going on musically -- what chords and chord progressions are being used, what rhythms are in play, and how the tune of a song is being altered as the pianist improvises the melody line.

Then go home and apply what you've learned to your style of music. You'll be surprised how much you can learn by simply observing and then applying what you've seen and heard to your own playing.

Duane Shinn is the author of over 500 music books and music educational materials such as DVD's, CD's, musical games for kids, chord charts, musical software, and piano lesson instructional courses for adults. He is the author of a CD-DVD course titled "How To Make Up Music As You Play -- How To Improvise On The Piano!". He holds advanced degrees from Southern Oregon University and was the founder of Piano University in Southern Oregon. He is the author of the popular free 101-week online e-mail newsletter titled "Amazing Secrets Of Exciting Piano Chords & Sizzling Chord Progressions" with over 57,400 current subscribers.

In The News:


The Verge

Exclusive: How Drake and Apple Music broke streaming records with More Life
The Verge
Drake's latest project More Life was streamed 300 million times worldwide in its first week on Apple Music, Republic Records tells The Verge, surpassing the 250 million streams the label said Views, an Apple Music exclusive, did in its first week last ...
Drake's 'More Life' Streamed Over 300 Million Times on Apple Music in First WeekXXLMAG.COM
Drake's 'More Life' Has Already Broken an Epic RecordBET
Drake's 'More Life' Bows at No. 1 on Billboard 200 & Sets Streaming RecordBillboard

all 41 news articles »

Miami.com

Gallery: The heroes of Ultra Music Festival Day 2
Miami.com
Here is a look at the people who truly get how to do Ultra Music Festival, from Saturday. People who are obviously visiting us from the future. Lenny Martinez, 35, from Huston, Texas, wears an astronaut costume to the second day of Ultra Music Festival ...
Ultra Music Festival Announces Australian Expansion at UMF Miami 2017Billboard
A little tired, a little wet on Ultra's last dayMiami Herald
Ultra Music Festival 2017 Day One: Martin Garrix's Baby Face, Zhu's Silhouette, and MoreMiami New Times
EDM Chicago (blog) -Stoney Roads -CBS Miami
all 126 news articles »

KY3

Route 66 Record Show hosts 100's of music collectors as the vintage format makes a come-back
KY3
Some say it's the "resurrection records" that is making it so popular, but others say vinyl music never went out of style. Whatever it is, the vintage music brought hundreds of collectors to the Route 66 Record Show in Springfield Sunday. It's music ...


Fox News

Reynolds and Fisher honored with humor, music and dance
Fox News
Laughter, music and the tapping of dancing shoes reverberated throughout a public memorial to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, which loved ones say is just how the actresses would have wanted it. There were few tears throughout the two-hour ...
Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher celebrated with tears, music and 'Star Wars' tributesLA Daily News

all 304 news articles »

Miami New Times

Ultra Music Festival 2017 Day Two With Dubfire, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, and the Prodigy
Miami New Times
This time of year is supposed to be Miami's dry season. That definitely wasn't the case on the second day of Ultra Music Festival 2017. Gray clouds hung over Bayfront Park eventually drenching the festival. However, it wasn't exactly like last year's ...


Journal Times

RUSD handbook changes could affect elementary art, music, PE classes
Journal Times
The handbook previously stated, "The District will employ sufficient art, music and physical education specialists to enable the District to assign at least one full-time specialist to each elementary school. .. The assignment of said specialists will ...


The Tennessean

Anastasia Brown has career-defining role picking music for 'The Shack'
The Tennessean
As Nashville's preeminent music supervisor, Anastasia Brown has the kind of dream job that almost doesn't seem like it could be real. She picks the songs for movies and television shows. Brown has served as the music supervisor for the popular ...


9 to 5 Mac

Apple Music execs say Beats 1 is 'the biggest radio station in the ...
9 to 5 Mac
Last week, it was reported that Drake's latest project was streamed 89.9 million times in its first 24 hours of availability on Apple Music, a number that bested ...

and more »

Savannah Morning News

Flannery O'Connor celebrated with parade, costumes, live music
Savannah Morning News
The Sweet Thunder Strolling Band leads a parade of revelers through Lafayette Square on Sunday for the Flannery O'Connor Parade and Street Fair, which celebrates the Savannah-born author's legacy. (Will Peebles/Savannah Morning News).

and more »

Fox News

Harry Potter movie to play at Radio City Music Hall with orchestra
Fox News
This coming weekend Harry Potter fans will be able to experience the first film of the beloved series in an entirely new way. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” will be shown at Radio City Music Hall accompanied by a symphony orchestra who will ...

and more »
Google News

Beginning Clarinet: The Very Start

Like starting with any instrument, beginning clarinet is a process... Read More

College Radio: The Most Important Radio Level for Musicians

For the self-promoting independent artist, the idea of taking on... Read More

Dont Censor the Music and Artistic Expression

Ann Powers said: "Don't censor the music and artistic... Read More

Creating Your Own Unique Music

Have you ever dreamed of penning your own compositions? Writing... Read More

Piano Playing For Adults: More Fun Than Sex And Not Nearly As Dangerous!

OK, so I lied about the fun part.Maybe piano playing... Read More

Right Hand Guitar Playing Tip

This lesson can open for you a secret of high-speed... Read More

Play Too Loud And Well Cut The Power!

"Turn it down!"How often have you heard that command in... Read More

How Piano Lessons Benefit Young Children

Piano lessons provide a wide range of benefits to young... Read More

Formation of a Song (Recording)

As industry insiders, we sometimes forget that when discussing the... Read More

10 Music Download Legal Points

Everybody's doing it: downloading music and sharing files. People who... Read More

Piano Lessons For Adults: More Fun, Easier, & Faster Than Piano Lessons For Kids

Piano lessons for adults is generally LOTS more fun than... Read More

An Introduction to CD Mastering

While many people think that the mixing of the separate... Read More

Bono: From Music To Fashion To Helping The Poor

U2s lead singer Bono isn't content with being part of... Read More

Songs Await Singer

I Want To Grow Old With You (C)Chorus: I want... Read More

The Bagpipe and Its History

You may have heard that bagpipes are a Scottish invention;... Read More

Free, Legal Music Online

Almost everyone has heard about the massive crack down on... Read More

Composing for Dummies

When most people hear the word composer, they automatically think... Read More

Does Your CD Cover $ell (Or Suck)?

Oh, I know the last part of the title (Suck)... Read More

The Post-rock Revolution (Explosions in the sky)

A lot has been said about the 'post-rock' revolution as... Read More

6 Tips for Organizing Your Music Files

If you're a digital music fan, you probably have problems... Read More

Review: The Dissociatives - Self Titled

In 1994 Daniel Johns and his group Silverchair were catapulted... Read More

So You Want to be President? Learn to Play a Musical Instrument!

President Harry S. Truman, the man in the White House... Read More

Bluegrass Music - Alive and Well in the Appalachians

One of the Appalachian Mountain region's greatest contributions to the... Read More

How to Download Music From The Internet

Most of you have probably heard of the RIAA's quest... Read More

How to Compose Your Own Music Using 8-bar Phrases

Some people think composing is this miraculous thing that only... Read More