Improvising Music

 ( by using a colorized keyboard ) 



This page is very long, so I recommend first reading only The Introduction that's in an Intro-PageThen make choices and use summaries, especially a new Summary Page.  Below is the whole page, but The Introduction — that now is in a gray box with text in small fonts, so you won't read it — will be replaced soon (probably June 17) by a Table of Contents that will link to each part of the Intro-Page.



What?   By working cooperatively with others, I want to help more people — of all ages, but especially K-12 students & seniors, the young & old — increase their enjoying of music by making their own music, especially by improvising harmonious melodies.    {and increase their enjoying of conversation}     { I'm an enthusiastic educator with a PhD who has enjoyed music throughout life. }


Why?   Emotionally, people enjoy the many ways music is wonderful.  It's fascinating and fun, can be beautiful & dramatic, familiar & mysterious, relaxing & exciting, inspiring us mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Music is one of the best things in life.

Why?   Scientifically, we are discovering the many ways music is beneficial.  Most people, both young and old, get major benefits (mental, emotional, physical) when they listen to music, and also when they make music.  When people make music – especially by creatively improvising it – the young can more effectively develop more of their full potential for what they could become;  and the old can more effectively maintain more of what they have become, or even add to it.    { scientific research about the many benefits of music }


What?   You can enjoy hearing the music of others, and also making your own music. How?   You will improve your making-of-music by learning practical music-making strategies (that are used by all musicians, are based on principles of harmony) in a process of learning-by-doing when you do musical experiments (you try new musical ideas) to produce new musical experiences so you can listen and learn.     { more about music-making strategies and learning by doing }


What?   Using a keyboard that is colorized — to show with colors (red, blue, green) the notes of harmonious chords — can help a person skillfully improvise harmonious melodies by using one hand, and teaching this skill is my educational goal.  The colorizing won't have much effect on traditional two-hand playing, but teaching that is not my goal.   Although a keyboard can be used for two-hand playing, this doesn't mean it should be used in this way by all people.     { a personal choice:  playing mainly melodies or chords-plus-melodies }


Why?   Playing an electronic keyboard – especially when it's colorized – is an excellent way to improvise melodies, because...    compared with other instruments it's much easier to play well immediately,  just press a key and it plays the note in-tune with a clear tone;    it can sound like hundreds of instruments, not just one as with a piano or saxophone;    { but each instrument has unique capabilities, can do things a keyboard cannot do }

    the visual structure is simple (with pitches increasing from left to right) yet significant (with important “musical meanings” for the repeating patterns in white & black notes, and red-blue-green notes), which is useful for playing melodies and understanding music.


There are valuable time-and-life benefits for a person because they can use more of their limited time to also enjoy other aspects of life, in addition to music — when they learn time-efficiently in two ways:

    achieving a desired level of skill requires much less time for one-hand playing (of melodies) than for two-hand playing (of chords plus melodies, when each hand is doing different things with extremely difficult multi-tasking that may decrease skills when improvising melodies);

    colorizing (with red,blue,green) makes it easier to quickly develop skill in one key (C Major)* instead of many keys, with narrow specializing that allows wide diversifying because instead of practicing in many major keys, their limited “music time” is used to focus on creative experimenting in only C Major, to deeply explore a wide variety of musical possibilities, to develop skill in playing artistically.  And the keyboard's auto-transposing feature allows “playing” in C Major, yet “hearing” in any major key.     {* The colorizing also makes it easier to play in A Minor. }


What?   Most songs (in pop, folk, rock, jazz, classical,...) have a harmonic structure — you can “hear the structure” in their sequential progression of chordsthat is built on the solid foundation of three main chords.   Musical U says "there are just three chords which are most important to any piece of music. ... They represent the fundamentals of classical and popular music,... are considered the backbone, or driving force behind many well-known pieces of music.  In fact, there are a huge number of popular pieces of music which use only these three chords" in chord progressions, but...  more often, musicians supplement these main chords with other chords to add zesty spice, to make their music more interesting.

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 ChordsHow?   The chord-notes in these three main chords — that I informally call “red” and “blue” and “green” — are highlighted on my colorized keyboard, to help you make harmonious melodies by playing the notes in a red chord, blue chord, or green chord.*  A keyboard that is colorized shows the notes in these 3 chords – red, blue, green – so you can learn how to improvise melodies more easily, and understand music more deeply.   /   To supplement these main major chords, musicians sometimes add other chords;  usually these are the main minor chords that also are shown on my fully-colorized keyboard.    { how to colorize?  either diy with labels or maybe buy with lights }    /   * standard musical terms:  I informally call these the “red chord, blue chord, and green chord but if you know basic music theory you'll recognize them as the 3 main chords in the key of C Major;  they're the C chord, F chord, and G chord;  or more generally, the I, IV, and V chords.  Although red-blue-green are informal, it's easy to begin with them and make a smooth transition to learning the concepts & terms of standard music theory.     { If you don't yet know music theory, you can learn it with your discoveries and my explanations. }

How?   While each successive chord is being played (during a chord progression) you can play a chord-based melody that is mainly chord notes but also some non-chord notes.  During a red chord you play mainly red notes, during a blue chord mainly blue notes, and during a green chord mainly green notes.  With a little experience (when you “try new things, listen and learn”) you'll quickly develop skill with blending the chord notes and non-chord notes in ways that are interesting and enjoyable.  How?  Common strategies for improvising — like using non-chord notes as passing notes for moving smoothly between chord notes — will help you play chord-based melodies that “fit well” with the chords, that are mostly-harmonious (with mostly chord notes) and are more interesting (because you're adding some non-chord notes).


