I remember the first time I tried to play for a youth group sing-along. I had only two years of piano under my belt but my youth pastor thought it was time to start. Needless to say- They didn’t stop for me to correct my mistakes! The four part harmony had a much better vocal sound than pianistic sound.

An older teen could play so much nicer than myself but the pastor did not give up. He brought me to play at a Rescue Mission. This is an experience EVERY pianist should have. Nothing stretches your adaptability than sitting on a short chair in front of an almost tuneless piano with half the ivories missing. In conjunction with a knowledgeable piano teacher (a story unto itself), I learned to improvise hymn playing. It was not only easier to keep up with the singing, my piano accompaniment sounded better supporting the vocal part.


I believe learning to improvise is mandatory for every piano student. Why?

  • You can make an easy or lifeless arrangement personalized and come to life
  • You practice to use the skills to recognize chords more quickly
  • Name me one good reason to learn the Circle of 5ths if you’re not going to use it!


There is a logical progression of musical knowledge (theory) to aid in improvisation:

  • General staff reading and playing
  • The Circle of 5ths from Major scales (and minor scales)
  • Chord construction and inversion of the 4 types of chords (made of triads)
  • Complex chords (more than three notes) and when to use them
  • Chordal relationships (or chord substitutions and cadences)


When these are understood by the pianist, you can

  • Readily identify a chord on sight
  • Play various treatments of a chord or it’s substitution
  • Learn to transpose on sight
  • Make your own arrangements of favorite songs

Want to join me?

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