Level Up in Piano: Music Composition & Improvisation | Elijah Fox-Peck | Skillshare

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Level Up in Piano: Music Composition & Improvisation

teacher avatar Elijah Fox-Peck, Pianist, Songwriter, Producer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Getting Started


    • 3.

      Creating Progressions


    • 4.

      Patterns and Inversions


    • 5.

      Pentatonic Improvisations


    • 6.

      Repetitive Notes


    • 7.

      Blues Scale


    • 8.

      Improvising Keys


    • 9.

      Patterns and Composing


    • 10.

      Musical Arranging


    • 11.

      Composer Techniques


    • 12.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Express your creative voice with musical improvisation!

Multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer Elijah Fox fell in love with piano when he was a child. Now a successful professional musician with more than eighteen years of experience, he’s here to show you how to do the same! In this intermediate class, you’ll go beyond the basics to discover the beauty of musical improvisation, and ultimately find freedom through harmony.

Hands-on lessons explore:

  • How to create a melody on the spot
  • Why certain scales work best with specific chords
  • How to improvise with confidence, even when you’re just starting out 

As a master of musical improv himself, Elijah demystifies this complex concept and lays out a roadmap for any aspiring musician who wants to make up their own melodies. By understanding a few fundamentals, you’ll unlock infinite possibilities!

This class is geared at intermediate pianists who understand core concepts like chord progressions, scales, and arpeggios, and have some practice in sight-reading and composition basics. If you need to revisit those skills, check out Elijah's first three classes. Since learning music takes time, this class is designed to complement your own self-guided practice or lessons. All you’ll need is a keyboard or piano (ideally one with a sustain pedal).

This is the fourth class in Elijah’s five-part Complete Piano Learning Path. To continue building your skills in the next class, click here.

Meet Your Teacher

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Elijah Fox-Peck

Pianist, Songwriter, Producer


Elijah Fox-Peck is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer who grew up in Durham, NC and graduated with a bachelors degree from Oberlin Conservatory in 2017 where he majored in jazz studies with a focus in piano performance.

Elijah began playing piano at age 9 and by 13, was touring with the NCCU Jazz Ensemble as a guest soloist and recording professionally with top jazz musicians in the area. He was nominated the North Carolina All-State jazz pianist his freshman through senior years of high school and at age 15 received a full scholarship to the Berklee School of Music 5-week summer program. He has been teaching for 8 years and is currently teaching of studio of 21 students through Keys to Success in Brooklyn Heights, ranked one of the 15 best music schools in NYC.  ... See full profile

Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: When I play the piano, I feel like I'm talking to my best friend and I'm able to communicate different feelings that I couldn't express with the English language. Hi, I'm Alicia Fox, PNS producer and songwriter. And I've been playing piano for 18 years, during which time I've been able to tour internationally and record with some of my favorite artists, such as MS. Sago, DJ to Chicago kid in Tom Mish. I love playing piano because of the infinite possibilities of sound. If you're excited to learn how to compose original music and improvise over your favorite songs. This class will give you the fundamental skills you need to continue that journey. In this class, we're gonna be looking at the fundamentals of composition and improvisation and learning how to create an effective chord progression. And also how to turn that into an accompaniment pattern that we could use for improvising or when composing. And learn how you can develop a good practice habit to make you a better composer and improviser. After this course, you'll understand the fundamentals of composition and improvising. And be able to write original compositions as well as improvise over existing chord structures. Let's get to it. 2. Getting Started: Welcome to the composition and improvisation class. When I started piano, I was initially taking classical lessons, but I got a bit discouraged by how rigid teaching instruction was and how there wasn't that much creative freedom involved with the music. It seemed like I could just play the music right or wrong. And I was just playing someone else's songs but didn't really understand what I was playing. When I was 11, I transitioned to a new teacher, Tyson Rogers, who introduced a new approach that really resonated with me. In this approach, he introduced me to improvisation and soloing, in which I could choose my own notes to craft a melody. And I quickly connected to the freedom that this approach allowed me to have. This approach introduced me to improvisation or spontaneous composition, where you can choose your own notes and create a solo on the spot. Improvisation and music is similar to speaking a language in which we can express ourselves through different vocabulary and with statements that we learned from transcribing others and coming up with our own phrases. I hope this class offers a glimpse into some of the systems that can be helpful for learning composition and improvisation. Improvisation is a constant journey and I hope to provide some of the fundamentals then you can keep working on throughout your journey while practicing this, it's important to be patient with yourself and embrace the possibilities as there are no right or wrong ways to play. I look forward to seeing what clicks and inspires you to create your own improvisations and compositions. Let's get to it. 3. Creating Progressions: In this lesson, we're going to look at different skills for creating an effective chord progression that can convey the right emotion to the audience. When we're picking courts for a chord progression, we want to choose chords based on what will resonate with the right emotional frequency of the song or composition. We've already talked about how to find good possibilities for chords given the CTL scale. In this lesson, I'm going to be explaining some of those concepts to help you take a basic progression and expand on it through substitutions and with alterations, let's expand on the skill set we have by learning some new ways to create substitutions or alterations to enhance our chord progressions. First, as a refresher, let's revisit the CTL scale, but this time let's do it in a different key. For this example, I'd like to look at the key of G major, which has one sharp, F sharp. To start by finding the CTL scale, we'll start by creating the seventh chords, starting on G major seventh, which is G, B, D, and F sharp. As we move up along the scale, will find the new chords that are options in this key. So next we would have a minor seventh, followed by B minor seventh, followed by C major seven, followed by D dominant seventh, followed by E minor seven. Finally, F sharp minor seven flat five, and then back to G major seven. All of these chords are in the key of G major. But sometimes it can be good to pull cords from other keys, related keys that are almost like a glimpse of another world for a second. Before we return back home, I'm going to come up with a short progression that has three chords in G major and pulls one chord from G minor. I'm going to start with G major seventh, the one of this key. Then I'm going to move to a minor seven. Before moving to B minor seven. These are all in the key of G major. And then I'm gonna go to C minor seventh, which comes from G minor. As we can tell, this chord is sort of symbolizes another world almost or something opening up before we return back home to G major. So once again, this progression was G major seven, a minor, B minor, and then C minor. Before we return home to G-Major. Oftentimes when looking at a chord progression, you can see that there's multiple chords that will function in the same way. It's important to remember the concept of a root chord, which is always the one in any given key. In this case, our route would be G major. A typical progression in the great American song book, in many popular songs in American history includes what's called a 251. Which means that you start on the second scale degree of this key before moving to the fifth, and then finally home to the one. In G major, a 251 would be a minor seven, D dominant seven. Before we finally resolve to G major seven. Resolving or resolution can be thought of as coming back home to where we started. And it's important that there's many different resolutions that will feel different ways. And so when composing or improvising, it's important to pick chords based on what feeling you want to convey. Starting with a minor seventh, I can go to D7, which is a bit dissonant, but then resolves back to G major seven. I could also do a minor seven, C minor seven. And then resolving the G major to C minor, once again, we pulled from the G minor scale. So that is, it signifies almost another world for a second before we come back home. In this case, the C minor seventh and the D