I came across the name Forrest Kinney and his improvisation method Pattern Play quite often over the last few years, but only recently did I actually try it out and am very happy I did! Improvisation has always fascinated me but I found it almost impossible to pass my enthusiasm on to others.
Then I found Pattern Play. Forrest Kinney developed a fantastic tool for learning and experiencing creativity at the piano. His idea is to go from duet to solo in a systematic and carefully constructed path that starts at the very beginning and goes a long way.
Since I discovered this method it has become one of the piano lesson highlights for a large number of my students. After reading and playing music others have written, it is thrilling and fun for them to create music of their own.
Duet to solo
Instead of pushing the student into the water and hoping they will begin to swim, in Pattern Play the teacher gets into the (musical) water with the student: First the teacher supports the student and helps them get used to the feeling of the water, then they help the student float and when the student discovers they can swim the two of them can either swim together or each one can go their own way.
In other words, the first stage of the improvisation is done with the teacher playing the given pattern (which can also be altered and changed of course) while the student plays freely in the upper register on a group of set keys: blacks, specific white keys or a simple combination.
The second foundation of the method is the pattern concept. The lower part is based on a simple pattern that is repeated for a while, until it is time for a change: the so called Vacation part is a diversion from the first pattern, and after a short visit to this other place, you return "home". This simple ABA structure is easy to follow and grasp, so you always know where you are and don't feel lost.
Every piece in Forrest Kinney's method can be played as a duet or as a solo. The duets don't have to be played necessarily with a teacher. There are many options and suggestions for each of the parts so that people at all levels can play them successfully.
Once the student feels comfortable improvising in the upper register they can switch to the lower side and play an easier version of the pattern with the teacher playing on top. The last stage has the student improvising all on their own, and it is indeed an exciting moment when this happens for the first time!
The pieces are in different styles: some are relatively free from tonality and have no beat, some have a New Age feel, there are Blues and Jazz pieces and there are World Music pieces in the style of different cultures and countries. Thanks to the the very clear and inspiring instructions the pieces sound amazingly good even when using the most basic building blocks.
"Pattern Play" consists of 6 books and two levels of "Create First!" that were recently added on to the series.
I think every person is happy to discover the creative side in themselves, and in working through these books every person actually can find this place of creativity.
In his introduction to Pattern Play 1 Forrest writes :"making music with Patterns- either alone or with others- can be wonderful. You never know what is going to happen next. Surprise and discoveries are always in the air". And one more quote from the end of the same book: "What we can discover in music (and ourselves) is infinite"
The next pianoways post will host Forrest Kinney where he will share some thoughts on music and improvisation.
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- Interview with Forrest Kinney about Improvisation
- Why "free playing" at the piano is good
- The Magic of Jazz Piano