Piano Improv

I’ll admit firsthand that I’ve been a little hesitant to incorporate improvisation into my sessions.

I never knew quite where to start or how to musically support my clients.

Also, my clients (who are mostly on the autism spectrum) need a lot of structure, so I didn’t know how they would handle the “musical freedom,” so to speak.

But, I recently decided that just because I didn’t feel comfortable with incorporating improv into my sessions that didn’t mean that my clients should miss out on that experience.

So recently I started incorporating a new segment into my Sing, Speak & Socialize music therapy group for children and it has been amazing.

Here’s what we do:

I start off by setting out the keyboard and letting the children come up either one at a time or in pairs to explore the keyboard.

They can play however they like.

Following that, I set the auto accompaniment, (which, if you’ve watched this video, you know is one of my favorite keyboard features).

The auto accompaniment setting offers three features I love:

  1. A grounding beat which provides a nice structure for the improv.
  2. An interesting musical style like samba, country, or rock and roll (just to name a few).
  3. And an interesting ‘voice’ or instrument sound.

One we have the beat going, the children can again explore the keyboard. But now, with the auto accompaniment, the beat and the voice match the style you choose and everything sounds more musical interesting.

Once the children have had a chance to explore the keyboard further (usually in the lower bass notes), I play in the upper register, musically supporting what they are playing.

If they need some prompting for how to play, I will cue them to explore playing on the white keys only. Then the black keys only. Then with just one finger.

This approach has helped me feel much less intimidated about offering improv experiences for my clients.

And the incorporation of the auto accompaniment really makes it feel like a piece of music that sounds good no matter what the clients are playing.

They have enjoyed choosing a musical style and instrument voice and they’ve enjoyed the “structured free play” we have at the end of our sessions.

I’m going to continue to explore different ways to offer improv experiences for my clients and I’ll be sure to share them here!