dominant seventh. Even though they're different chords, they serve the same function as resolving back to our homebase. We started with a dummy, went to see before we resolved back to where we started. A lot of times you can create something very beautiful and music by having a very dissonant sound that then resolves to something beautiful. It's almost as if you enjoy a shower more after you've had a long run through the rain. And if we have something that's very dissonant, when it finally resolved, It's a sweeter feeling. So we can play with this contrast when we're coming up with chord progressions and developing chords for our songs. Anytime you come up with a chord progression you like, It's very important to move it to all 12 keys so you can understand how it works in different contexts and have it available as an option when you're composing in different keys. One great place to start is taking a 251 progression. The minor seventh off of the two, the dominant seventh off of the five, and then resolving to the one major seven. We can practice this progression in every key to become more fluid on the piano. Let's start by revisiting the C major scale, in which C is the one. So D would be two. So we would start with D minor seven, followed by G dominant seventh, and then resolving to C major seven. If we were to move this into a different key, the relationship between the chords would stay the same, but the names of the notes would change along with the corresponding key. Let's take an example and find a 251 in a different key. This time, let's look at the key of a major, which includes three sharps, c-sharp, F-sharp, G-sharp. So if we're looking at a 251 and this key, we first need to play the scale. And we'll notice that the second scale degree would be B minor. So we'll start with a B minor seventh. After this, we would go to the fifth scale degree, which would be E. So we'd go to an E dominant seventh. And then follow that by resolving back to a major seventh. You can tell that the chord progression has the same sound, even if it's in a different key. So we've got B minor. We're in the first example, we had D minor, G, and C Major seven. You can take this 251 progression into every key. And I think you'll notice that it'll appear in many of your favorite songs. Experiment with these chord progressions by trying to come up with a chord progression that uses the CTL scale of a new key that you're maybe less familiar with. And then maybe also borrows a couple of different chords from a different key. So you can experiment with how that sounds. It's important to play with techniques of tension and resolution. So you can create an effective story plot with your chord progression. In the next lesson, we're gonna be looking at some more advanced accompaniment patterns and inversions to help take a simple chord progression and really bring it to the next level, time to level up. 4. Patterns and Inversions: Welcome back. In this lesson, we're gonna be looking at how you can use inversions to create more advanced accompaniment patterns. This is a technique that is incredibly fun to use and is a great way to challenge a simple progression and really take it to the next steps. For this example, I'd like to jump right in, starting with the inversions of an F major seven chord, which includes the notes face F-A-C-E. So we'll start by playing the original root position F major seven chord with our right hand. F-a-c-e. and moving up to the next inversion of this, which would be ACEF. Then we'll move up the a, an octave higher to the next inversion. See EFA. And then the final inversion, EF, AAC. Get comfortable with all these inversions across the piano as different versions of the same chord. Because often you'll want to move to the closest setting of a chord and not just the root position chord. So let's move this F major seven across the piano slowly. And we start to hear the sounds of all of it. Moving across the keyboard. For this example, I'm going to demonstrate moving from an F major seven to a C Major seven, of which the notes are C, E, G, and B. Let's now walk through the same inversions for the C major seventh. So we'll start with CBGB, will move up to E, G, B, and C. We'll then move one step further to G BCE. And then finally BCG. Before we're back to where we started an octave higher with CBGB. So we're moving from our basic progression, which is F major seven, down to C major seven. It's just a basic two chord progression. But we're going to expand it by creating a chordal melody with the inversions of these two chords. It can sometimes be helpful to write down the notes on paper so you can see all your options. But for this example, we'll just keep it with the chords on the piano. So what we're going to essentially be doing is coming up with a melody using the notes of these two chords and then playing it with its inversions. For the F major seven, we can pick any of the notes in the chord to use as our melody before resolving to the C major seven, where we can pick any of the notes of that chord to use as our melody. So to start, we have any of the options from face, and then we go to any of the options from CBGB. So I'll start with maybe a melody like this. So I did see BCG. So I've got my basic melody. Now what I wanna do is fill it in with using the melody as the top note of the inversion. So since I started with E, C, a, C, I'll fill that in with those chords, which would be, and now we'll go to the next part which was BCG. So I'll fill in with those chords. So altogether we would have, you can continue. So on like that. So we're basically only shuffling the same four notes, but we're able to create a longer phrase that has a melodic and CTO component. Let's demonstrate one more example to help this sink in. I'll come up with another melody using those notes. So this time I'll do e, f, c, a, b, g, e. See, so the next step is, I will find the inversions that have those notes at the top. And it's helpful to see this in writing sometimes. But what that would be, would be, as you keep practicing these inversions, you get to a point where you can improvise with them. So you can hear a melody on the spot. And if you're playing with other instruments, you can help support what they're playing by playing a chordal melody behind them. So I'll now demonstrate moving between a couple of different chords from F major to C major and then occasionally F minor. F minor. Before returning home to see, it may be doing an arpeggio. To close out the song. To recap. In this exercise, we looked at how to take one four-note chord and by using all the inversions, create a chordal melody that could then turn it into an effective accompaniment pattern. Now, I'd like you to take the same two chords, F major seven and C Major seven, and try coming up with your own melody first, using the notes from those chords. And then try filling in with the notes from the corresponding inversions. In the next lesson, we're going to introduce pentatonic scale improvisation. That's gonna give us a lot of different resources for soloing and coming up with melodies for our compositions or improvisations. I'm excited for you to join me. See you there. 