Intuitive Improvisation


Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky

I’m pleased to announce that the article I wrote for American Music Teacher magazine, originally published in the winter of 2007, is now available on line here . It’s specifically targeted at music teachers who would like to venture into the world of creative improvisation and don’t know where to begin, but would also be useful for anyone who is feeling the urge to create their own music and knows a bit of basic theory.

For me, the key to learning how to improvise was allowing myself to approach the piano playfully, as a small child would, and not to weigh myself down with admonitions or expectations. In other words, to be free to create!

A Legend at Lunchtime

The other day, I was privileged to meet Katinka Scipiades Daniel, an eminent piano teacher and almost solely responsible for introducing the Kodály Method of music education to America back in the 1960’s. Katinka, now in her 90’s, joyful, sprightly and alert, welcomed members of the Kodály Association of Southern California for a potluck lunch, where we had chance to hear stories and reminiscences of all kinds.

Katinka’s own history is interesting– her husband Ernö Daniel was an eminent concert pianist in Hungary, giving concerts internationally, when the Communists took over Hungary in the 1940’s. As he happened to be abroad at that time, he decided not to return, although Katinka and her children were still in Hungary. Ernö went to America, accepting a position first at Wichita Falls and then at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and eventually after twelve years, his wife and children were permitted to join him.

The family all flourished in America– both parents becoming renowned as teachers, their son and daughter eventually becoming well-respected and successful doctors. Katinka has made an interesting video on how to combine the Kodály method with piano teaching, which also contains valuable examples of her technical methods. She has also written excellent books on teaching Kodály from Kindergarten upwards. However, her most lasting impact has been the training of some wonderful Kodály teachers in California, who are now passing on her legacy. I’m excited to join them.

Intuitive Improvisation And Some News…

American Music Teacher Magazine CoverI am delighted to announce that my latest article on intuitive improvisation has been published in the December/January issue of American Music Teacher, along with a number of other great articles on improvisation. I chose to focus on games and exercises for teachers who may not have ever improvised themselves. I give practical approaches that will enable them to not only encourage their students to improvise, but to also enjoy the process alongside them. I based it on successful experiments with many of my own students over the years. It was a fun article to write.

I apologize for not having blogged in a while — I am in charge of a pilot program in Kodály musicianship for Kindergarden through second grade students, and conducting two middle-school choirs — teaching three hundred children per week. It has been extremely absorbing and energy-consuming. The program is going well, and we hope, with the help of the Ojai Music Festival Education Committee, to expand the Kodály program to all schools in the local district.

Young children are wonderfully responsive and enthusiastic. It has been amazing to see how rapidly they are progressing. I am excited at the prospect of so many young children receiving a solid foundation in musicianship and enjoying music making so much. My intention in the coming semester is to regain more balance in my life, so that I can once again have time to blog, make music, write articles, and actually have a social life as well!

A Key to Great Musicianship

I’ll be taking on a new enterprise this fall besides my coaching clients– teaching the Kodály Method to 5-8 year olds in a local school. I’m being employed to train teachers alongside kids in the method, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Two of my best years of musicianship training took place in London starting about twelve years ago. I’ve always been able to do aural exercises extremely easily, as I have perfect pitch, but had never found a great way to assist others in learning dictation, sight-singing, being able to hear music inwardly, etc. Now, with the help of the great teachers David Vinden and his wife Yuko (who both trained in Hungary, the birthplace of the Kodály Method), I learned all of this and more, using the Kodály technique. And the best part about this training was that I could feel my own aural abilities being stretched to the full– being asked to play a single line of a Bach melody as a three part-canon on the piano, attempting to tap an ostinato whilst sight-singing using the alto clef and sol-fa syllables (do, re, mi, etc.)…. and having tremendous fun in the process, thanks to my wonderful teachers.

Of course, I’ll be starting much more simply with my Kindergarteners. The idea is to start with two notes only (soh and mi) and introduce new notes and concepts gradually. I’m hoping I have as much fun with the kids as I did in my own studies. And I’m hoping to give them the very best start as musicians. Of course, five years old is the best time to start, but it’s never too late. If you’d like to know more, one great place to start is .