Piano Improvisation for Beginners

Getting started with improvisation can be more daunting for pianists than for players of melody instruments because of the need to combine both melody and accompaniment. Nevertheless, we have uploaded some ideas for improvisation which can be explored by absolute beginners, whilst remaining absorbing and useful activities for more advanced players.

See Improvisation for Beginner Pianists


Interacting With Other Users

I was absolutely delighted that one user responded to the “Welcome” post saying “It’s really exciting to “hook-up” with other folks who are enabling all kinds of individuals to make music.” This is what I hope so much to facilitate through this blog and what I tried to initiate through the Full Pitcher Forums.

Ours is a large website and it occurs to me that many of you may have missed the links to the forums, which cover areas of interest identified by subscribers to the newsletter which this blog replaces. so, I have created a permanent page on the blog, “Discussions“, which explains the rationale behind the forums with a link to each one.

I hope, of course, that many more people will participate by commenting on posts, here on the blog, and on other people’s comments. When you post a comment here, your email address is not published but your comment is public. If you wish to communicate more widely with other users, you can do this by subscribing to the forums, where members can opt to send and receive private messages from other subscribers, in addition to posting publicly. There is also a ‘live-chat’  facility (limited to 3 subscribers at any one time).

I look forward to some lively discussions!

Family Music-Making With Our Resources

Activities shared by the whole family are the stuff of precious memories. And creative activities, in particular, are a potent way to build a strong family, or group, identity.

Computers have often been blamed for causing fragmentation in family life and encouraging children to spend long periods in isolation. But computers don’t have to be isolating. Today, there are many interactive applications that can simultaneously engage the interest of users with very different levels of knowledge and skill. Our GridPlay Level 1 software is a good example. This is not intended to be used by a solitary child, focused on the computer but as a shared activity in the home, playgroup or classroom, as we explain in “Using GridPlay with Young or Disabled Children

On this site, we make suggestions for using our online music scores as the focus of activities shared by groups of mixed age and ability. One, of many examples, is the arrangement, ‘One Man Went to Mow’, on the Summer Music page. In this, the written parts are for experienced instrumentalists. However, the very simple tune of the song can be substituted for any of these parts. It is an easy song to sing and there are suggestions for involving a very young, or disabled child. There are similar family-fun pages for Spring, Autumn and  Christmas seasons. See: Miscellaneous Scores.

Most of our music is flexibly arranged, with optional parts suitable for beginners and for the basic instruments most likely to be available.Experienced players and beginners can each contribute at their own level. Parents may be surprised at the amount of practice their children will put in on music used in this manner!

Suggestions are often made about ‘how to improvise with this piece’. Sometimes a lot of mystique surrounds the improvisation of music and people often think it requires lots of skills they couldn’t hope to have! In truth, it is a very natural thing to do. We do it all the time in various aspects of our daily lives and music is, really no different. It has been said that all we need to improvise is ‘the courage to move from one note to the next’. What better way is there to develop the confidence and self-trust, necessary to explore,  than learning to improvise in the accepting and sharing environment of the family circle?

Families with disabled members should be aware of our custom arrange & print service. We are very happy to supply custom-arranged prints to meet the needs of would-be musicians with disabilities that prevent the playing of conventional instruments, or who must play them in unconventional ways.

We want our family resources to be accessible for all so, if you need something different, please ask.

Improvisation Resources for the Classroom

Good news for the creative classroom! From the end of September the Get Creative! teachers’ notes, providing lots of activities based on music included in our Easy Ensembles series, are available as free PDF downloads.

The activities are presented in the notes in a way we felt would be most useful for teachers at key stages 2 and 3. However, we have used both the ensembles and the activities across a wide age range. No doubt instrumental teachers and would-be improvisers will see how they might be adapted to their own situations.

The pieces are:
Anon: The Carnival of Venice
Anon: Portsmouth
Handel: Minuet II from Music for the Royal Fireworks
Schubert: A German Dance

You will find them at:

Welcome to the new blog!

