Be creative at the Piano (Part 4)
Paint Your Own Musical Landscapes!
I don’t know why, but I find the idea of interpreting nature musically to be very appealing. Maybe it’s because I’m attracted to nature’s beauty, but the notion of communicating that beauty musically has always intrigued me.
Not being a very patient person, I wanted to find a way to capture a musical idea very quickly and sketch out an entire piece all at once. Visual artists do something called a thumbnail sketch, and I wanted to do the same thing for music.
It then occurred to me that if I just sketch out the first 8-bars of the piece, and write in the first 2-bars of melody, I could capture an idea that would be remembered weeks or even years later. It’s amazing, but this actually works! The secret is the melody.
If you can’t read music and want to do this, just do what I do. I write down the note values (quarter notes, half notes., etc.) and write the letter name of the note beside the note value. One of the most important things I’ve discovered over the years is that the note value (its time length) is what really captures the idea. Just think of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for a good example. Da Da Da Duh… These notes mark the whole composition.
Piano Journeys -Create Your Own Unique Music!
Have you ever marveled at how artists can quickly sketch out a beautiful landscape scene and convert it into a full-fl edged painting? I have and I’ve always been jealous of their ability to do so. I’ve oft en wondered why music couldn’t be more like this.
Of course, composers know how to create a complete piece of music, but I didn’t want to spend years learning theory and harmonic analysis. I didn’t want to study form and compositional technique. Not because I was lazy or unmotivated, but because there had to be a simpler way of taking what I felt inside and turning it into a piano improvisation or composition.
Fortunately for me, I discovered my own unique method for quickly creating what I love to create, and that is New Age piano music. A few chords and a key in which to play are all I needed to begin quickly creating my own unique piano journeys.
You see, the problem most aspiring composers have is that they think they need to learn everything that was ever written about how to compose music. This isn’t necessary, and only serves to delay the experience of jumping in the water and trying it first hand. My method is really simple – improvise first and let the music tell you where it wants to go. That is, let go and allow the music to fl ow through you.
I ALWAYS START WITH IMPROVISATION because this is where the raw creative energy is. If something strikes me as particularly nice, I’ll draw out 8-bars on a sheet of paper. It doesn’t have to be notation paper either. I just use a blank composition journal I bought at a bookstore to do this.
After the 8-bars is drawn, I’ll write in the first 2-bars of the melody to remember the initial idea. I then use the chords from the key I’m working in to complete this small 8-bar section. Working within 8-bar sections is, I think, the best way a beginner can actually complete a musical phrase.
It’s a very attainable goal and works very well.
Piano Lessons: Creating an Impressionistic Soundscape
Ah… the Soundscape. That indefinable rush of notes that envelopes and soothes. The first classical composer to really embrace this type of music was Claude Debussy.
In fact, a whole style of music, Impressionism, was coined based on his music alone. It’s a lush style that tries to steer clear of too definable a melody line. Instead, textures and rhythms are explored.
Some students think this style is the hardest to learn, but I think it’s actually easier to play this style than the straight melodic style embraced in the classical period. For the improvising pianist, creating an impressionist
Soundscape requires nothing more than learning a few chords and playing them.
Debussy based much of his music on something called the whole-tone scale. This scale basically takes out any “tension” that can be found in our major and minor scales. The Chinese and Japanese use pentatonic scales frequently, and this is also similar. But, we don’t have to use these scales to create our Soundscape.
The C Major scale will work just fine. For instance, in the lesson “Reflections in Water,” we use open position chords to create with. It’s HOW we use them that gives us the feeling of a Soundscape. We play slowly and allow the notes to ring out. No rushing is involved here. Instead, we adapt an attitude of exploration.
The music is created by allowing our fingers to play with the tones in the C Major scale. Chord changes come every few bars or so. The music is repeated a few times, and then we stop.
You see, you don’t need fancy materials to create beautiful Soundscapes with. You can use just a few chords from the C Major scale and improvise a beautiful piece of music! We play with the textures and allow the music to appear – without forcing or willing it into being.
