2-chord tunes are a wonderful resource for a creative approach to music teaching! A vast number of melodies can be harmonised with just chords I and V – folk tunes, of course, but also melodies by major composers. See the teacher notes for a classroom project based on “Carnival of Venice”, which can be downoaded from our Easy/Classroom Ensembles page. This uses classroom, or other available, instruments and body percussion. In my software package, GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level 2, though, one of the fifteen grids (mini-apps) is IVTUNES, in which I’ve designed a self-contained resource for exploring the subject. Teacher notes in the accompanying e-book make it even easier for a non-specialist teacher to introduce a project, with suggestions for using the computer as an integrated classroom resource.
A first step to improvising and composing 2-chord melodies is aural recognition of the chord changes. In IVTUNES, I have designed a grid with which pupils can practise this skill. Words, music and chord symbols for these tunes are included in the e-book. As each tune plays back, accompaniment patterns based on the the two chords can be triggered, allowing experimentation until pupils are confident that all sounds right. Beneath each chord’s accompaniments, cells contain individual notes of the chord, stacked vertically. Pupils can use these chord tones to accompany one of the melodies. Later they can record a 2-chord backing track over which to improvise their own melodies.
To some extent, improvisation is a state of mind. A lot of people feel they could never do it because they have a model in mind that is unattainable. When piano teachers adopt a creative approach to tuition, though, the pupil feels free to explore the simple resources to which they are exposed in the early days of tuition and it is more likely that they will continue to experiment when left to their own devices.
The latest addition to improvisation-based resources on www.fullpitcher.co.uk is an article suggesting simple improvisatory activities for absolute beginners. The important word here is ‘simple’ because, in truth, great music is essentially simple and the same resources can be used by players at different levels of ability and experience, with very different results.
The article quotes the Dalcroze teacher, Laura Campbell, whose book “Sketching at the Keyboard” won the ‘Music Teacher’ Magazine Music Education Award in 1983. That publication and its follow-up, “Sketches for Improvisation” is full of examples of famous composers building their works from the same simple ideas suggested to the readers. These courses have been followed by ” child piano pupils, amateur adult piano pupils, professional music students and class teachers”. Highly recommended!
So, what I am saying is: don’t dismiss the ideas suggested at the following link because they are accessible to absolute beginners. There are things we can all learn by focusing on the basic building blocks of music from time to time. :>)
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.