Why?   Below are four reasons to use colors – because of the beneficial effects for music, education, and psychology, plus time-and-life.

Who?   When you're reading about the four reasons (each is a "why") you can “imagine the experience” from two perspectives, with two points of view.  If you're a music teacher who has experience-and-skill with playing keyboard, when I say "they" you can imagine the experiences of a student who has very little previous experience with playing keyboard.  And for a different perspective, anyone can replace "they" with “you” and imagine your own experiences when playing in this new way.  Or you can actually “experience the experiences” by colorizing a keyboard and playing it.

Who?   I think colorizing is especially useful for novices who want to improvise melodies, although for most musicians with more experience it can be beneficial in some ways.

Why?   First I'll describe the benefits of colorizing, and then the limitations including the minimal effects on traditional two-hand playing.


why?   What are the musical benefits of using colors?  When a player is doing musical experiments (they're trying new ideas) a colorized keyboard gives them easy-intuitive-instant recognizing of the notes in a “red chord” because all of its chord-notes (no more, no less) are red.  Or they can play the notes of a “blue chord” (every note that is blue) or “green chord” (all that are green).  They will intuitively-and-instantly know the notes in each harmonious chord (red, blue, or green) and this intuitive knowledge helps them connect harmony with melody because they are using harmony to improvise harmonious melodies.  During a chord progression — when the chords are changing, when sometimes they're red, but sometimes blue, and sometimes green — a player can improvise melodies that are “mainly red notes” (but with some non-red notes) and “mainly blue notes” and “mainly green notes”.     { more about playing music with these three chords and connecting the “red-blue-green” with Music Theory }   /   two ways to hear harmony:  When harmonious chord-notes are played simultaneously (to form a chord) and/or sequentially (to form a melody), people enjoy the way it sounds;  both ways are used during a chord progression.     { Why do we enjoy harmony?  It's due to relationships between the physics of music and physiology of humans. }   /   For many reasons, in many ways, "playing an electronic keyboard [especially when it's colorized] is an excellent way to improvise melodies."

why?   What are the educational benefits of using colors?  It will help students play musical melodies and understand music theory.  How?  These three chords — the “red,blue,green” that commonly are called C,F,G and I,IV,V * — are the special “main chords” that are used most often in popular music playing, so they're the foundations of conventional musical harmony and standard music theory.  Therefore although my approach – using a colorized keyboard – is innovative, the educational results are traditional, are conventional and standard.  The colorizing will help students play music and learn theory that's in the mainstream of music, because colorizing shows the mainstream chords of music that are used most often by musicians.  The colors will help your students {or you} make music that is creative, yet familiar.  They {or you} will be playing “the main chords” in ways that develop solid foundations of music learning and music making, that will improve their cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory that is cognitive (to understand music) and is functional (to play music).  The logical patterns of music theory they are learning effectively – because they can SEE these patterns in the keyboard's colors and visual structure – will help them build better understanding of music theory, and this improved knowledge will be useful when playing any instrument, whether it's keyboard or (with transfers of learning) other instruments, like trumpet or saxophone, violin or guitar.  If you (the reader) are a teacher, you can imagine how this knowledge will be useful in all areas of music education.     {* It isn't easy to fully understand the system of music theory that is complex yet logical.  But you can easily understand the simple connections between two sets of terms — my “red,blue,green” and the “C,F,G” of standard music theory — as explained in Part 1B, using the Key of C to show the logical relationships. }

why?   What are the resulting psychological benefits (due to the musical benefits) when students use colors?  It promotes confidence and motivation.  When their musical experimenting (their “playing games with the music”) is guided by colors, they will enjoy the experience — because they're making beautiful music with harmonious melodies that sound good* — and this positive feedback will help them feel confident.  Their confidence will help them develop-and-maintain a creative attitude so they're feeling free to relax and do, listen and learn.  And their confidence (from the positive feedback) will improve their motivation.  They will enjoy the music they're improvising, so they will want to continue doing it.  Using colors will help them enjoy the satisfactions of immediate gratification – so they will be motivated to continue playing – because immediately they're making music that sounds pleasantly harmonious, and soon (within an hour) their music will become much more interesting and enjoyable.  And with practice, the quality will continue improving.   /   I agree with Musical U that "Every human naturally has an innate musicality: a capacity for music-making and an ability to understand music instinctively.  This can be actively developed to enable a wide variety of skills."  And I think playing a colorized keyboard is one way (along with other ways) to help people "actively develop" many important musical skills.   /   * The music improvising probably will "sound good" more quickly if a student already has experience with music making.  But even if they don't have much previous experience, they can make rapid progress with improvising melodies.  For this important skill they can quickly pass thru their “temporary novice” phase, moving beyond it to playing with improved skill.

why?   What are the time-and-life benefits of using colors?  When a person is able to focus on playing skillfully in only 2 keys (C Major & A Minor)* instead of all 24 (for major & minor) their specializing allows creative diversifying (plus depth) that leads to improving.  Using a colorized keyboard makes it easier to master these two keys, AND it's easier to improvise harmonious melodies (and thus play in musically-satisfying ways that “will be enough” for many people) without investing the enormous amount of time that's required for developing skill with traditional two-hand playing.  In these two ways the colors will help them achieve a desired level of proficiency in less time, and they can use more of their time to also enjoy other aspects of life.  For most people, a major benefit of colors is being able to use time wisely, which is using life wisely because (as Ben Franklin reminded us) time is the stuff life is made of” so using it well is important.     {* Even if a musician “plays” in C Major, everyone can “hear” in any major key when the musician uses the keyboard's transposing feature that automatically raises (or lowers) every note by the same amount. }


 Why?  I'm optimistic about the benefits of playing a colorized keyboard that shows notes of the three most important chords so it's easier to use these for improvising harmonious melodies.  But I want to be realistic, so here are some thoughts about realistic expectations.  I'm confident about four kinds of benefits (musical, psychological, educational, time-and-life) when improvising melodies, but although these benefits are important, they're limited.  The main limitation is that colorizing probably won't have much effect on traditional two-hand playing.

