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Practicing Outside the Box: 2 Ideas for Creative Practice

No time to be creative? Let’s use your daily practice to stimulate your musical imagination.

Practice, even when we are avoiding thoughtless repetition, often feels like a less-than-creative task. Our quest for secure, confident and musical playing doesn’t seem to allow for much experimentation and play.

The fact is, however, that actively using your musical imagination can actually help you learn notes more quickly in addition to developing inner resources that you might not even realize you have. These resources would include things like connecting music theory concepts like chords and keys to what you hear and play, and quicker recognition of musical styles and forms. These resources are the fundamental skills you need to be able to learn faster, sightread, memorize and improvise more easily.

Plus, this kind of practice helps you get more creative in terms of generating musical ideas. Don’t think you have any musical ideas? You might surprise yourself, if you try.

And all you have to learn to do is to enjoy letting go and to practice it occasionally.

Creative Idea #1: Your Daily Improv

Improvisation is not just for special occasions or exceptionally gifted musicians – it’s for everyone, every day. Improvisation isn’t something that happens. It is a skill that is learned and practiced like every other skill. Here is how you can put a little improv in your daily practice.

  1. Choose a melody (or a part of one, maybe the first four bars) from a favorite piece or one you are currently learning.

  2. Choose a finger pattern from a technical exercise you know well. You could use a pattern from one of the first 6 “Conditioning Exercises” by Salzedo, or from one of the LaRivière exercises, or from the Friou “Exercises for Agility and Speed” book, or just make up a pattern.

  3. Play your chosen melody, making a left hand accompaniment out of your exercise pattern.

  4. Use the same steps for right hand pattern improv: Choose a left hand bass line and create a melody based on a finger pattern.

Don’t judge yourself or your results on your first few attempts. Keep at it and you will see big changes in your playing – I promise!

Creative Idea #2: Re-create

This is a “what if” exercise. What if Mozart had written “Three Blind Mice?” What if Beethoven’s “Für Elise” was the soundtrack for a movie western? What if the 1812 Overture were played on a music box? Let’s “what if” your music! I’ve given you two suggestions below, but feel free to try your own.

  1. Choose a piece you know well and try to arrange it for you and a friend to play. You might arrange it for two harps, or for harp and another instrument or voice. You don’t even have to write your arrangement down; you can just create it when you and your friend get together. Get a little creative by adding some special effects like a glissando, harmonics or even tapping on the soundboard if you like. Stretch your imagination!

  2. Choose a piece and try a “what if.” Can you play it with a cowboy rhythm or as a waltz? Can you play a normally peppy piece as a funeral dirge or a contemplative piece as a rollicking jig? Mix it up with different rhythms or meters and different moods. You will know you’re doing it right if you can make yourself laugh! (Here’s a hint: this often works wonders for your attitude when you use this technique on a piece you’re not particularly fond of but need to learn!)

My mother used to tell me to “stop messing around” when I practiced this way, but my teacher always encouraged it as a part of my practice. I have now given you permission to “mess around,” so get going and have some fun!

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