Piano Songs – Create Them Yourself With Just a Few Chords!
Most people play other people’s music. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. The classical repertoire is fantastic and worthy of playing.
But what if you want to just sit down at the piano and create on your own? Piano songs can come out of you as easily as drinking a glass of water. Think not? It’s true. All you need to realize is it can be done -if you start using a chord based approach!
For example, in the lesson “Reflections in Water” (available at quiescencemusic.com), a few chords and a simple technique is used to create a very nice little piano song. Nothing complicated or sophisticated here. Just some simple chords in open position and a framework upon which to hang it.
But, and this is important, it’s an original piece of music. No note-reading was used. No attempt to “come up” with material. You see, when you’re able to freely improvise, piano songs can spill out of you as easy as words do when speaking.
So what’s the trick? It’s being able to let go of the need to control the outcome and allow the music to unfold on its own. This is actually an intuitive approach to playing the piano, and one that’s served me well over the past 15 years. Look, the goal for most piano players is to be able to
either play the classics, or play from lead sheets or fake books. Creating one’s own piano music is a foreign notion to most.
That’s why I’m a big fan of the New Age piano style! It focuses mainly on improvisation and “free play” and requires very little in the way of technical know how. What is required is the ability to suspend judgment and allow for the unexpected.
Th is can be very threatening to some. In fact, people come up with all kinds of excuses as to why this music is “inferior” to other types. I always laugh when I hear that argument because I know there’s nothing more these people want then just to “be” at the piano.
Piano Songs – Create Them Yourself!
Have you ever wanted to create your own unique piano songs? Just simple pieces that express how you feel? You can if you learn how to improvise first and then learn how to compose. Here’s why.
Improvising allows you to express what you feel without constraint. In essence, it’s like free writing because the goal here is to free your own unique voice without having to worry about right or wrong, good or bad. It is a skill that students should learn before any other and is foundational for further success at composing. Once you are able to sit down at the piano and can trust your intuition to guide you, you’re ready to compose.
Composition is really just slowed down improvisation. We take the initial inspirational gem we’ve discovered through improve and flush it out using the tools of repetition and contrast. For example, in the lesson “Waiting for Spring,” we learn how to create a simple ABA form in the Key of C.
The key here is that we already know the piece will be an ABA form, so how do we proceed? Easily! The way I do it is I write out the first 8-bars and then improvise to see what will come up. Once I’m onto something, I write out the first 2-bars of the melody, so I can remember it. Then I use chords from the Key of C Major to finish the first 8-bars; my (A) section.
Another 8-bars or so for my (B) section, and I’m done!
The arrangement of this easy piano song usually works itself out to be play the (A) section twice, (B) section once, back to the (A) section, and I’m done. Most of the time, this comes out to about 2-3 minutes of music.
The important thing for creating your own piano songs is that you must be able to move forward and complete sections of music. This is best accomplished when you can improvise freely first!
Play and Compose New Age Piano Now – Even if You’ve Never Touched a Keyboard!
You love the sound of New Age piano. You may have wondered how certain people can just sit down at the piano and start playing from scratch. It’s not magic! It’s called knowing what you’re doing, and you can do the same! To begin, you need to know a few chords. I suggest complete
beginners start out with something called the open position chord. This chord structure has many, many benefits for the beginner (and advanced student!)
First, it’s a modern sounding chord. Forget about triads and scales. The open position chord allows you to play seventh chords right away. This chord structure is used by most jazz and contemporary piano players.
Second, it uses both hands right away! When you first finger this chord structure, it will stretch your hands out completely. In fact, you will be playing more than 2 octaves of the piano keyboard. This is something beginners want to do right away, and it can be done with a minimum of practice.
