I love to improvise on the piano. To play by feel, however I want. No rules, just make it up as I go along. It’s the ultimate in musical self-expression.
Yet the first time I was asked to improvise by our school jazz band leader, I was amazed. I didn’t see how it could be done. Up until then I’d been a diligent music student, learning all the rules, practicing my scales, playing exactly according to the sheet music. Then suddenly I was told I could just make it up.
Seeing my apprehension, the band leader gave me a piece of advice I still use today: if a note sounds wrong, just go up or down one on the keyboard, and it’ll sound fine.
That small but invaluable piece of encouragement was all I needed to dive in and start improvising. Twenty five years later I enjoy it as much if not more than playing from a score.
Freedom of expression in music is a wonderful thing, and it’s something many of us struggle to achieve in other areas of our lives. We become caught up in our routines: finding the perfect partner, making the ideal home, the apparently safe but ultimately unsatisfying job.
While there is nothing wrong with any of these pursuits alone, the risk is that together they can start to take over at the expense of things that used to be so important.
We forget that we can still play, still make it up. There are no rules, we’re free to be whoever we want.
If your current reality doesn’t live up to your hopes and dreams, why not improvise with life? Enrol in that class you’ve always been interested in, start that blog you’ve been writing in your head, whatever it may be.
Try new things, play a few different notes. Just like improvising on the piano, sometimes all it takes in life is a small adjustment to get things back on track.