Using Improv to Boost Student Creativity

Music is a wonderful tool to express thoughts, feelings, and emotions in ways that can only be felt. During lessons, away from the meticulous scales and breaking down of rhythmic values, the student truly yearns to simply play! For isn’t that the reason why students want to learn music in the first place?

You can just see the pure joy in Avrianna’s expressions during our creation of her Unicorn Song

So if you see a drop in your student’s motivation to learn, perhaps trying something out of the box. If you don’t know where to start, here are some steps to using the power of spontaneity to encourage your student to keep going.

1. Pick a Simple Harmonic Progression

In the video, I played the famous Canon by Pachelbel (but in C). It’s a predictable and repeatable progression that allows the student to improvise in one easy key for the whole song.

Even if your student is more advanced and can handle more complex changes, I still recommend simplifying it so that your student can focus more on expression than the technicalities.

Some examples of other progressions are Heart and SoulBoogie-Woogie, and even a floaty IV Major 7 to I Major 7 rolling back and forth.

2. Have Your Student Try a Different Instrument

If your student is an instrumentalist, have them sing. How many of us have had teachers who will sing maniacally during our lessons to get us to bring out even MORE character in our playing?

It’s true that instruments share the common goal of trying to replicate the voice, yet nothing will ever trump the feeling of resonating your own voice to the music.

Let your student feel comfortable singing if they aren’t by just being open and expressive with your own singing. Shout, wee, holler, gobble, buzz your lips, do whatever to get a chuckle and sing as ridiculous as you can with your student to break any hesitations they may feel.

 3. Send It

Akin to action-sports athletes risking their body and life during a risky stunt, they simply jump into the fray with all their gut and follow through or end up paying the price of injury or death. Luckily, for us musicians, it only means playing the wrong note or rhythm!

So you have your chord progression and you’re both ready to SEND IT–So now just go for! Start playing. Focus on having fun and making something that feels good.

You’ll notice in our video, sometimes she comes in with a simple melodic lick and spends most of her time just feeling her singing. Even during times when the sound doesn’t click, we just keep going. 

4. Reflect

Although this exercise is all fun–it’s still a lesson. So make sure you’re paying attention to what your student is doing well and something that they can improve on. After the improvisational exercise, end with a high-five and tell them with great detail about what you liked about their singing and playing.

Say you liked their phrasing and how it swelled smoothly in volume. Tell them you enjoyed the clarity of their melodic lines. Make sure you are DESCRIPTIVE in the compliments. “That was a really catchy melody!” or “I love how you kept a super even tempo” will do. Then while their spirits are up, use whatever aspect you want to help them with to segue into your lesson plan for the rest of the lesson.