What do I mean, improvising over the chords? I’d like you to try improvising with a piece you already know, or at least with its chord progression. If you’re an intermediate player, you could also start with a simple arrangement for piano, such as Amazing Grace (level 4, first page only) on Gilbert Benedetti’s Free Music site.
Now, if you’re more experienced, perhaps you could play the left hand as written. However, it will be far easier if you start by playing the chords in their simplest form in your left hand (this is where your music theory comes in handy. You did label those chords, didn’t you?)
First, play through the left hand chords alone. Next, play the chords again, and play anything you want to in your right hand ~ anything except the melody, that is.
At first, unless you’ve done this before, it will feel awkward as you search for something that sounds good. You may want to start by simply pulsing the chord root in your right hand on every beat, just to get the two-hand coordination going.
Then move on to creating little lines of moving notes in your right hand. Don’t know where to start? If you get stuck on a chord, keep playing that one chord while you try different notes in your right hand. Next, do a single phrase until you like it, instead of trying to work the whole piece.
If you can keep the left hand going as written and feel a little braver, try this: keep playing that left hand, let’s say five times through, while trying different patterns of single notes in your right hand. If you stick with it, you will find pleasing snatches of melody that you like and you will start to repeat them when you get to that spot again.
Here is one suggestion to try with your right hand. If your left hand is playing a G chord, try all the notes from g to d (the G triad and the two notes in between those strings). When the chords changes, the of course the five notes you can play change to match.
One more tip: if you want to be able to focus on your right hand without worrying about your left, why not record the left hand chords (or original accompaniment) and play along with only your right hand? That way, you can really explore.
Most of all, have fun!
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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.