5. Pentatonic Improvisations: In this lesson, we're going to look at the pentatonic scale and how it can be used for improvisation and creating effective melody that can work over a chord progression or accompaniment pattern. The pentatonic scale is derived from the major scale, which you should already be familiar with. In this case, we're going to start by looking at the C pentatonic scale, which is a five note scale. The C pentatonic scale includes the notes C, D, E, G, and a. Or in other words, the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth degrees of the C major scale. It can also be thought of as the C major scale minus the F and the B, or the fourth and seventh degree. The pentatonic scale is an excellent scale for improvising or when choosing notes for a great melody. To start, let's practice the pentatonic scale, moving upwards with our right hand, will start with the fingerings of one-two-three than crossing under 212, crossing under again to see one-two-three than crossing under again to G. So we've got C, D, E, G, a, C, T. And coming back down, we'll start on C. This fingering is a little bit tricky, so I'll go over it once more. We start with one-two-three than 12, then 12312123, and then back down to 1 213-212-1321. So any of the notes from the pentatonic scale will sound great over a chord progression in that corresponding key. So if we're coming up with a chord progression in C major, e.g. F major, E minor, D minor. These are all chords that come out of the C major scale. We can use this pentatonic scale to improvise over it. I'll demonstrate a short example. I can go on and on. But let's now take a pattern with this scale. So we can start by practicing the pentatonic scale in groupings of 34.5. For the groupings of three, we'll start with our thumb on C, and we'll go C, D, E, D E G, E G, a GAAC, a, C, D, and so on. So let's try that. And back down. We would have practicing in these patterns can help us when we're improvising, because then we have extra ways of moving. And we don't just move in the scale and we end up being less likely to get stuck or run out of ideas. These patterns can also be used as a great vehicle for soloing or when composing, or using as a fill to play between chords. Now let's look at the grouping of four nodes. So we'll start on C and we'll move up. We're playing C, D E G, D, a, E G TAC, TAC. So let's try that again. And we can also go back down. So that would be now that we've got those patterns of 3.4, I'll try inserting some into the chord progression I was playing to use this improvisational fills. A pattern of three. Now a pattern of four. Three again, four. So we can use those patterns when we're soloing or as little fills to fill in the gaps between the cords replaying. Now, I've practiced these a lot and have gotten them up by using a metronome to a faster tempo where I'm able to play them fluidly. It's important to start slowly and not beat yourself up if you have trouble playing these at first. Now I'm going to demonstrate those same phrases, but a little bit more slowly. All of these phrases are all coming out of this pentatonic scale, which is a five note scale. For the next exercise, I like to practice it in the patterns of five. So we'll start on C and we'll go up using all five fingers, C, D E G a D E G a C, E G, a, C, D, and so on. Now I will demonstrate some patterns of five over the same progression. You may notice as you're using the pentatonic scale to solo, that you can predict how it's going to sound before you're playing. And this is one of the essential parts of improvisation when improvising, you want to get to a place where you can almost predict how it's going to sound as you're playing and see your hand can be thought of as an extension of your mind or a melody that you would sing. Now, I'm going to play the same chord progression and I'd like you to try improvising using the notes of the pentatonic scale, C, D, E, G, and a. You can also try using some of these patterns of 34.5 to create a spontaneous melody with your improvisation. Remember, there's no right or wrong Melody. And as long as you're playing the notes of the pentatonic scale, you're off to a great start. Here we go. Excellent job. Another great way to practice improvising is you can record yourself playing the accompaniment patterns or chord progressions, and then play over it by soloing using the pentatonic scale. Anytime you're learning a new song, you can find what key the song is in. Take the major scale, and then find the pentatonic scale by playing the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth scale degree. You can also get comfortable by playing these patterns of 34.5 that I've demonstrated in additional keys to get more fluid with the pentatonic scale in every key. So anytime you've got a new song, you can find out what key it's in, finding the major scale of that key. And then play the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth degree to find the pentatonic scale. You can also move through the patterns of 34.5 in the pentatonic scale in those corresponding keys to get more familiar with it across the piano. To recap, in this lesson, we looked at the pentatonic scale, which is the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth degrees of the major scale. And how you can use this as a vessel for improvising or coming up with your own melodies. A lot of times when coming up with melodies, a great place to start can be free styling or improvising, finding a melody you like, and refining it in eventually making it secure. In the next lesson, we're gonna be looking at a technique to come up with repeated note phrases or runs, which can be excellent vehicles for improvisation or composing. 