Let’s look at how we can use this chord structure to create music with. In the lesson, “Reflections in Water,” we have 4 chords to play. The chords are in the Key of C major, which means they are all located on the white keys. We finger the first chord (C Major 7) with both hands and notice the sound. How open it is! The sound you get from this chord is perfect
for the New Age sound. In fact, once we finger this chord, we only have to move our fingers around a little and music comes out. It’s really an amazing thing.
We switch chords using the same fingering and play around with the notes from the C major scale. This is all that is required to create New Age piano music, or Jazz music for that matter. The amazing thing about this chord type is the amount of music you can create right from the start. If you’re into New Age piano and want to immediately play in this style, I highly recommend you learn how to play the open position piano chord!
Relaxing Piano Music – Create It Yourself With These Easy to Follow Piano Lessons
You love the soothing sounds of relaxing piano music. But have you ever thought about actually going to your piano and creating it yourself?
There are many piano courses, that teach beginning adult students how to play piano using a chord-based approach. Usually, the lessons are designed in an easy step by step fashion that shows you what chords to play and how to improvise and create your own music. (Check our Library Catalog).
You already know how therapeutic listening to solo piano music is. Creating it on your own is much better because you’re actually involved in the process. Making music forces you to be in the present. Once you get a taste of how good this feels, you’ll want more and more.
For instance, take the free lesson “Winter Scene.” Here we have a relaxing piano lesson that teaches you to play 2 chords in your left hand while your right improvises melody. To the complete beginner, this may seem like a lot. And it is until you actually try it. Once you start to play the chords in
your left hand and get the pattern down, it becomes quite simple to jump in with the right and begin improvising a melody. I always advise students to go as slow as they need to at first. Speed is not important at all. Playing with sensitivity is.
If all you can do is play one note in the right hand while your left is busy playing, then you’ve accomplished quite a lot. It won’t take long for you to freely improvise and create your own relaxing piano music!
Simple ABA Form – Creating Your Own Piano Compositions!
Form… to give shape to something. Yes, form is about giving music shape. Odd as this sounds (because we can’t see music), there can be a definable shape to our creations. One of the more frequently used forms is called ABA.
This means we play a section of music 1 or 2 times, we play another (B) and then we return to our first section. Seems simple enough, right? Yet, many students have trouble creating their own piano compositions using this simple form. Most likely, this has to do with thinking too much.
Many students overthink things and make their job of music creation that much harder. It doesn’t have to be that way. Not if you think in phrases! For example, take the lesson, “Rainforest Revisited.” Here we return to Lesson 3: “Rainforest” which is basically an extended improvisation. In “Rainforest Revisited,” you’re shown how to add another section of music – a contrasting (B) section, to create a new piece of music in ABA form.
Now, most of you have no trouble when it comes to improvising and just playing the piano. Your music flows out of you, and this is how it should be. The problem comes when students try and think about what comes next. Wrong approach! Don’t think! Continue your next section the same
way – by using your intuition.
Here’s how I came up with the (B) section for “Rainforest Revisited.” I simply sat down at the piano, played the original “Rainforest” piece and allowed my intuition to guide me to the next section. I didn’t ask, “what should come next?” No. Furthermore, I felt my way through. I knew the (B) section would be 8-bars or so long and just came up with something contrasting to the original “Rainforest.” I now had a (B) section and could
turn the entire thing into an ABA form piece of music!
The Secret to Composition
When I first started out playing piano and trying to compose, I couldn’t figure out how someone could get his or her inspiration down on paper.
It was very frustrating to look at and listen to other artists who seemed to know the “secret” to composition. Little did I know that the big secret really isn’t about composing, it’s about being able to trust your own intuition and let it lead you instead of the other way around. It took a long
while before, I was able to just let go and allow the music to fl ow out. But once I could do this, the idea of capturing an idea didn’t seem to matter so much. No. It was more important for me to let it all go.
It also occurred to me that the more I tried to “capture” an idea, the harder it was to get down. Another artistic irony that’s proved itself over the years. Many people who want to compose their own music have
problems because they believe that the musical idea they are working on is holy. They don’t understand that there are literally millions of ideas waiting to be born. If they loosened their grip slightly, they would be able to gently notate that idea and see where it would lead them.
