My last newsletter demonstrated what’s possible when improvising with the left hand only. You can listen and watch here. This newsletter includes another left-hand improvisation and also an interesting harmonic trick relatively inexperienced pianists can use to start exploring improvisation.
Many novices who sit down at the piano and start playing around and exploring might soon get tired and move on to something else. They get tired because it doesn’t sound nice or the sound doesn’t make sense. You don’t need to be a musician to hear that. Everyone is inherently capable of enjoying and appreciating music because you have been hearing it all your life. Human beings are actually born with a genetic appreciation for notes that sound harmonious together. That’s another whole newsletter there. When experimenting at the piano, there are a few reasons for the sound not making sense, but perhaps the most pervasive and elusive one is understanding music harmony. You need to learn the patterns and structures of a keyboard to play notes and groups of notes that go together pleasingly.
One trick, I shared in the past, is to play only the WHITE notes on your keyboard. I’m oversimplifying, but essentially the white notes form what we call the diatonic scale. It’s a 7 note scale that dominates the majority of today’s western and even much global music. However, you will discover that some of the white notes, when played together, don’t sound so pleasing.
Well, here’s an even better and simpler trick you can play around with.
Try playing just the BLACK notes on your keyboard. These make up what is called a pentatonic scale (because it has only 5 notes). Try as hard as you can and you will find no combination of those notes sound bad. For me, it evokes the music of Eastern cultures such as Japan or China.
It’s simplistic to attribute the pentatonic scale to eastern cultures and I am absolutely no authority on eastern musical cultures and practices. In reality, many cultures all over the world have used many versions of the pentatonic scale. These include the traditional music of the American Indians, Scots, and Celts, as well as in regions in Africa, Polynesia, and Asia. Pentatonic scales are used today in popular music, rock, blues, and jazz. ‘Amazing Grace’ uses a pentatonic scale. For whatever reason, when I play the version of the pentatonic as outlined by the black keys on a piano, I am reminded of the far east. A little research reveals that it is indeed used although the tuning is likely quite different.
For those of you who are aware of my recent shoulder injury, things are much better. I am now back to playing with both hands with little limitation. This video was created when I was still favouring it and giving it more time to rest.
In this video, I’ll provide some information about the pentatonic scale, and then play an improvisation for left-hand only using just the black notes on my piano.
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