Do you remember skipping double Dutch jump rope during elementary school recess? Ah, timing your entrance just right, chanting a skipping song, and staying in as long as possible before you tripped up and had to jump out…

My piano students had a performance class yesterday. After the performances, I introduced the skill of improvising – as something akin to jumping double Dutch.

I introduced 12-bar blues form to the class, and together we built a lead sheet (which I projected on the wall). Then we discussed a blues scale compared to a major scale. Next I showed several short melody patterns that could become the inspiration for an improvised solo. Ideas ranged from a single note varied by rhythm to some more elaborate ideas using several blues scale notes.

I slid the duet bench in front of the piano, and started vamping a blues progression with a walking left hand bass line on the low end of the piano. Students formed a line and “jumped in” to the seat beside me and improvised a solo. They were free to jump out whenever they wanted, and the next person jumped in. They quickly caught on to the fact that one pattern repeated at different places on the piano could be used to build a good improvised solo.

We concluded by watching the amazing Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson (1925–2007) play a concert with his trio in Berlin. Some great soloing there – wow!