    In more detail, here are my claims about playing a colorized keyboard.  I think...
    • it will help players (especially novices) creatively improvise harmonious melodies with confidence that motivates, and develop their cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory, and use their time more effectively.
    • it will be useful for ear training — by clearly showing the main intervals, and providing many opportunities to hear these intervals during improvisations and also when playing pre-composed songs “by ear” and with ear-training practice — but a player still has to be aware of the different interval-sounds, and use discipline in doing training exercises.
    • it will be very useful for developing important skills in the two colorized keys (C Major & A Minor), but will be less useful (although there will be some transfers of learning) if playing in the non-colorized keys.
    • in the two colorized keys it can help a player improve their skills with each hand (especially with right-hand melody making) but it probably won't have much effect on two of the skills – independence of hands, and spatial knowledge of keyboard (without looking at it) – that are needed for traditional two-hand playingthis is described in detail later where I tentatively conclude that "AFAIK now (with my current limited knowledge), playing a colorized keyboard will have minimal effects on traditional two-hand playing."
    • and it isn't useful when playing pre-composed songs by “seeing notes” (mentally) on sheet music, instead of seeing notes (actually) on the keyboard, for obvious “visual reasons” and also because most pre-composed songs will be in a non-colorized key, i.e. the song won't be in C Major or A Minor.
Despite these limitations, I'm confident that the overall effects of colorizing will be very beneficial.  .....{continued below, with "But I do realize..."}


This concludes The Introduction that is the only section in another page.
Therefore, all sections below here are only in this page.

But I do realize that the total effects will be a mix of positive & negative, with pros & cons.  I've described some beneficial effects (the positives) and limitations.  During June 2024, I'll examine (in detail) both positive & negative, and will explain why I want to learn more from music students (by observing their playing, and talking with them) and from music teachers by asking “what do you think about the pros & cons?” and “how could this method — by teaching one-hand melodic improvisation with a colorized keyboard — be effectively combined with other methods?”



The page-Introduction begins with my goal of "helping more people... increase their enjoying of music by making their own music."  Originally – before it was moved to here – the next paragraph described a process:

How?   I'm looking forward to working with partners who want to help us achieve shared goals that we think are worth pursuing.  I'll be emphasizing the benefits of using my colorized keyboard to make music, but other methods also offer benefits.  Therefore, my method of teaching (and improvising) should be creatively combined with other methods to form a synergistic blend that's better than any single method by itself.     { working cooperatively to achieve our shared goals }    { why I want to learn from teachers & students } 


How?   for learning (when you're a learner):  A novice can easily “learn by discovering” by finding patterns in the colors (red, blue, green) of a colorized keyboard and then finding ways to use these patterns for playing harmonious melodies.  The self-discovering is even easier for a person with some musical experience.  But usually it's better if your learning from discovery is combined with learning from a teacher who can guide your discovering, and (by explaining) share their understandings.  Learning from a teacher can happen by reading this page (with stop-and-go reading) or another page, or in a video, or you can learn from an in-person teacher with personally customized coaching that includes a lot of listening plus occasional commenting.     { learning from discoveries plus explanations }    { also:  before and/or after in-person coaching, many useful melody-making strategies are in my Summary Page }

How?   for teaching (when you're a teacher):  During a student's process of learning how to improvise more fluently and musically, the main function of a teacher is to be a “guide on the side” – helping a learner make discoveries – rather than being a “sage on the stage” who knows everything, and must impress the learner with musical skills.  Although many teachers are highly skilled musicians, this isn't necessary.  A teacher does need some keyboard skills — just enough to show the possibilities a learner can explore (and some basic “ways to show” are easy for a teacher to learn) — but a skillful teacher doesn't need to be a skillful musician.  A teacher also needs some knowledge of basic music theory — just enough to help a student recognize the musical patterns, and help them convert their knowledge of music into their making of music — but not a lot.     { more:  Later, this page describes what a teacher needs to know-and-do so they can be an effective coach with their guiding of explorations and teaching of theory. }



my bio:  I'm Craig Rusbult, an enthusiastic educator with a PhD (in Curriculum & Instruction, from U of Wisconsin) who is excited about possibilities for improving our thinking-learning-teaching and living, has written web-pages in a variety of areas during life on a road less traveled.  I've had a long personal history of enjoying music, having fun with it.     { Why do I think all of us are teachers who should be enthusiastic about education? }


the links:  This page has many links, and you can know “where you're going” with color-cues.  There are links without color-shading (that keep you inside this page) and links with blue shading (these go to part of my original page about music, which I'll call my Other Page) or with purple shading (to other pages I've written) and gray shading (to pages or videos made by other teachers).   /   a links-tip:  If you want to wander away by exploring with link-clicking, yet easily return to “where you are now,” a useful strategy is to right-click on a link and choose “open in a new tab” and then – when after wandering you want to return – simply close the new tab and continue reading “where you were before” in the old tab.  Or just use the browser's Back-Button until you return to where you want to be.     [[ iou – Soon, in late June, yellow shading will show “extra” music-pages that are closely related to this page.


