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The Artist's Way Meets the Piano

Edward Weiss By

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I was wondering why musicians, specifically piano players might apply the concept of free writing to playing piano.
In her bestselling book The Artist's Way, Julie Cameron suggests keeping a journal. She refers to them as morning pages where each morning, you just write off the top of your head.

This free writing exercise is nothing new. It's been done and popularized for quite some time now. But "The Artist's Way" really brought this practice back.

I was wondering why musicians, specifically piano players might apply the concept of free writing to playing piano. It then dawned on me that if you time your improvisations, or more accurately, set a time limit for how long you're going to play, it creates a space where the muse is free to express.

To this end, I created a lesson titled "Timed Piano Improvisation Exercise." It is a lesson that uses a 3-5 minute time limit. Students are encouraged to play whatever comes up within the given parameters - 3 chords in the mode of A Aeolian.

The beauty of these kinds of exercises is that the choice as to what to play has already been made. Now, all that is required is for the student to sit down and play within the limits set.

Some fight the idea of limitations thinking it constricts creativity. Not true! It actually helps you to focus in on self-expression. That's because you're not thinking about the next chord to play. This choice has already been made. All that is required now is to simply create in the moment.

And when the moment is a timed practice period, it gives students the freedom to just be at the piano.

After successfully trying these exercises myself, I realize how powerful they can be. Material comes that may have never appeared any other way. Why? Because we aren't focused on creating a product. Instead, we allow the improvisational process to lead us and this always leads to the "freshest" sounding music.

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