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 does music inspire creativity?
Studies have shown that upbeat music can improve a person’s mood. The happier people are, the more open they are to creativity and imagination. Different styles and genres of music can also inspire creativity. Students learn different rhythms, time signatures, and ways to express music by listening to a wide variety of music. This in turn will affect how they improvise on the piano. Music can also inspire creativity by creating “flow states.” A flow state is a mental state characterized by intense focus, heightened creativity, and a feeling of being “in the zone.” Music can help induce this state by providing a rhythmic and immersive background that enhances concentration and creative flow.
How to begin? Start with improvising.
Improvisation is not only fun and creative, it’s a very important musical skill. Knowing how to improvise musically will help students connect to the piano on a deeper level. 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?”
- Musical Conversation Improvisation: Have a conversation on the piano with just notes. Encourage your child to listen carefully to what you “say” on the piano. Play a small melody on the piano. Four to eight notes is a good start. It doesn’t need to be long. Then ask your child to respond in a similar way. To challenge your child, tell them to listen to the rhythm and respond by playing a similar rhythm back. It doesn’t need to be exact. The goal is to listen to pauses, faster notes, and slow notes and to put those rhythms in their own response to you. This will help them develop their ear and ability to play back what they hear. Go back and forth “talking” on the piano. Try switching roles! Let your child lead the conversation and you can respond back in a similar way.
- 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.
- Listen to lots of music: Jazz, classical, or rock piano, it doesn’t matter the style. Listening to different styles of piano will help your child develop their own inner ear and musical sense. It will help them know what they like and don’t like musically on the piano. This in turn will help their improvisational exploration on the piano. Maybe they like loud, snappy rhythms. Or maybe they like long, flowing melodies. Whatever they gravitate towards, they can use music as an inspiration for their improvisation explorations.
- Compose your Own Music Game: hop on the piano and brainstorm your own piano game to play!
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. The quickest way to squash creativity is to start giving suggestions too soon. Let the child judge for themselves and let improvisation be a safe space for experimenting and exploring. Encourage your student to relax and have fun. Perhaps make a habit of starting their piano practice everyday with a little bit of playful musical improvisation. 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!