using this page:  It's large, so you should read summaries and make choices.


read summaries:  The Introductionabove in the purple-bordered box – is a semi-summary, giving a “sales pitch” to explain the what-why-how of using a colorized keyboard for improvising, for learning & teaching.  Three actual summaries give you a quick “big picture overview” of many fascinating ideas – plus links to “where you can learn more” – so you can learn a lot with a little reading:   • my favorite is a Summary Page,  but I also like two Detailed Tables of Contents (they differ in content & style, but are similar in many ways) in this page and my other page.


make choices:

Why?  This page is very large, is like a website inside a web-page.  When you use a web-site, you choose the pages you will visit.  You should use this web-page in the same way (because it's "a web-site") by choosing the page-parts you want to visit – you can read the parts in any order – and sometimes by choosing the sections within each part.

How?  You can know the options-for-topics by using either Table of Contentsfor Parts or (to get summaries that will help you know-and-decide) for Topicsand deciding whether to click a link so you can learn more.

How?  If you do jump around the page to visit its many parts, to avoid “feeling lost” you can know you're in another page if the link has colored shading, and inside this page you can know “where you are” by the box-borders and background-colors, as explained in the...

Table of Contents for Parts
You can read these Parts in any order: 
   Introduction (what-why-how, above in a box with purple border),
   miscellaneous:  it's herebio, links, using page, Table of Contents,
   Part 1A (in a box with a bright blue border):
        Using Harmony to Make Melodies (with just a little Music Theory),
   Part 2 (with yellow background for text):
        Strategies for Improvising and Different Ways to Enjoy Music,
   Part 3 (with green background for text):
        My Learning Benefits (with Limits)Teaching Young & Old,
   Part 1B (in a box with a darker blue border):
        Using Harmony to Make Melodies (with more Music Theory) – or to
   extra topics that include Do-it-Yourself Keyboard Colorizing & Scientific Research about Effects of Music & Improvising Conversation;  and (with purple background) how you Educate Yourself & Others and the many ways "I've had fun with music" during My Personal History with Music.
Table of Contents for Topics
You can read these Topics in any order: 
Earlier in the page, an Introduction explains...
   What & How:  goals for helping people improvise music.
   Why & Why:  music is enjoyable, provides many benefits.
   What:  we enjoy hearing music, and making our own music.
   How:  musical experiments ➞ experiences, listen-and-learn.
   Why:  benefits of playing melodies with a colorized keyboard.
   What:  keyboard colors show the three main chords of music.
   Why:  benefits for music, psychology, education, time-and-life.
   Why:  colors produce benefits in many ways, but not all ways.
   How:  for teaching & learning (when you're a teacher or learner)
   Information about the author and the links and using this page.
Later in the page, after Part 1A,

 In Part 2, 

 Strategies for Improvising do musical experiments (try new ideas) that produce new musical experiences, so you can listen & learn — use a growth mindset (expecting to improve, thinking "not yet" instead of "not ever") – use an adventurous attitude (wanting to learn from new experiences) — while experimenting, play in different ways (fast and slow, while thinking & not thinking, aiming for quality in learning and/or performing).

 Different Ways to Enjoy Music — by hearing it and playing it with various instruments (voice, keyboard, others).

 Many Ways to Improvise Music — play “by ear” with pre-composed melodies (as-is or with modifying) plus self-composed melodies that harmonize with chord progressions (this is easier while playing a colorized keyboard) – combine old & new (pre-composed & self-composed) — use the connections between improvising (it's real-time composing) and composing (slow-motion improvising with a preserving of musical results).


 Part 3 is thinking about music education, beginning with my goals for helping people improve their music-making skills.  How?  By learning from students and from teachers.  We should find effective ways to combine different methods for teaching a variety of musical skills – [[ iou – soon, maybe March 16, I'll return to working on Part 3 in this ToC. ]]  You can learn by doing while “just playing” or with in-person coaching or stop-and-go reading.



Parts 1A and 1B:  This is where the Topical Table of Contents will be most useful, by showing you (for each topic) the levels of detail — as in a series with “Part 1, Part 2, etc” in different parts of the page — so you can read all of the related parts in order, to develop a thorough understanding of the whole topic.   /   a tip:  For a topic with multiple parts, right-click on a link for “the first part” and “Open in New Tab”, then do “Open in New Tab” for the “second part” and “third part” and so on.  Then read the parts in order, moving from one tab to the next, beginning with a “big picture” introduction, followed by other parts that help fill the picture with details.


learning Music Theory – for understanding & playing

What?  In music theory, the patterns of music become easier to understand-and-use because they're logically organized.  Playing a colorized keyboard can help you develop an improved cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory that is cognitive (to understand music) and is functional (to play music) so you'll have a practical “working knowledge” of using theory to make music.

How?  You can learn the patterns of music theory with your discoveries (in parts 1 & 2 & 3 ) and my explanations in this page (sometimes with stop-and-go reading) and maybe with personally-customized coaching from a teacher.   /   Of course, the teacher also is learning from experience (by using Reality Checks and Quality Checks) how to more effectively design & guide the process-of-learning by their students.


