Why encourage creativity at the beginning of a child’s music education? Shouldn’t we just focus on learning the notes?
Every child has a natural desire to create. I have seen children spend hours working on their own creations, the same children who get tired after a few minutes of working on an assignment. Creation is motivation. We want to tap into that motivation as early as we can.
Children and adults alike are very proud of the things they create, whether it’s a song, a painting, a poem, a dance, or any other form of expression. There’s a sense of ownership children get when they create their own songs on the piano. Most of all, there is so much enjoyment to be had in learning to improvise and to create your own music. Many music students miss out on the sheer enjoyment of engaging in the creative process simply because it isn’t encouraged enough. Make sure your piano student gets plenty of opportunity to create their own music.
How to begin? Start with improvising.
Improvisation is not only fun and creative, it’s a very important musical skill. We want our piano students to be truly fluent in the language of music. Just like you wouldn’t consider yourself fluent in French unless you could have a spontaneous conversation in French, you wouldn’t be fluent in music unless you could spontaneously create your own music.
Here are some ideas and activities to get kids to improvise:
- Free Play: Musical doodling, like playing in a sandbox, is totally unstructured discovery time. It’s not the same as practicing, does not require adult supervision, there’s no need to worry about posture or anything. Just let your child hit notes and see what the piano can do. In all probability, if there is a child and a keyboard or piano in your house, this kind of improvising is already going on. Just stay out of the way and let the creativity flow!
- Words Become Songs: Add a little structure to improvisation by making up a melody to words or a poem. Children can use a poem they know, or write one of their own. Another fun improvisation game is to have a musical conversation with a piano practice partner. The piano student and the practice partner take turns playing notes on the piano and singing along using simple sentences, like, “How was school today?”
- Tone Poems: Give your child a prompt, such as “Play me a happy song,” “What would someone tip-toeing sound like?” or, “Play something that sounds like a thunderstorm.” You can take turns with this game too.
- Jamming with a Track: Have your piano student listen to recorded music and make up notes to play along. Our Practice CD’s are a great way to do this. Each practice track has a section where students can make up their own melody using the same notes as a known song, only played in whatever order or rhythm the student wants. This helps students learn to improvise with a steady beat or pulse, and also prepares them to play and improvise music with other people.
As a parent, resist the urge to correct and steer improvisation. Once you set the parameters, get out of the way and don’t judge or criticize. Let the child judge for themselves. The quickest way to squash creativity is to start giving suggestions too soon. Do encourage your piano student to listen carefully to each note. We don’t want them just wiggling their fingers on the keys, playing random notes as fast as possible. Each note is like a word. Each melody is a sentence. Listen to what the notes are saying. But most of all, HAVE FUN!