TTTV002: Using piano improv to create a musician for life with Christopher Norton

piano improv Christopher Norton


chris norton piano teaching

Ever wondered how the master of contemporary piano music, Christopher Norton, teaches improvising to beginners? Interested in learning the secrets he’s gleamed about teaching improvising over more than 30 years of composing, teaching and presenting? Like the idea of teaching improving by starting with written music rather than thin air?

It’s great to be spending time with one of the piano industry’s most respected and loved composers, presenters and teachers, Christopher Norton, fresh off the plane from London for his Australasian Tour with ANZCA.

In this interview, Chris and I discuss how to get started teaching improvising using his American Popular Piano (APP) series. In this sequenced series of books, Chris introduces improv in a completely accessible manner to teachers and students of all levels.

If you’d like to find out more about APP, click this image:

american popular piano

“Why can’t I play more music like this?” asked a fourteen-year-old piano student. “My friends like to hear me play cool music.”

Why not, indeed? J.S. Bach taught his sons using the music of his time – popular dances, preludes and exercises by living composers. He expected
his boys to thrive in the musical world of their time.

American Popular Piano has been developed on the same principles. Students working in this series will:

• develop traditional pianistic and musical skills through music in contemporary, popular styles;
• be motivated to practise by working on music that is familiar, fun, and that they can’t wait to play;
• nurture their creativity and spontaneity through a user-friendly modular approach to improvisation;
• enjoy regular ensemble playing;
• find pleasure in a lifelong relationship with music!

(Read more at the Boosey & Hawkes website)

Starting by learning a simple piece of music, the APP books step both students and teachers through a process of making up music starting with rhythm and then gradually expanding to more and more notes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done anything like this before, I guarantee you’ll have success.

This is a really different approach to the improvising tactics we discussed with Daniel McFarlane in Podcast Episode 1 as Chris uses written music as a basis for improvising. So if you find that teaching improvising from scratch, with no music, is a bit of a big leap, then this interview is for you!

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • How to teach improvising using written music as a starting point
  • Why teaching improvising is so important to the musical futures of students
  • Chris’ 10-step checklist to getting students improvising no matter what their level of experience
  • How to teach improv using his American Popular Piano books, even if you’ve never tried it before
  • Why you don’t have to worry about the theory of modes, scales, etc in order to start teaching improv
  • The theory behind the composition of the APP series
  • How to incorporate improv into your lessons

Links for this episode:

How’s your improvising teaching going?

We’ve been talking about improvising for a few weeks and there has been lots of discussion about it on Facebook, so I’d love to hear your thoughts: How is improvising going in your studio this year? What have you tried? What’s been working? What has been an epic fail!?

I’d also love to hear from any teachers who’ve tried using APP in their studios: How did it go? What are your favourite books/pieces? How has the improvising gone? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts and any other questions you might have.

Pssst. Did you enjoy this post?

If you enjoyed this interview and are enjoying the new podcast so far, I’d love for you to click this link to find out how to leave a review on iTunes – it only takes about 5 minutes maximum and would mean a lot to me 🙂

Get Chris’ free cheat sheet download:

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