Musical Harmony in Chords-and-Melodies

enjoy two harmonies:  The foundation of music theory is the fact that people enjoy Harmony – due to interactions between musical physics and human physiology – when Chord-Notes (like the often-used red & blue & green) are played simultaneously (in a Harmonious Chord) and/or sequentially (in a Harmonious Melody)Both harmonies are being played when we...

use chord progressions:  Most musicians think playing with Chord Progressions — using the three main chords (the red & blue & green) plus others — is the best way (WHY) to play music that is interesting (due to the chord changes) and is enjoyable (with the two harmonies we enjoy), that combine simultaneous harmony (in chords) and sequential harmony (in melodies).  Although you can invent your own chord progressions (as in Part 1A - Stages 2a & 2b), musicians typically use pre-arranged Chord Progressions;  five common chord progressions are 12-Bar Blues and I-IV-V-I (that in my informal “colorizing language” is red-blue-green-red, is C-F-G-C) and 50s Progression (I-vi-IV-V) and a popular cousin (I-V-vi-IV) and the common jazz progression (ii-V-I-I).

improvise melodies:  Usually an enjoyable Harmonious Melody has mainly chord notes (so it's mainly harmonious) but also some non-chord notes (to make it more interesting).  While you're learning by doing — as in Stages 1 (playing only-red & mainly-red) and 2a (mixing times of mainly-red & mainly-blue & mainly-green) of Part 1A — some useful principles are to...  use home notes (as described in parts 1 & 2 & 3 );   use passing notes (non-chord notes) to mix brief chord-melodies and brief scale-melodies ..... [[ to be continued ]]


the patterns of music:  [[ iou – in early May, I'll summarize and link-to sections about the musical patterns (and thus the music theory) of C Major and A Minor, plus combining Major-and-Minor. ]]

[[ and there will be more -- I'm still working to revise parts of Part 1B, to make it better. ]]




Part 1A:


Using Harmony to Make Melodies:


What?  It's easy to do creative improvising – to make music with beautiful harmonious melodies – when your melody-making is guided by harmony.

Why?  Because it's the same method that's used by skillful musicians when they are making the music you love to hear.  It also will help you make music that you (and others) love to hear.

How?  Whether you have lots of musical experience or only a little, you can play a colorized keyboard and let your playing be guided by the colors – the red, blue, green.     { or in a simpler way to experiment, play only the black notes }



In-Person Coaching  plus  Stop-and-Go Reading

Usually the best way to learn is by doing musical experiments that produce musical experiences so you can do-and-listen, to learn.  In addition to “just playing” and learning, you can learn from others:

Ideally, you would be playing a colorized keyboard with me sitting beside you.  Imagine that with in-person customized coaching, I begin by asking you to “look at the colors and try to discover the patterns” – this is Stage 0 in a progression of learning – and we discuss what you're finding, to confirm what you're discovering and guide your exploring.  I ask you to “play only red,” then only blue & only green (in Stage 1) and (Stage 2a) I play a red-blue-green-red melody, to show how a “progression of colors” is a useful framework – it's a chord progression, is the most popular music-making method among musicians – and then you play “red & blue & green & red” as I say the color for each time period.  In this way, with guided experimenting, you are doing-and-learning.  At each stage of your playing, I observe, and when you request it (or I think it will be useful) I provide feedback or offer suggestions.  This might include playing melody – maybe slowly while explaining what I'm doing and why – to serve as a model for some of the many possibilities you can explore.  Later I explain the process of “playing along with a chord progression” that you're hearing on a youtube video, and for awhile (until you can hear the chord-changes by yourself) I say “red” or “blue” or “green” so you'll know the chord-notes you want to play — so your melodies will “fit well” with the chords, to make harmonious music — during the time when each chord (red, blue, or green) is playing.

This kind of personally customized guiding isn't possible with a web-page, so instead I'll suggest stop-and-go reading, by alternating between reading and playing.  Read for awhile to get new ideas, then play for awhile, read again, play again,... so you can learn by reading-and-playing.


also:  You can learn a lot (as I have) from pages & videos made by other teachers.  And if you play “jam sessions” with other musicians, they may provide some tips. 




How?  When you play a colorized keyboard, let your playing be guided by the colors, by the RED & BLUE & GREEN.   How?  Below you'll see four ways to explore, in three stages of learning-by-doing, with Stages 0, 1, 2:

0 – search for patterns in the red, and blue and green.

1 – play mainly red notes to make Harmonious Melodies,

2 – mix red & blue & green to make Harmonious Melodies,

2to create music using Harmonious Chord Progressions.


And in an optional stage (not necessary for making melodies),

3 – play red or blue or green to produce Harmonious Chords.


keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 ChordsStage 0 – search for patterns:  In this diagram with all colors — or in the diagrams with one-color isolations near the end of #1 — when you examine the red notes you can discover the repeating pattern.  Then continue reading.    /    Here is the pattern:  There are two rows of red notes (low & high), and the repeating pattern (Low-high-high, Low-high-high,...) is important because it's the way we use red notes to produce red chords, and chords are the foundation for most music playing (popular, classical, jazz) and thus for music theory.     The logic of musical patterns makes music theory easier to understand-and-use when you develop a deeper cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music. }

find three patterns:  Now study the other colors.  Do you see patterns in the blue notes (and green notes) that are similar to the Low-high-high of the red-note patterns?  are all of these patterns (for red, blue, green) identical in all ways?    {comparing the three patterns}

home-notes of chords:  Each "Low" is “the home-note” (the 1-note) of a red chord, or a blue chord or green chord.


Below during Stages 1 and 2a-2b, if you're playing a colorized keyboard you can do stop-and-go reading;  read for a while and then play for awhile, read and then play,...;  in this way you'll be learning from your reading and your playing, by using my descriptions (of possible explorations) to guide your experimenting-while-listening.