An entirely different approach and one that allows for so-called errors, mistakes, etc. For me, the secret to composing is not knowing how to
capture a musical idea. It’s being able to open up to the limitless ideas within and allowing them to express naturally through improvisation.
To Learn How to Compose, Learn How to Improvise
As I sit here writing this, listening to Mozart, I can’t help but think of musical form. That sometimes, but oft en not, discernible quality to music that makes it art. And when I say art, I’m not talking about improvisation
or free form.
I’m talking about composition. Most students are baffled as to how a piece of music is constructed. It’s as if learning how to compose is something only gift ed individuals do. And while the intuitive sense
behind creating melody itself can not be taught, the craft can!
Form is to music what flower arranging is to the florist. You see, it’s all about creating a structure. In flower arranging, the goal is to create something pleasing to the eye. This is accomplished by how the florist places the flowers. He’s not going to stack them all to one side. No. He wants to create something that allows the eye to go back and forth.
Something that the viewer can take as a complete experience. Music is much the same way. If we played the same thing over and over, we get monotony. If we vary the music too much, we get incoherence. The
solution? Go back and forth between sections! Now, this is easy to grasp intellectually. The difficulty comes when students attempt to create their first composition and end up with something less than satisfactory. And this is because most students haven’t learned to trust their intuition.
You see, to be able to compose, you must have the ability to move forward without criticizing yourself. This is THE most important skill and one that can be developed through learning how to improvise. I always suggest students learn how to improvise first. Then, when the internal critic is gone, they can move forward with their ideas. It seems strange that
improvisation should come before composition, but if you want to develop quickly you do really need to free yourself from judging the product and have the ability to move forward. Then, when you learn how to compose by using sections, you won’t be as daunted and stuck at every little detail.
You Can Compose Your Own Music!
Whenever someone uses the word composer, inevitably, the names of Beethoven, Bach, and other classical personages come to mind. This can be very intimidating to those who want to record their musical thoughts and ideas down.
In fact, comparing yourself to ANY composer will be detrimental to you. Why? Because you will always have to live up to someone’s expectations of what is good music or what is not good music. This comparison trap will lead you nowhere and will result in a drying up of the creative spirit.
The solution to this trap is to begin where you are, and for most of us that means begin EASY!
I’ll never forget the first time I tried to “compose” something. It was for classical guitar. I tried to create something original, and it took me 2 hours just to write out 4-bars of melody. Of course, I didn’t know what I was doing. There has to be some kind of method that works for you. Now, the
method I use today has been very easy to work with because it gives me the freedom to compose AND improvise at the same time. I “compose” using 8-bar phrases.
To do this, all one has to do is write out 8-bars on a sheet of paper. Any paper will do. It doesn’t have to be music paper or manuscript. In fact, I just use a spiral bound journal with ruled lines on it. Whenever I want to memorialize an idea, I draw out 8-bars very quickly. I then improvise and allow myself the freedom to play anything that comes out of me. If I try and think something up, the music will usually wind up sounding forced or contrived – qualities that music is better off not having.
Once the idea (either melodic or textural) appears, I write out the first 2-bars, so I remember what it is and use chords to quickly fill in the 8-bar section. After this is completed, I may draw another 8-bars and see what else comes. If nothing more is coming at this particular point, I put the journal away and come back to it later on. This method has served me well over the years and is an excellent starting method for beginning composers.
Keith Jarrett – The Art of Improvisation Part 1/10 remastered
- Libertango (Piano Solo) – Astor Piazzola
- Out of Africa – music by John Barry (piano solo)
- Oblivion (Astor Piazzolla) by Nadja Kossinskaja, guitar (with sheet music)
- Milonga del Angel by Astor Piazzolla (arr. piano solo)
- Oblivion (A. Piazzolla) Two pianos – pianists Argerich and Hubert
- Bill Evans, american jazz pianist and composer (1929-1980)