How to incorporate more creativity in lessons : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I would love to hear how other teachers incorportae creativity in lessons at the Elementary level. I also wanted to share some of my ideas which have helped students.

Using a favorite Lesson Book piece, I have students:

Add rhythmic variations, esp. changing long note values to shorter ones (change a half note to 4 eighths, 2 quarters to a dotted quarter and eighth, etc.)

Add melodic variations (E-D-C--- becomes E-DEC---)

Use the exact rhythm of piece, including the distribution of notes between hands, and have student create an entirely new piece. The "less-inspired" can follow the basic harmonic & melodic outline, but some very creative students come back with their own unique piece!

Write "variations" on a theme by ________________. I find that students who initially have trouble creating their own pieces do best when they start improvising variations in a call & response format at lessons. (I have one of those "cheaper" Radio Shack keyboards; the Concertmate 990. By putting on a groove in one key, students feel the rhythm more and have an easier time improvising.)

Some students who write poetry have learned how to find the rhythm of their words and use it as a basis for melodic writing.

The CD accompaniments by Hal Leonard, Faber, and Clark all have a trach WITH the piano part and one WITHOUT. Using the one WITHOUT, students can improvise to the harmonic outline and create their own pieces.


-- John Bisceglia (, March 19, 2001


A simple little creative activity I pull out with beginning students (after they've mastered a short 8 meas. or so piece) is one called "Change the Mood." I've prepared different colored cards with "mood" words written on them like Happy, Sad, Angry, Excited, Nervous, Sleepy, etc. I'll hold them out face down and ask the student to pick a card. After looking at the mood selected, we'll discuss some ways of playing the given piece to convey the new mood. For example, if the card is Sleepy, we may slow the tempo, play more quietly, add pedal, play it in a dift. octave, etc. If the card is Angry, we may play it louder, faster, make it minor, play it low on the keyboard, use accents, etc. Really, this helps to draw out lots of expression in a child's playing.

Something else I do is take a given piece (something short) and ask the student to make a new ending. This might involve changing the last 4 measures or so. They can use ideas already present in the piece, move up or down the 8va, change the articulation & dynamics, or even compose a new melody. The kids like both the boundaries of beginning with material they know but having some freedom to add a personal touch.

One last idea that comes to mind uses rhythm patterns as a springboard for improvising at the piano. I'll lay several 4 beat rhythm pattern cards randomly on the floor. Student tosses a small bean bag to one of the cards. He'll clap & count the rhythm of card selected, then bring the card to the piano and, using a 5 finger pattern of his choice, improvise a short melody using this rhythm. Usually I have the student keep the rhythm pattern going across several bars. Sometimes we'll do a little echo playing using this rhythm. The student can toss for new patterns several times in a lesson.

-- Gretchen T. (, March 22, 2001.

John, i like all your ideas, but i find it kind of funny that you seem to equate creativity with improv. there are lots of ways to be creative in lessons without improvising (tho i do think improvising and composing are necessary. wish i had more of that when i was young). i've found that the most creative and interesting lessons i've taught are ones when i helped the student draw out a picture, a story, a sound, an image, a feeling that gave them new insight into a piece they were working on. the least creative/inspiring/interesting lessons were the ones where i'd get into a "wrong note, fix that rhythm" rut, instead of finding creative ways to get the student to HEAR the rhythm, or creative ways to LOOK at a pattern of notes on the page and turn it into something they understand. just this aspect of teaching alone can fill up the entire lesson (as it does at the collegiate level). add to that the improv/composing/technique/sightreading etc, and it's no wonder piano teaching is a hard job!

-- Julie2 (, April 21, 2001.

Great ideas on creative teaching techniques! But I will always see improvisation as ONE form of creativity. (I do realize there are many forms!) I was hoping to hear how other teachers encourage their students to create their OWN music, beyond the interpretation of pre- existing pieces. There are creative teaching techniques, creative ways to use imagery, and creative ways for students to practice and think of their repertoire pieces. I'd still like to hear how other teachers set up experiences where the student can discover their own voice, develop their ideas, and "speak" their own thoughts on the piano as we do in language.

-- John Bisceglia (, April 21, 2001.

I've just begun teaching, but I've been conscious to assign students to write one piece at home. At first it's on the black keys only, and I stress that it can be long, short, loud, soft, etc. , but that I'd like it to have a name and to be memorized. We then move to the white keys and I tell them to play 'C' only in the left hand, and gradually I teach them to improvise. Learning the scales is thus useful to them, because it gives them different keys to write music in. I've also found that having students write out music on staff paper, music they've created, is very valuable. It shows me what they understand and what needs work, just by how they write key signatures, notes, etc. They are usually pretty excited and proud of what they've accomplished.

-- Jen Hastings (, February 17, 2002.

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