If you're a teacher, you can use my descriptions (in Stages 0,1,2,3) — plus your ideas, and your modifications of my ideas — when you're designing your own guiding of students' experiments, to stimulate their curiosity-motivated explorations of music.


One interesting way to do musical experiments, so you can listen and learn, is to...

Stage 1 make harmonious Melodies by playing mainly red notes:

But doing this will be easier if you begin with the simplicity of only red notes, before moving on to mainly red notes, so first...

play only red notes, to make totally-harmonious melodies.  When you use harmony by playing only red notes, everything you do — whether you move upward (rightward) or downward (leftward), play only consecutive red notes or skip some — will be a harmonious melody that sounds harmoniously pleasant.  Why?  Because the red notes are the chord notes of ared chord so playing only red notes is playing only the notes of a harmonious chord with chord-notes that “sound good together” because (why?) they produce harmony.  Try different ways to play only-red, by changing directions (go up for awhile, then back down, and up,...) and skipping some red notes.   /   do more:  Although you can be musically creative while playing only red notes, your musical adventures will be limited.  You'll have more fun when you expand your exploring into a wider range, when you...

play mainly red notes but also some non-red notes for variety, to make mainly-harmonious melodies.  Moving from only-red to mainly-red lets you make music that still is pleasant, but now is more interesting.  Your music will remain harmoniously pleasant because it's mainly red notes (and they're harmonious chord notes) but now it will be more interesting (with spicy variety added by the non-chord notes, the non-red notes).  Begin by adding “white” non-red notes – perhaps with mini-scale melodies – and after awhile use “black” non-red notes in the mix.  When you do this you'll be exploring a wider variety of possibilities.  Your adventures will become more risky – although you're not risking anything truly important – because there is no guarantee that what you do will always "sound harmoniously pleasant," and occasionally it won't.  But the rewards are worth the risk, because using non-red notes will make your music more interesting.  It's your key to creativity, is a way to explore the wide variety of musical possibilities.   /   A way to play mainly-red that is commonly used, because it's musically useful, is to...


use home-notes:  All red notes in the lower row (with white dots) are special “home notes” that you can emphasize while playing melodies, perhaps by starting on any of the lower-reds that are home-notes, and playing these a little more often (but not too much more) while doing whatever you want — moving leftward & rightward, playing red notes (consecutively or with skipping) plus non-red notes (mainly white but maybe some black) — and often ending on a home-note.

the other two colors:  You also can use the lower-row blue notes {or green notes} as home-notes while you're playing melodies that are mainly-blue {or mainly-green}.


After you've been playing mainly red notes for awhile,

play only blue notes and then mainly blue notes, and

play only green notes and then mainly green notes.

A realistic keyboard-diagram shows all colors (red-AND-blue-AND-green), but
these diagrams – with isolated colors (red OR blue OR green) – may help you see how to...
first play mainly

  scales using black &
then mainly

  scales using black &
and mainly

  scales using black &

For each color, do musical experiments that produce new musical experiences.  Play with a variety of harmonies (in chord progressions) & melodies & rhythms.  Have fun exploring the possibilities, listen and learn.  While doing this, you can...

use all strategies for all colors:  The strategies for mainly-red — using notes in the lower row as home-notes and (as described later, but by thinking about the terms you might be able to figure out their meanings) using passing notes to mix brief chord-melodies with brief scale-melodies — also work well for playing mainly-blue and mainly-green.


options:  You can learn useful Strategies for Making Melodies or move on to Stage 2.



Stage 2, when you begin

making Harmonious Music

by using Chord Progressions !

Why?  Because most musicians think “playing with chord progressions” is the best way to make melodies, so chord progressions are used in almost all of the music you hear and enjoy.

How?  For awhile, exploring in Stage 1 (playing mainly-red) is interesting, but soon you'll want to move on to other "interesting ways to do musical experiments [with Melodies & Chords] so you can listen and learn" — to produce musical adventures that are better, are more interesting and enjoyable — when with Stage 2 you're making melodies by using Chord Progressions.  These methods of making music are closely related because during both (whether playing single notes or multiple notes) you are playing the notes of a harmonious-sounding chord, when you...


Stage 2 make harmonious Melodies during Chord Progressions by alternating times of RED & BLUE & GREEN You probably have been doing this kind of experimenting already, because it's fun.  In fact, it's the most common melody-making method, is the favorite of most musicians.  You'll be improvising melodies that are guided by chord progressions, when you alternate time-periods of only red and only blue and only green.  Then begin mixing mainly red with mainly blue and mainly green.  When you do this, you will be improvising in two ways:  you are improvising a progression of chords (by changing the chord-color whenever you want, to whatever new chord-color you want), AND you are improvising melodies that harmonize with each chord in your chord progression.  Or you can use a pre-planned progression;  one simple musically-useful option (among many) is red-blue-green-red, red-blue-green-red, with repeating.   /   As you gain experience in choosing the chords (red, blue, green) that you sequence to make chord progressions, and choosing the chord-notes (red, blue, green, white, black) that you sequence to make melodies, you'll be learning from your experiences.  You will become more skillful in improvising music that is interesting and enjoyable, by making harmonious melodies, making chord-based melodies that are guided by chord progressions.    { more: using popular chord progressions like 12-Bar Blues with creative uses of non-chord passing notes. }


[[ iou – In late April, I'll revise the following sections (Stages 3a & 3b) to make the numbering (3a, 3b, Part 1, Part 2) consistent, and to explain what I think will (and won't) be useful if you want to do one-hand playing of melodies and/or traditional two-hand playing of chords & melodies. ]]

options:  If your goals for keyboarding include traditional two-hand playing of chords & melodies (with left hand & right hand, typically), you should do 3a with your left hand.  But if your main goal is one-hand playing of melodies, you can skip 3a, or do it with the melody-playing hand you've been using for 2a;  doing this will improve the skills of your main playing hand.   {and it will help you play multi-note melodies if you ever want to do this.}    { how I use a keyboard }


options:  You can stop (at least temporarily) at Stage 2 – it's all you need for playing harmonious melodies – or continue on to...

