Submitted by Mary Tickner

Summer, for me is usually spent doing some teaching, reading some “discovered” professional books and trying to fight off the paper sea that the previous months have created. In the process of the latter, I found some articles and lectures from bygone years that stimulated me into thinking about creativity and improvisation. Also, like some of you, I had attended several workshops of Akiko and Forrest Kinney which were very enlightening and stimulating. With the arrival of their 4-volume set of books called “Pattern Play”, my summer students became my “laboratory” for experimenting and trying out new ideas. What was surprising was how often the students came up with their own ideas about music-making. The newer method books often incorporate some ideas for stimulating the concept of creativity which is very good. However, in the day-to-day teaching, creativity can be the result of solving problems or making the lesson more interesting and allows the student to speak for himself. It also encourages a student to actually think and listen to what is happening at the keyboard. For example, I have a new transfer student (grade 9) who informed me in the interview that her “technique is the pits” because she found it boring. She was right about the technique, so a lot of time was devoted in that first lesson to introducing her to the various ways one can (and should) practice scales, chords and arpeggios. At the 2nd lesson, she commented that practicing technique was definitely more interesting when using rhythms in scales, broken chords and arpeggios. Also, she really got excited when playing scales with 2 different touches simultaneously and using 2 different dynamics. When we transferred these concepts to several of her pieces for practicing, I received the ultimate compliment…”This is really neat!”

The following list is some of the ideas that are the result of “What I Did This Summer!” Feel free to add to the list and share your ideas:

  •  Change a piece from major to minor or vice-verse

  • Change the meter

  • Use a different touch for a section

  • Play a repeated section in a different octave

  • Create a theme and variations, using a familiar tune and adding passing tones, grace notes, playing theme in a different clef, using different rhythmic patterns, adding or changing dynamic structure

  • Practice a scale, using passing tones, or add “blue notes”

  • Harmonize familiar tunes using simple 1-2 note accompaniment patterns

  • Practice scales, using some of the rhythmic variants found in the Boris Berlin “Hanon”

  • Improvise on black keys to a given rhythmic pattern, with a simple 2-4 note accompaniment

  • Complete a 4-measure phrase by ending on tonic chord

  • Add words to a piece (Leon Fleisher helped a student play Bach’s Toccata I C minor by adding the words “I am the reluctant dragon” to the fugue theme thus clarifying the character of the theme and improving the student’s articulation)

  • Create a story for a piece

  • Draw an illustration for a piece

  • Develop metaphors to stimulate imagination: popcorn for staccato, chocolate syrup for legato

  • Create variations by changing one or more notes in a phrase, pitch, or rhythm or both by using a familiar tune such as “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”

  • Ask student to play a familiar tune by ear, giving them the starting pitch. This is particularly useful in developing concepts of intervals.

  • Use Question-Answer pattern with teacher/student playing the Question ending on a note other than the tonic; the Answer can be answered with a rhythm that matches the question but ends on any note of the tonic. This is best structured in 2-measure phrases