If you’re a newbie to piano improvisation, you may be wondering what the best way to start out is. And while there are numerous ways to begin improvising on the piano, the ostinato technique is one of the easiest. Why? Because once you have the pattern down in your left hand your right hand can improvise melody freely.
Take a look at the lesson “December Twilight” (you can hear this lesson by scrolling half way down the page)
Here we have a left-hand ostinato pattern going on while the right improvises melody. The left hand plays a few bass notes – then 2 chords – A Major and D Major.
The great thing about this pattern is that it gives you a harmonic backdrop over which you improvise your own melody in the Key of A Major. Plus, once your left hand is out of the way so to speak, you can focus your attention on the right and begin to improvise a melody.
Another lesson that uses this technique to good advantage is “Winter Scene.” Here we have a different ostinato pattern going on. “Winter Scene” uses the modal scale of D dorian and just 2 chords from this scale.
The chords are played closer together so this gives us a completely different sound – but the technique is the same… that is, you are playing a left hand pattern while your right hand improvises melody.
Some students wonder about this technique. In fact, I’ve had one student tell me he gets bored with this. But the reason we play this kind of improvisation in the first place is to enter into the flow of creativity easily. This “exercise” allows you to forget about technique and which chords to play and literally forces you to improvise.
Of course, if we wanted to create a complete piece of music using this technique we could. Just look at George Winston’s lovely piece “Thanksgiving” and you’ll see what I mean.