How to improvise on piano

By improvising on the piano you don’t play after notes, but after your own ideas. You could still use your knowledge about scales and chords, but in a free way without a given plan or directions. In this guide you will get some easy tips on how to begin improvising.

Play only on the white keys

This may be the easiest way to start improvising on the piano. To only play on the white keys are not difficult at all and it can sound great. The white keys all belong to the C Major scale alternately the A Minor scale (they are relative keys), and therefore you can use all the white keys without any dissonance.

Major: If you start from a C key with both your hands you will play in major (try also to end with C and emphasize this note) ...

Minor: ... and if you start on a A key it will sound minor. Also end the improvisation with A and during the improvisation emphasize this tone.

Dorian: There is also a third way, if you start on a D key you will play in the Dorian mode and if you combine this with the chord progression Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7 you could make it sound like a jazz improvisation.

Pentatonic: Let us also mention a fourth way. By playing all the white keys except F and B (which are the C Pentatonic Major scale) you could bring the sound of a pop song to the piano. Try to play chords like C, Em, F, G and Am with your left hand and then create melodies from the white keys C, D, E, G, A with your right hand. As a suggestion, you can mostly combine C, D, E (tones) with C, F, G (chords) and G, A (tones) with Em, Am (chords).

Blues improvising

The style of blues is in high degrees made upon improvising and there are some easy ways to start. First of all you should get familiar with the 12-bar blues. After you have studied the fundamentals of 12-bar blues you should bring some licks into your repertoire and one way is to create your own blues licks from the blues scales.

Solo over chords

A very common concept in the area of improvising is to play a solo over chords. The most obvious way to do this is in form of improvising is to combine a scale with chords in the same key, for example, playing the C major scale over chords belonging to the same scale.

The same thing could be done with pentatonic scales. Worth trying is also to play minor pentatonic over the relative major.

Superimpose scales

After a while you may be searching for new ways to express yourself and in that case the next step could be to superimpose scales, in other words: you use scales over chords that don't obviously fits together. One simple approach is to move a pentatonic scale a whole step, for example from C to D. Try to play the G Pentatonic Scale over the chords F, C and Dm. You will notice that it sounds a little different, but pretty good.