I've always been baffled by this scenario. I believe that creating music is and should be an intrinsic part of playing any instrument. It was not always this way. Bach, Chopin etc all improvised. I think composing, and writing out what you create, should be a central part of musicking with students of all ages at all levels.
I think that there is no better time to start than now! Start now teaching your young beginning students to play what's not on the page. If you have older students who have never learned these skills before, start now! It may take a little encouragement and time to help them feel comfortable using these skills. They may have to step outside their comfort zone a bit (I know that I needed to!). But these skills will truly help them be a well-rounded musician.
There are so many simple, basic things you can do to help teach your students these functional keyboard skills. Here are some ideas:
Start young. If children are encouraged to experiment on the piano, make up their own pieces, and improvise at a young age, they will be more comfortable and fluent at it as older musicians. I have encouraged my two-year-old son to experiment at the piano, and he loves making up his own songs!
Encourage creativity. Help students feel comfortable making up songs and composing. Praise their efforts, help build their confidence. When students are not encouraged to be creative at the piano, they may continue on in their music study not knowing how to be creative at the piano or being afraid to try.
Improvisation games. Encourage expression at the piano by playing improvisation games. Play what a bird sounds like, or a rainstorm or the ocean.I think that if I had done more of this as a youngster I would be more comfortable improvising today.
Simple transposing. Young students can learn to transpose very simple pieces from one 5-finger position to another, such as from C to G. Once they are comfortable doing this and can do it with ease and minimal effort, move onto more challenging pieces or new keys.
Question-answer phrases. Have students complete a musical phrase by composing an "answer." This is a simple exercise to get them writing down notes, listening to how music resolves, and possibly to start composing a bit!
Simple harmonization. Young students can learn to improvise an accompaniment to a simple melody when simple chords and chord symbols are learned. Start very basic. Then teach them how to turn block chords into broken chords or an Alberti bass pattern.
Encourage composition. I love how Amy Hansen assigned her students to write a spooky piece for Halloween. Children have great imaginations, why not harness this creativity and help them create their own music?
In what ways do you teach functional piano skills to your students? Please share!
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