Welcome to the our new blog, where we will post news and resources geared to the interests of all our user groups. Many of you have registered an interest in one or more of the following areas:
Instrumental Teaching, Classroom Teaching, Special Needs, Improvisation, Kids’ Pages

We will update this blog, rather than communicating with the interest groups via email. You will be able to subscribe to the blog to receive an email when a new post is added and we can have two-way communication, as you can comment on posts.

I look forward to meeting with you through the blog!

Audrey Podmore
(The face behind The Full Pitcher Music Resources)

New Accessible Instrument for Young Music-makers

This year was the first time since it began that I have not attended BETT, the UK’s big educational technology exhibition. I’ve been disappointed with it in recent years and thought, “I doubt I’ll miss anything”. Then, recently, I was sent information about an exciting new musical instrument, intended to enable any child to play music, which made it’s debut at the exhibition:

‘Skoog’ is a squashy cube. Technology within its soft tactile surface is linked to a computer. This converts the way Skoog is touched into musical sounds. The development project came to fruition largely as the result of reseach, led by Professor Nigel Osborne of the University of Edinburgh, in Scottish schools.  Nigel Osborne is also a professional composer, interested in all kinds of creative music-making and in improving access to music for disadvantaged groups.

The website describes the instrument thus:

“An expanding range of musical instrument sounds means that there’s sure to be something for everyone. Give a gentle squeeze on Skoog™ for a smooth swell of brass, or how about a subtle twist for a screeching over-blown flute? And with a different note on each side it’s a piece of cake to create chords and melodies.”

The Skoog has been commercially available from March 2010 and has received widespread interest from the education community.
A new company, Skoogmusic Ltd, has been spun out of the University to commercialise the instrument. See the website, www.skoogmusic.com

Failure, The Price of Success?

How often does the fear of failure prevent us from making the beautiful music of which we are capable? It seems that the more we worry about sounding good the less well we perform. Perhaps we should forget about ‘performing’ (just see what negative associations the dictionary throws up for that term!) and remember that music was mankind’s first means of communication.

I have been brought back, once again, to pondering this question by a young pianist who says she is giving up the piano because she has been told that she doesn’t have the ability to excel as a performer, or even to pass advanced grade exams. My response was that, if she plays the piano just to be better at it than other people, she should give it up and find some channel for competition outside of the arts. However, if she plays because she loves music and wants to share it with other people, she should just get on and do that and her love will communicate itself to others.

We often do not play well in auditions, competitions and exams because we are conscious of being judged. It’s not like taking a driving test or a maths test: communicating through music is much more personal and we find it hard to separate our innermost self from its physical expression. But we will never find joy in sincere music-making unless we have a sense of self-worth that is not dependent on an assessment of our musical skills. In other words, we have to accept that we may fail and make music anyway. Paradoxically, once we embrace the ‘death’ of failure, we can begin to live and grow as musicians.

I find it really hard to put all this into words but I recommended to the disappointed young pianist the book entitled “Effortless Mastery” by jazz musician, Kenny Werner, in which he explores the failure/success paradox and its implications for musicians. Many have found reading this deeply spiritual book a really life-changing experience and Kenny is ever generous in responding to his readers, encouraging them to put its principles into practice. In recent weeks, he has been running a series of tele-seminars on his website, answering readers’ questions and these are available for replay. See Effortless Mastery


Spring Music for Families and Friends

The uncommonly warm and sunny February weather in the UK has made the big outdoors the place to be and I’ve certainly not been tempted to spend extra time at the computer. Now, it seems, we are about to plunge back into winter again and exploring spring music and activities at the computer seems like a good idea.

The Spring Fun page on the Full Pitcher website has music playback, lyrics and activities for a selection of seasonal pieces to share with family and friends. There are lively activities for Cuckoo, a Tyrolean folk dance with a yodelling chorus, and Hot Cross Buns,  while Morning Has Broken and Winter, Goodbye provide gentler moments. Spring is the theme from the Vivaldi concerto, with lyrics added and ideas for improvisation.

