Begin with Music


If music is a language, and it is, then when you can both read music and improvise, I like to say you are musically bi-lingual.

What happens when a musician improvises?

  • He may or may not alter the melody.
  • The keyboardist is usually adding an accompaniment.
  • Sometimes he is transposing (but we will not consider this as improvisation for now).

In this discussion, we will read from music. So what will music look like? And what does the solo musician do with the music to improvise? Look at the example of “The Streets of Laredo.”

Sometimes you will see a lead sheet in a fake book like the example below. Just the melody with chord symbols are given.

The the melody is played in any manner such as in octaves or with fill-ins and adds chords in his preferred style for accompaniment.

Traditional keyboard music is written on the grand staff (the upper treble clef with the lower bass clef). No chords symbols are given. Not only must the musician read his music, but he must instantly recognize chords within the notes on a given beat and decide how to play both melody and accompaniment. Now this may sound a bit overwhelming, but given time, theory knowledge and practice (Yes! That word again), just about every piano player can learn to improvise.

Sometimes the consumer hits pay dirt and finds music with both a solo written on both clefs (like the above example) AND the chord symbols included. He can learn to play the piano solo (though it is often arranged in an unimaginative style) and begin to practice his impro skills. The words to a song may or may not be included in any of the mentioned musical printings.

This is an example of keyboard solo with chord symbols. Guitar players and other choral instruments find chord symbols helpful.


Learn the melody this week and we will jump in next week with an accompaniment.

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