6. Repetitive Notes: In this lesson, we're gonna be looking at how you can use repeated note phrases or runs to create textures for composition or improvising. A repeated note phrase is a six or eight note phrase that ins, near where it started in octave higher, so becomes a fluid phrase across the piano. That's great for improvising as a compositional tool or as an ending. To jump in, I'd like to start by creating a sixth note phrase over any chord. For the first example, let's take the Court of D minor seven, D, F, a, and C. We're going to come up with a repeated note phrase that could work over this chord and will end near where it starts in octave higher. So it can repeat across the octave. I'm going to come up with six notes, and I'm going to play them in triplets, meaning I'm playing three notes for every quarter note. So it's important to know that when composing your repeated note phrase, whatever node I start on, I'm going to want to end near an octave higher. The phrase can keep running into itself. So we've got D minor. I'm going to start my phrase on E, the ninth scale tone of that key. So I'm going to start with E, F, G, and then cross under to ACG. All of which are notes in C major, of which D minor is part of the CTL scale. So, so far I've got E, F, G, a, C, G. And then this sets me up to be next to the E, again in octave higher. So I can play the same phrase repeating across the octave. I'll demonstrate. So now I'm playing the same phrase, but I'm moving it across the octave. So it sounds like a repeated pattern. I'll start it again. Since I've got a six note phrase, it can also be broken down into two groups of three, the e, f, g, and then the ACG. When we're playing any phrase, I always like to get the most mileage out of the phrase. So I think of it in different sections. In this case, we would think of this as one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, which is the finger I'm doing. But we could also play 132, which would make it EGF. That's also a nice sound. We could also go down. So first I'll go three-to-one going down, which would be GCA, GFP. If I wanted to create another variation with this phrase, I could do 231 on the way down, which would be CGA, PFGE. So it sounds like a much longer phrase, but it's essentially the same six note pattern repeating across the octave. Anytime I come up with a phrase, I like, I tried to apply it over every key. So then if I'm playing a song in that key, I can use it as an ending. Let's say I'm playing a song in F minor and I'm coming to an ending. I just played the same phrase I wrote in D minor, but I transposed it to F minor. Now let's look at another phrase. This time we're going to do an 8-note phrase, meaning all the notes will be 16th or eighth notes. For this next 8-note phrase, I'm going to create one over the key of a minor. And I'm gonna remember that I want to end near where I started in octave higher. So the phrase can naturally repeat. For this example, I'll start on the note B. So I'll do BCG and then do D, E, D. I've got. And then that puts me right here back again at B. So I'll watch it repeat. Once again. We've got BCG a, D, EDA. If we wanted to, we could split this grouping into two groups of four in which we've got 12341234. And we could try playing it in other variations, maybe 3421, which would be and come up with other phrases using the same notes. To wrap up this lesson. You can create a repeated note phrase over any chord with six or eight notes in the main step is that you want to end near where you started in octave higher. So the phrase we'll repeat across the octave. Anytime you come up with a phrase you like, I'd encourage you to try it in as many keys as possible so that then when you're playing a new song, you already have tons of freezes at your fingers that you can improvise with or use in the arrangement. Now, I'd like you to try coming up with your own six note phrase over the key of C minor. And I'm excited to see what you come up with. You can practice this technique by coming up with your own phrases over different chords and start to use them as a compositional tool or in your improvisations. In the next lesson, we're gonna be looking at how we can use the blues scale to create a more guitar like sound on the piano. 7. Blues Scale: Welcome back. In this lesson, we're gonna look at how we can use the blues scale and blue notes to create a more guitar lick sound on the piano. The blues is a black American art form that originated in the American South, is the foundation of almost every genre of music we know now, from rock to country, to jazz, to RMB. We can use the blues scale in many genres. And knowing how to use it effectively makes us a better pianist and musician overall, on a guitar, you can bend a string in binned in-between notes to create a really cool, bluesy texture. But on piano, once we play a key, we have no option to change the sound. Because of the limitations of the piano, people have found ways to create a more guitar like sound by using the blues scale and blue nodes. I'm going to demonstrate some of those concepts today. Before jumping into the blues scale, I'd first like to look at a typical 12 bar blues progression. In a typical 12-bar blues progression, you'll start with C7 for 4 bar, followed by F7 for 2 bar, before returning back to see for 2 bar. And then finishing with the turnaround of g for 1 bar, f for 1 bar, and then see for an additional 2 bar, there are many ways to play a 12-bar blues, but I'll demonstrate a basic progression now. That progression demonstrated a 12-bar form that repeats and in which case you can solo or improvise as mini courses or times through the forum as you want. Now that we've looked at the basic progression, Let's look at the sea blues scale. The sea blues scale is a six note scale, which includes the notes C, E flat, F, F sharp, G, B flat, and C. Once again, that's C, E-flat, F, F sharp, G, B flat, and C. The fingering I typically do for the sea blues scale is 123412. And then you cross again if you're going up