This is our final Tuesday Teaching Tactic for the year! We look forward to taking time off teaching and blogging for a few weeks to celebrate with our loved ones. Today we want to share about improvisation but not just having your students improvise. Today we want to encourage improvisation duets! Let’s get you playing with your students so ensemble skills can be increased while you also work on improvisation skills.

Now many piano methods include teacher duets for improvisation so utilize these. Here are two other resources we highly recommend:

  1. Animal Improvby Whitney Hawker. This was written just for beginning students using concepts from the very beginning to starting 5 finger patterns. There are so many sounds (Major, minor, and modal), time signatures vary, and a variety of accompaniments are included.
  2. Pattern Play series, by Forest Kinney. We’ve posted about these before and we love these books! They really help students see the patterns composers use.

Now you can also come up with improvisation ideas and make up your own accompaniments. But these resources help make the teacher duet less daunting so check them out!  Students really find it more rewarding to improvise together and it develops listening skills that are invaluable to ensemble playing!

At the end of a duet, try slowing down and diminuendo together. Students hear this and sense when the end is coming. To become a sensitive collaborative player, students need to be able to sense and react to tempo changes and dynamic changes. Improvising together allows them to begin practicing and developing this “sensing”. Then as they advance, students start listening to match phrase lengths and meter as they improvise with the teacher.

Now this isn’t just for beginners! As students become more advanced try giving them a more specific framework, such as key, blues scale, or chord progression to follow.  It is so easy to incorporate this into regular lesson times, to use as reinforcement for concepts.  I love to pull out improv duets at the beginning of lessons when I can sense a student has extra energy they need to work out before focusing in on the challenging work of perfecting pieces at the piano. They’re also a great activity when we have a few minutes to spare at the end of a lesson as well.

I love improv duets because students leave with the joy of creating music fresh with them! Including these in a lesson always makes the lesson extra special. Hope you’ll include more improvisation duets in a few of your lessons this week (or in the new year if you’re already taking a well deserved break). Merry Christmas! We hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Author: Whitney

Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at