Spring Fun

Jazz Improvisation For Beginners

Many instrumental teachers whose own background is in classical music find
themselves drawn into jazz in response to requests from pupils. The syllabus for most graded music exams now include ‘jazzy’ pieces and a visit to the average music shop will turn up numerous easy anthologies with ‘jazz’ in the title.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would never have touched jazz with a barge-pole – I
didn’t care for it at all! “Boring and cliché-ridden!” was my response to the ‘wallpaper’ jazz to which I had been exposed. As I offered ‘creative music tuition’, way back when this was unusual, I checked out materials that purported to teach jazz improvisation to beginners. My heart would sink as I opened yet another book stuffed with repetitive scale and and arpeggio exercises that engaged the intellect and the fingers but left the heart and imagination cold. It was only when I had the opportunity to ‘dip my toes’ in real improvisation with kindly jazz musicians that I understood how exciting and absorbing it could (should?) be. It’s obvious, really – just as one wouldn’t teach grammar to a child before encouraging them to speak, it makes better sense to engage the beginner improviser in a dialogue before worrying about chord sequences, etc..

In the UK, improvisation is now an established part of the curriculum and, in order to service the demand arising from this, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools  of Music, the biggest of the UK graded music examinations boards, introduced grade exams in Jazz Piano and, a couple of years later, exams for Flute, Clarinet, Sax, Trumpet and Trombone. For many, there’s something a bit distasteful about a jazz exam and the ABRSM acknowledges that many students using their resources will not be at all interested in doing an exam – each anthology is wisely described as being for “Grade/Level” 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. There are fifteen pieces at each level and each piece includes an improvised section. There are 5 “Blues”, 5 “Standards” and 5 “Contemporary” pieces in each anthology. All have been arranged by leading jazz educators. For each book, there is a CD of performances and, in the case of melody instruments, ‘minus-one’ backing tracks played by a small ensemble. It’s great to have a choice of fifteen pieces, all carefully graded at the same standard. Better still, there’s not a cliché in sight!  This repertoire is varied and fresh. A teachers’ manual, “Jazz Piano From Scratch”, is designed to help the classically-trained teacher get to grips with the jazz syllabus.

“Jazz Piano From Scratch” suggests several ways of approaching the solo sections but, because of the  way in which pitches are suggested in the right hand of solo bars, the focus is mainly on melody. Although chord symbols appear throughout, exam candidates at grades 1-3 are not expected to analyse chords. A melodic approach had already been adopted for graded jazz exams of the Guildhall School of Music, which board has since amalgamated with that of Trinity College London to form the Trinity Guildhall examination board. Jeffery Wilson’s “Progressive Guide To Melodic Jazz Improvisation” is still available and this book, with its accompanying CD, is an excellent resource, although it has only three pieces at each grade/level. Each of the improvisations is based on one of the scales set for the grade.

Over the years,  I have accumulated many beginner jazz improvisation resources but these are the ones I and my pupils enjoy most and we strongly recommend them to other beginners.

Functional Forums

I have long wanted to improve two-way communication with visitors to my sites and have been frustrated by the lack of feedback and by the very small amount of real communication that seems to take place online. That’s one reason why I set up this blog and I have been delighted to create new connections through it. I also wanted to further The Full Pitcher’s mission of helping those whose musical interests are not well-served in the, mainly commercially-focussed, music scene to locate the information and resources they require and to share their ideas.

I have been nervous of setting up the forums I wanted The Full Pitcher to provide because of the technical, financial and labour implications. I’m pleased to say that, after much thought and research, I have now found a, modestly-priced, hosted solution that seems to provide the features I require. I have set up my bulletin-board with several forums, matching the special interests identified by my visitors.

The forums will, of course, enable members to provide mutual support but I intend them also to be bulletin-boards in the traditional sense of a place where members can publicise their events and courses, etc. and where The Full Pitcher can post links to the specialist resources it makes available online. At present, forums are set up so that anyone can read them but only registered members of the board can post. Posts will be rigorously moderated, on a daily basis.

Forums Homepage
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Music & Disability
Family Music
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