another octave, 123412. So let's now try that across two octaves, starting on C, E-flat, F, F sharp, G, a, B-flat, C, D-flat, F sharp, G, B-flat, and back down. Before we get into blues scale improvisation, I like to now explain what a blue note is. In addition to the blues scale, we can use what are called blue notes to create a bluesy or more guitar like sound on the piano. A blue note is when you slide from one key to the next. Let's demonstrate this with the F-sharp sliding up to G and then down to F. So you're going to start with the same finger by playing F sharp and sliding to G down to F. This almost sounds like a guitar sliding between keys because even though we don't hear the exact bend, it's almost implied in the music. We can use this to create a more guitar lick sound on the piano. So let's take a simple phrase and I want you to try playing it with blue notes. So I'm going to slide from F sharp to G and then down to F before playing E-flat. And see, now I would like for you to try that. You can think of a blue note as an inflection of sorts or a way to get more sound or character out of the piano. Now I'm going to play a phrase without blue notes, and then again with blue notes and see if you recognize the difference. That's without blue notes and width blue notes. You can tell what the blue notes. It has a little bit more character, or it feels a bit less straight or rigid in the way it's played. Anytime we come up with a phrase using the blues scale that we like, I tried to store it in my mind as an option for improvising. So that then the next time when you're playing a song in that key, you can remember the phrases or vocabulary that you came up with in order to effectively speak when you're soloing. We can learn a lot from transcribing other blues musicians and taking other instruments sounds and trying to transmit it onto the piano and seeing how it translates. In the same way we demonstrated patterns of 34.5 with the pentatonic scale. We can also look at those for the blue scale. I'm now going to run through patterns of three on the blue scale. C, E flat, E-flat, F, F sharp, F, F sharp, G, F sharp G, B flat, G, B flat, C, and back down. We can practice these patterns and then use them in our soloing. I'd now like to invite you to try improvising using the sea blues scale while I play the accompaniment chords from the 12 bar blues form. Remember, there's no right or wrong phrases to play. But any of these notes will work over these chords. And anytime you find something you like, try to remember it and store it in your mind as an option for future solos. Alright, let's jump in 121234. Excellent. So although this may have been your first time, you might have recognized a couple of times when you played a phrase that you liked. And it's really important to remember what you liked about that in to save that as something that then you can play over other songs. So when you're improvising, you're not exactly coming up with everything from scratch, but you're using pre-existing vocabulary to structure and form a cohesive statement, it's important to remember that improvising with the blues scale is an ongoing journey. And it's important to be patient with yourself and start small when learning. Getting familiar with the scale can take time, and it's important to remember the phrases that you like. So you can keep building in adding to your vocabulary as an improviser. In our next lesson, we're going to dive into some additional improvisational concepts that can help take our improvising to the next step. 8. Improvising Keys: In this lesson, we're gonna be looking at some additional improvisational concepts and how we can effectively practice improvisation. A few of the concepts we're gonna go over it will include enclosures, arpeggios, and setting limited range on the piano when improvising. First, let's take a look at enclosures. Enclosure is a technique that originated with bebop music in the 1940s through pioneers such as Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. A basic example of an enclosure is to approach a note from both sides chromatically. E.g. if I know I want it to land on b, I would approach it by playing C and then B flat before landing on b, but still hitting be on the downbeat or the strong beat. E.g. if I was to play a phrase with an enclosure, I would then play. I'm essentially enclosing the desire. Note that I like to play from either side. Let's look at another example. If I were to play a major triad, C, E, and G, and enclose each note I would play. I'm approaching the c chromatically with C-Sharp and B, then approaching the E with F and E flat, then approaching the g with a flat and F sharp to get. We can use enclosures to create a more chromatic sound while still keeping our guide tones the same. In this example, I'll explain how to use enclosures over a 251 in the key of C major. As you can tell it as very chromatic sound. And we can get used to taking a simple phrase and then expanding it by enclosing the guide tones from either side. You can take a chorus on a blues or any song in practice, putting in some enclosures and seeing where you'd like them and where they don't work. A lot of improvisation is trial and error. And in some situations, you might get lucky and discover something that you never knew you could play. Next, we're gonna look at how you can use arpeggios when soloing, starting with the D minor seventh chord will use an arpeggio or the notes of the chord to create another texture for when we're soloing. I'll start with a D and demonstrate. In this example, I used this arpeggio to create a linear phrase that moves across the piano. We can also use arpeggios is escape routes and move to another range when we're improvising. I'll demonstrate an example of that. When practicing improvisation, a good habit can be to set limitations in focus explicitly on one concept at a time. A good place to start can be limiting yourself to a certain range of the piano and seeing how many options you can come up with with that set of limitations. A lot of times the greatest art is made with limitations. And you can discover something really impressive by putting boundaries on yourself. And then when you open those boundaries back up, you have new ways of expressing yourself. Now I'm going to demo all of these concepts, enclosures, arpeggios, and limited range over one progression. I'm going to use the chord progression, a minor seven, E minor seven, D minor seven. And since this is an a minor, I'll be using the a Blues scale. Now I'm going to use enclosures. Now I'm going to use arpeggios. Now I'm going to use limited range and only one octave. And tonic scale. Normally use blue notes. So that was an example to demonstrate how I was focusing on each improvisational concepts one at a time. To strengthen that, instead of just practicing everything all at once, it's important to set these limitations so we can be very practical and precise when practicing a wide-open concept like improvisation, which can be overwhelming at first because there's so many possibilities. In the next lesson, we're gonna be looking at how you can take a simple pattern and use it as a tool for composition. Let's start composing. 