Even though I love the idea of teaching my students to improvise, I have to admit that I’ve always been intimidated by it. I taught myself to improvise when I was in college after several music theory epiphanies. Suddenly, chords, harmonization, melodic lines, and rhythmic patterns all made sense and came freely when I sat down and played.
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Since I’m self taught, I’ve always had trouble explaining improvisation to students because I don’t even know where to begin with it. And, my academic approach to improvising by using music theory doesn’t work well with beginning piano student.
I was recently introduced to InnerMusician, an interactive improvisation program. It is exactly what I need to teach my students to play spontaneously and creatively.
The program uses stories and videos to set a scene, then teaches a few musical motifs on the piano the complement the visual components and the words of the story. It teaches students how to use the piano to tell a story. They play along with the stories or videos to provide a musical soundtrack.
All of this can be accessed from the InnerMusician website. Once you log in, you have access to 3 different “Journeys”, which are kind of like books. In each Journey, there are 7-9 stories that students can learn to play along with.
Once you select a story to play, you are taken to a screen where you can navigate everything you need in order to learn and play along with the story.
The buttons in the middle of the screen teach the musical motifs and show teaching demonstrations of the program’s creator, Lyndel Kennedy, teaching the motifs to her own students.
The storybook-shaped buttons across the top of the screen feature of a variety of different combinations of video, background music, story reading, and sound effects. Some of these are used to set the mood or as demonstration, while others are what the student plays along with to improvise.
The film clapboard buttons at the bottom of the screen are more options that are appropriate for older or advancing students. The videos are a little more detailed but there is no story being read. There are also playing demonstrations to view for these videos.
InnerMusician is intended to be used in a group setting with the parents present as “coaches” to help their children, but it can also be incorporated into private lessons.
I used InnerMusician as a piano camp this summer and it was a huge success. I had 6 students participating – 2 beginners with no experience, 2 students with 1 year of experience and 2 with several years of experience. InnerMusician brought all six of these students to the same playing field and they were all able to be successful and creative together.
Each day of the camp, the students learned a new story to improvise with. They created artwork to depict their story. We projected the video and story onto the wall and ended each day of camp with the students performing their improvisation creations for each other.
As I was preparing for my camp, I was really impressed by the wonderful features that the InnerMusician has for teachers. It has everything you need in order to help your students right at your fingertips. Every concept has it’s own teaching demonstration video. It is so helpful to hear Lyndel speak, explain her approach and teach her students.
This program has what I was lacking in my own improvisation. Of course, the music theory aspect of improvising is important, it is even more important to use music to tell or story and speak to the listener.
InnerMusician teaches students to play intuitively, to communicate with their music and to play from their heart. Lyndel describes it as looking out your window and showing others what you can see through your own window. I love that analogy because it emphasizes the unique gifts and abilities we each have and the importance of sharing that with others.
My students resume their piano fall piano lessons this week and I’m excited to introduce InnerMusician to all of my piano students. Since my students come in small groups of 3-4, we will sometimes use it as a group, but we will also use it individually, as well.
Teachers can purchase a yearly license and have have access all of the Journeys, stories and videos for $180/year. From there, you can purchase licenses or print books for your students so that they can access InnerMusician at home for their own practicing.
Student material ranges from $15-$90. There is the option for students to have online access only, or they can also purchase print copies of the books which feature the stories and beautiful pictures similar to the videos. The pricing of the books for each Journey is reasonable and comparable to other books and programs you might use with your students.