Stage 3a making harmonious Chords that are RED or BLUE or GREEN: 

Stages 2 & 3 are closely related, because during both ways of making music (whether playing single notes or multiple notes) you are playing the notes of a harmonious-sounding chord.  In Stage 3 you'll play multiple red notes (2, 3, 4,...) at the same time to form a red chord.  You can do this in many ways.  How?  Just explore by experimenting, to discover the many different ways to play “same-color chords” that are all-red, or all-blue, or all-green.   /   If you're doing stop-and-go reading, after you've played for awhile you can use this simple tip for exploring:  probably you already have discovered that you can...  play red chords with “a different kind of red note” as the lowest note, to make different chord inversions;  each inversion is a different kind of red chord, and each has a different sound.  Also try other ways to experiment with red chords, blue chords, green chords.  And sometime, now or later, use my tips for exploring chords and maybe you'll find other ways to experiment.

Stage 3bmaking harmonious Chord Progressions by alternating times of RED & BLUE & GREEN:  Then alternate between time-periods of playing red chords (using only red notes) and times of blue chords, and green chords.  As with “alternating colors” in melodies, you can change colors whenever you want, to whatever new color you want.  When you do this, you are playing different chord-sequences that are different chord progressions.  You'll be hearing the sounds of different chords, and the interesting music that is produced when you make a chord progression by changing the chords, when you're alternating between times of red, blue, and green.  Enjoy the new experiences that arise from your experimenting, listen and learn.  The next paragraph shows a process of “exploring possibilities” for the progression of red-blue-green-red that can be useful in music, especially in classical but also in popular.

Stages 3a + 3b:  You have been doing experiments that help you discover many kinds of chord-inversions (in 3a) and chord-sequences (in 3b).  And you probably have been combining both types of discoveries.  You can continue your experimenting by thoroughly exploring the musical possibilities in one simple chord-sequence, with red then blue.  Play this red-blue sequence with many combinations of different red-chord inversions and blue-chord inversions.  While you're doing this you will hear many different “sounds” and you'll think some sound better than others.  Experienced musicians also think some combinations sound better than others.  But they have discovered (as you have, and will) that during a change-of-chord each distinctive “sound” can be interesting-and-enjoyable (in different ways), and each can be musically useful in different situations.

In addition to this exploration — of the many ways to combine chord-inversions during a chord-sequence of red-blue (i.e. red, then blue) — you also can explore blue-green and green-red.*  Combining these three 2-chord sequences produces a 4-chord sequence (red-blue-green-red) that is an excellent way to practice making music in Stages 2 and 3.  After awhile you can play this chord progression with consistent timings – like playing 4 beats (or 8) with each color – perhaps by “playing along” with youtube videos.   /   * There are six possible 2-chord sequences:  these three – red-blue, blue-green, green-red – plus their reversals in blue-red, green-blue, red-green.  This 4-chord sequence has the first three 2-chord sequences, so it's useful for practicing the skill of inventing melodies that “fit well” with each kind of chord change, that make smooth transitions between the chords.  You can practice all of the six 2-chord sequences with the related 8-chord sequences described in the next section.


common chord progressions:

Although you can improvise your own chord progressions (as above in 2a or 2b, Part 2), musicians typically use pre-planned progressions like 12-Bar Blues and 50s Progression (plus a popular variation) and jazz progression plus others.

The "others" include a simple 4-chord sequence (red-blue-green-red) that uses only the three common major chords;  it's examined above.  It can be used as the second half of 8-chord progressions — like  (red-blue-red-green, red-blue-green-red)  and  (red-blue-green-blue, red-blue-green-red)  and  (red-green-blue-green, red-blue-green-red)  — that are examined later in the page.     { do-it-yourself music:  You can “play along” with these chord progressions, using videos on YouTube. }


two kinds of harmony

in chord progressions:

Both ways to play only red (or only blue, only green) – by making Melodies (in 1 & 2a) or Chords (in 2b) – will sound harmoniously pleasant.

Why?  It's because either way — when you play single notes in a series (to form a melody) and/or play multiple notes at the same time (to form a chord) — you are playing only red notes so you are "playing only the notes of a harmonious [red] chord" and people think the notes of a chord sound harmoniously pleasing (due to interactions between musical physics and human physiology) when the notes are played sequentially (in a harmonious melody with sequential harmony) or are played simultaneously (to form a harmonious chord with simultaneous harmony), or BOTH – as occurs in almost all music – with melodies during chords that are being changed in a chord progression.     { the science of WHY physics-and-physiology produces harmony }

musical complexity:  In a group, each musician can "play single notes in a series... and/or play multiple notes at the same time" so (due to the "and/or") both kinds of harmony occur in almost all of the music we hear.  One example of “melody-notes functioning as chord-notes” is when single-note melodies combine to produce chords in a Barbershop Quartet.



minor melodies:  You also can...

