Saturday, March 2, 2024
HomeMusic EducationRote Teaching and Improvisation with Older Beginner Piano Students

Rote Teaching and Improvisation with Older Beginner Piano Students


After attending our KMTA state conference last month, I was inspired anew by a session from my friend and colleague, Agniezska Lasko. Her session, Using Contemporary Compositional Techniques in Teaching Improvisation to Children, is one I could attend over and over again and probably gain new ideas every time! I came back to my studio from this one eager to implement her “Cut-and-Paste” improvisation technique. After a student has learned a piece of music, they explore creative possibilities by moving notes to different registers. (There are other elements they can change as well, like using different intervals, or rearranging the pattern of notes, but I think that was part of a different idea she mentioned; see, I need to attend the session again to be reminded of the specifics!)

I’m a huge proponent of using rote teaching with all students, but have found it to be particularly beneficial with older beginners or transfer students who want to play more advanced-sounding music than their current reading skills allow. All of Paula Dreyer’s Little Gems for Piano books are fabulous and I can’t recommend them highly enough! I taught April Showers (from Volume 1, Beginner Level) to an older beginner student at her first lesson. Here’s the original version:

My student had it easily mastered by the following week, so we discussed and began experimenting with some of Agniezska’s improvisation ideas the next week. My student’s assignment was to create her own version of the piece by playing the left hand parts in different registers of the piano. She had informed me at her interview and evaluation before the school year started that she isn’t good at improvising and doesn’t enjoy it, but she was willing to give this guided improvisation activity a try. Here’s what she came back with the following week:

I was thrilled! She was moving around comfortably all across the keyboard, maintaining a steady beat with the repeating right hand “rain,” and making creative choices – all of this at her third piano lesson!

These new improvisation ideas are opening a whole new realm of possibilities in our studio – both with pieces students are learning by rote and also ones they are reading from the page. What an endless capacity there is for creativity at the piano!

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