Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fly Little Birdy - Start Improvising Music

This is a stark lesson of playing by ear.  When you're done taking lessons and know your chords, you'll settle down on a comfy perch atop your plateau of skill.

You aren’t seeking out advanced courses in styling or other courses and maybe don’t have the time.  You 're satisfied with how you play but know you could be a lot better.  C'est la vie.

What’s Holding You Back Little Birdy? 

See yourself 3 years down the road after learning this now.   An improvisation king you probably are not.  However, at this point you are definitely in command of chords and have advanced skills.  You can play a lot of songs -written or by ear- but may not play with much style.  If you’re not careful, you can stagnate in this state for 20 years.

During stagnation you play all your favorite songs like a juke box without deviation or improvisation.

These personal showcase tunes are your conquered standards that you tend to play over and over again.

Stagnation is the Curse of the 
Play-By-Ear Master

You give up style and improvisation in return for being able to play massive amounts of music without written music.  There's no time to bog yourself down to one written arrangement.  No time!  When you can play your own version of any song, you just want to get on to the next song.

At this point you've reached a high degree of stagnation. It is the stagnation of "sameness to your playing" from one song to the next.  You're good, no doubt but nothing's new.

Like an addict, you hunger for more songs to play, sacrificing style and improvisation for instant gratification.  When you straighten up, you ask yourself why in the world you can’t improvise after all these years of playing?   

I’m Going to Tell You Why

 Despite your skills and knowledge, you have not yet given in to the force of enlightenment.  This force is "one" with the infinite number of variations that can be played with JUST ONE SONG!  Again, one song can be played an infinite number of ways.  Slow it down or speed it up.  Use more or less notes.  Add a different rhythm.  Substitute a chord.  Combine different factors.  Anything!

All music exists in the infinite world of variations.  Improvisation begins with a strong realization of that concept of "infinite variations."  You conclude that if there are a million ways to play something, then why ever bother to play it the same way twice?   

Dig into your conquered standards and start there.  Pull them out fresh, dust them off and vow never again to play them the same way twice.  Your mind begins to expand when you start playing one variation after another of familiar songs.

Take little steps in rhythm, notes and chords and start exploring your options.  Focus in on the freedom you feel to express yourself emotionally.  Let you mind wander to play how you feel and let the music flow.

When you get that “freedom” mindset, it sets the stage for improvising.

Attack all your music like this.  Play anything, any way you want.  Take yourself to the next level and you’ll start to get it.

It's a much bigger galaxy of music out there than you can imagine.

Keep looking.


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

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