If I have a student who struggles with note reading, but loves “doodling around” on the piano and/or if I have extra time at the end of a lesson, I often opt for my quick and easy improvisation activity. I sit at one piano and the student sits at the other (if you only have one piano, one can be in the higher register and the other in the lower). Between the student and myself, we determine the following three elements:
1. Chord (for more advanced students, we pick a key rather than just a chord)
2. Visual description (i.e. putting a baby to sleep, walking around at a carnival, watching a thunderstorm, etc.)
3. Time signature and tempo
One of us gives a count-in to set up the beat and then we begin playing. We can play any note of the chord/key anywhere on the whole piano, but we have to play with the beat and try to capture the mood of the visual description. We continue for an indeterminate amount of time and then try to coordinate a convincing ending by exchanging glances and listening to each others’ sound.
This is super easy (even for a non-improviser like me!) and almost always sounds surprisingly cool – which the students love!