9. Patterns and Composing: Oftentimes when I'm practicing a piano, what I'll be doing is taking a simple pattern or exercise in moving it in different ways and applying it across different keys. A lot of times a simple pattern or exercise can then turn into a full-fledged composition. And there's a link that holds the composition together because people can tell there's a pattern or something similar acting as a glue to tie it together. To demonstrate this, I'm going to use my songs, Central Park West from my album, city in the sky to show how I use one concept or pattern and turned it into a full composition. When I was writing Central Park West, I was using one chord, which was a major chord encircled by octaves like this. You can move this chord up the scale. In this case, I was a D major, which has two sharps, F-sharp and C-sharp. And I was practicing moving that one chord across the piano like this. And so on. So I'm taking a simple concept which is the same chord and moving it in order to play a melody. I'll demonstrate just the right hand. I'm moving across the D major scale, taking the same shape and using that to play a melody. So I've got, and so on. I could also expand on that chord in play with arpeggios, which would sound like this. The point of this is a lot of times you can take a simple pattern or motif and turn it into a composition. I'll show another example from an original composition in mind, city in the sky, in which I used a four-note repeated pattern to create the illusion of a skyscraper moving across in a city. In this song, I was working with two four-note phrases. Moving between C minor. In C major. I started with a C minor phrase in which I'm using a four-note pattern and repeating it. And then moving to the C major portion. So together it sounds like. So although the chords are in different keys, there's a link that ties it together, which is the four-note pattern that's moving throughout. A lot of times, having a pattern can also act as a limitation in that it forces you to think in different ways. But there's always a link that helps tie the composition together. I encourage you to try exploring, playing with a pattern and then maybe using it in your own composition, which you can score using MuseScore. Anytime you come up with a pattern that you like, it's important to apply it to as many keys in different songs as possible so that you can get the maximum mileage out of the pattern and be able to apply it for other people's songs or your own original works. For this class assignment, I'd like you to take a pattern or a p denote phrase and use it as a vehicle for composition, which you can then submit via the project gallery. In the next lesson, we're gonna look at how you can use arranging and dynamics to help take your composition to the next level by using the full range of sound available on the piano. 10. Musical Arranging: In this lesson, we're going to look at how we can use arranging and dynamics to bring out the full range of the piano. The piano is an extraordinary instrument because it's basically like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips. The piano has a larger range than any other instrument. We have insanely low lows that imitate the contra bass of the orchestra. And very high highs, which are similar to a piccolo or flute. When thinking about composing on the piano, It's important to think about the range in the arrangement that we're playing in in order to get the full spectrum of sounds. Many times, it can be great to create contrast by playing low, as well as playing high. And thinking about how you want to structure your composition to get the full technique out of the piano. When playing the piano, it's important to think strategically about range and also using dynamics. Dynamics on the piano refers to how loud or soft and all the varying levels in between that we can use. Dynamics can be thought of like story plots in creative writing. And instead of keeping something stagnant or at the same level, we can use ebbs and flows to create a journey for our listener. To demonstrate this, I'm going to play one passage with no dynamics and then experiment with two different dynamic options. I'll start out by playing a phrase from an original song, Grand Canyon, with varying dynamics. When practicing dynamics, you can often think about arcs similar to a story plot in drawing on your composition, how you want your dynamics to rise so that there's gradual rises and falls, almost like a wave. Instead of sudden jagged motions which might throw off the listener. I'll demonstrate another example of dynamics over the same chord progression, but having the dynamics rise and fall in different places. In the second example, I kept the second two chords quieter. We're in the first example, those chords were louder. Now it's a matter of taste into which example I like more. But it's important to practice dynamics in practice writing in dynamics so that we can use the full range of sound in volume on the piano. A good way to practice dynamics is to take a simple phrase like a C major scale in practice, increasing in volume and decreasing in volume. A good example would be this. I'll start from the lowest C. So I'm gradually increasing in volume and then practicing going back down. You can also do exercises like this with just one node trying to get as many dynamics as possible while going on a consistent arc. Can see how softly you can press while still creating a sound. Dynamics are a very powerful tool and we can use them when composing to create an arc in a story plot to our composition. Dynamics can also affect the feeling in mood of the piece and are very important for conveying the right emotion to the audience. In the next lesson, we're going to look at compositional techniques and sections. So you can help effectively structure your composition and take it to the next level. 