Creative Piano Skills, by Gayle Dunsmoor

author of Melody Adventures (MA); Keyboard Accompaniment (KA) Series

During by 40 years of active piano teaching, I have continually searched for material to encourage students with the development of their ‘creative piano skills’. Although I found a plethora of material for teaching sight-reading and technical skills step-by-step, books to progressively encourage creative skills from the beginning to an advanced level were, to my knowledge, non-existent. I found this surprising, but I was determined to cover all the basses in my piano teaching. I wrote my first book and called it “Harmonization”. Looking back some 30 years - that book was not very good! It was tucked away! However, new inspiration came when I suggested, a few years later, that my daughter look at what I had done and asked her to apply a C or G chord accompaniment to a basic C major melody.  It was unfamiliar territory and she would not try. Unbelievable! My daughter was 13 years old with perfect pitch and a full wall of music awards from music festivals and examinations. She was about to try for the performance diploma (ARCT) with the Royal Conservatory of Music. How could a fully trained performer be unable to play two chords to a basic melody? That is the question...

With new motivation and convinced that the failure was the fault of the ‘system’, I wrote (eventually) 16 books with approximately 350 original melodies and 150 folksongs. The aim: (whether for adults or children) to have students create accompaniment for melodies - until it becomes intuitive.

One of the major difficulties to overcome, writing the books, was to have the melodies progress at the same pace as a student’s technical and sight-reading ability. Another challenge was to have the books work as a self-study. Teachers have limited time. The solution was to give enough guidance in the books so teachers can simply assign 2-3 new melodies at the beginning of each lesson (never time at the end) and enjoy what the student produces. The challenge for teachers is to keep the subject of ‘keyboard accompaniment’ from the back burner when it is not a requirement for the examination.

As part of marketing, we had a table at a recent Christmas craft fair. To be expected, most of people were interested in ‘eye candy’ and books do not fall in that category! Completely unexpected - we sold more books to the general public than at any previous piano teacher convention!

My observation is that most formal piano keyboard training programs leave the creative area of the brain untapped. The exceptions are those who work it out for themselves.

Please, if you have any thoughts/stories on “Creative Piano Skills” let us know.