11. Composer Techniques: In this lesson, we're gonna be looking at compositional techniques in sections that can be used to create structure when composing. The type of sections that we're gonna be looking at are most commonly associated with pop songwriting and include the verse, the chorus, or hook, the bridge, the intro, and the outro. These function by creating momentum throughout the song to have familiar sections come back, we'll also creating a natural progression to give this song an arc and a lifespan of its own. Typically, songs, we'll start with an intro, which may be instrumental or setup the key or the chord progression in the song. They will then usually move into averse, which will have a melody and is usually more sparse instrumentation than the chorus. Typically songs will have 123 Vs, and the melody will be the same, but the lyrics may be different. The chorus or the hook is meant to hook in the listener by repeating the catchy as part of the song so that there's something that's infectious and you have to sing along or dance to the bridge, which is often after the second chorus or second verse, will function as a slightly different section to provide another texture before returning back home to the chorus. Oftentimes, bridges will modulate into another key, sometimes a fifth away. The original key. The bridge, is essential for setting up the chorus again and helping it feel as a cohesive song altogether. After the final chorus, there will sometimes be an outro, which may be an instrumental section or a repeated phrase the vocalist sings to continue the song as it fades out. When working with pop songwriting, you can take the same chord progression and expand upon it by using variations, using arpeggios or inversions to create a new section with more momentum for the chorus, bridge or outro, while still keeping the same core chord progression. Many times the song can have one chord progression, but its variations can lead to the chorus and hook and lead to natural developments through the techniques we've gone over in this class, including inversions, arpeggios, in different methods of accompaniment, in traditional song structure or songs of the 30s, 40s and 50s, such as Broadway classics or also known as great American song book. They'll often use the form A-A-B-A, in which the a can be thought of as a chorus or verse, which is repeated twice. And then there's a bridge and then followed by the same a again, so that the a is stuck in the listener's mind. Now, I'm going to demonstrate an original composition, then uses AABA form entitled We spent the night on a star. When I wrote this song, I was aiming to make it sound like a song from the 1930s or 1940s. And so I wanted to use the traditional form from that time period to make it sound authentic. You'll hear that the a section repeats three times in which there's different lyrics, but it's the same melody. They'll also be a short bridge. So you'll hear a BA, listen to the repeating a sections. They have different lyrics, but it's the same melody. We walk back. This soft light blue bar gas. They'd God my heart and I don't want to stop. The streets were close in there. The bell boys singing Goodnight came down cloudy skies when we spend the night on a stone, we're finding out how to jump. Just know they will be so high. And at night, the tax is paid out as say, it's twinkling lights, but we spent the night with that song. You could tell that the same section was repeated three times and the only different section was the bridge. This is helpful because when we're learning songs from the great American song book or classic American songs for the 1940s. If we learned the a section, we've already essentially learned three-quarters of the song, meaning that we can learn songs more quickly by focusing on one section and how it will repeat. In this lesson, we looked at how we can use different sections for pop songwriting and also different forums to effectively structure our composition. It's important to remember these concepts when songwriting, to give our songs the proper arc and make the most effective. 12. Final Thoughts: Alright, We've made it to the end of the composition and improvisation class. This class introduced a lot of systems which can help when composing original music or an improvising or writing melodies. We started out by looking at ways we can create chord progressions to create tension and resolution and pulling chords from other keys. We also looked at pentatonic scale improvisation and how we can use this scale to create effective melodies. And when soloing. We also looked at repeated phrases and runs and how we can use one phrase to move across the piano to create effective arrangements. Additionally, we looked at the blues scale and how we can use blue notes to create a more guitar lick sound on the piano when improvising or composing. Since much of what we covered is very conceptual, It's important to apply these concepts in as many ways as possible so we can really get them ingrained in our playing and not just have them in our mind. Improvising and composing is a constant journey. And this is merely an introduction that aims to give you possibilities to spark creativity. We looked at how you can take one pattern and develop that into a composition. And also how we can use song structure and dynamics to create an effective song. All of these concepts in systems can be used interchangeably. And it's important to practice them with a refined vision so we don't get overwhelmed. As a class assignment, you can take one pattern or repeated note phrase and workshop it into a composition so that there's a link moving throughout your work. It's my hope that you'll be able to use these concepts in your own improvisation and composition. And join me in my next class where we look into creating arrangements.