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 Chords• mix the RED & BLUE & GREEN in a new way that is analogous, is similar-yet-different.  So far your playing has been guided by “red & blue & green” with two sets of Lower Bars in the partially-colorized keyboard above.  When using a fully-colorized keyboard, your playing also (in a way that's analogous) can be guided by “red & blue & green” in the two sets of Higher Bars, to produce music that is mostly similar, yet is a little different because now the music you're playing is minor (with the Higher Bars) instead of major (with the Lower Bars).     { similarities and differences between major & minor }


* My three-color system for harmonious improvising – invented by me in the late 1970's – is Copyright ©1998 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved.     { I began using this system for a melodica, and in 1998 first web-published it.  Currently my colorizing uses low-tech labels, but a modern high-tech version can be done using a lighted keyboard either without colors or (better but probably more expensive) with colors. }


Or you can play only the black notes, and things will be simple because with only these notes you cannot “make a melodic mistake” and everything you do will sound good.  This promotes confidence, so you can just relax and explore the melodic & rhythmic possibilities.  When you do this you will discover that even though "everything... sounds good," some ways-to-play will sound better than others.     { more:  playing pentatonic scales – major & minor – with black notes and playing with black notes plus white notes }


As explained earlier in 2b (Part 1), "for awhile you can explore by experimenting, to discover the many different ways to play same-color chords."  I encourage you to do a wide variety of experimenting before you read my "systematic strategies" below, so you can self-discover "many different ways" by thoroughly exploring the possibilities for chording.  And then, if you want, use these...


systematic strategies for exploring chords:

One way to explore is based on the fact that while playing three consecutive red notes in a red-chord, you can use three different note-spacings, by making each kind of note the lowest note.  Each chord has different note-spacings.  One chord (it begins with the lower-row red bar) is red-white-red-white-red if you look at only white notes, and it has a spacing that I'll call 2-then-2;  when you “move your hand rightward” the next kind of red-chord is red-white-red-white-white-red with a spacing of 2-then-3;  and the third kind of chord is red-white-white-red-white-red with a spacing of 3-then-2.

In a different kind of experimenting, you can keep your hand in the symmetric “every other note” spacing of 2-then-2, and move your hand rightward by one note, so the notes you're playing are (green-white-blue-white-blue) and you'll hear a different-sounding kind of chord, because it's minor instead of major.  You can do many other experiments of this type, playing successive chords by moving your hand rightward (or leftward) differing amounts, and by using all three note-spacings (2-then-2, or 2-then-3, or 3-then-2) for playing “three consecutive red notes.”

And you can play chords with two notes, or four notes;  or with three red notes that are more widely spaced than “three consecutive red notes” because you've skipped some red notes.  Or do       and fill the blank by using your imagination.


Why do chord-notes sound harmonious?

Usually in music theory the main goal is to learn practical knowledge that will help you improve your playing of music.  But a more “scientific” aspect of music theory, combining physics with physiology, will help you understand why...

The notes of a chord sound harmoniously pleasant when they're played simultaneously (together in a chord) or played sequentially (separately in a melody);  and playing both (with chords plus melodies) occurs in the music we commonly hear, with chord progressions.   Why do chord notes produce a pleasant sound-and-feeling?  It's due to harmonious interactions between the physics of musical waves and the physiology & memory of human ears & minds.*  With creative uses of these pleasant interactions – by using them often, but not always – we can make music that is interesting for listeners, and enjoyable.     { Of course, even if you don't “know theory” – so you don't know some details of why your music sounds good – you can make beautiful harmonious melodies by playing chord-notes simultaneously and/or sequentially. }

* Why?  We can hear harmony because each musical tone is a “package deal” that includes the fundamental tone (this determines its pitch, how “high” we think the tone sounds) plus its multiples.  For example, if the fundamental tone is 200 vibrations per second (200 Hz) its overtones are 400 Hz, 600 Hz, 800 Hz, 1000 Hz, 1200,...   We think a major chord (made from its 1-3-5 notes) sounds “pleasantly harmonious” because the overtones of these three notes “match up” with each other (as you can self-discover in Music and Math) to form the harmony that's heard by our ears-and-minds.


This condensed summary is from a Detailed Table of Contents:

Musical Harmony:  We think music sounds “harmonious” when certain notes – like those of a major chord or minor chord – are played simultaneously in a chord (this happens due to the interactions of musical physics with human physiology) or (due to this physics-and-physiology plus memory) are played sequentially in a melody.  Much of this page is designed to help you use music theory to guide your music playing, to help you play harmonious melodies.   /   Why do we hear harmony?   A perception (in our human physiology) of perfectly-consonant harmony occurs when some overtones of two musical tones (in their musical physics) are perfectly-matched.


Here are some thoughts for teachers:

If you want to help others learn, you can use what you already know and what you're learning – in Part 1A & elsewhere in this page, and outside it – to get ideas for your teaching-of-others, when you guide their process of discovery by their own doing-thinking-learning, and with your explanations.  While you're using 1A (by reading & playing) you can be thinking about how to effectively combine my ideas (preserved in writing) with your ideas (stimulated by reading & playing & teaching) in ways that will help you become a better teacher.


You will learn more from Part 1A if you have a colorized keyboard so you can “play with the colors.”  But even if not, 1A (plus 1B) still can help you understand music and make music when you “translate” the notes of a colorized keyboard into the notes of a non-colorized keyboard or another instrument.


the life-benefit of using time wisely:  A colorized keyboard makes it easier to quickly develop skill in two musically-related keys, especially C Major but also A Minor.  You have a limited amount of time you're able (and willing) to invest in playing music, and this narrow specializing (by focusing on two keys, or maybe three by adding C Minor) lets you do wide diversifying — because you can use your time to creatively do a wide range of diverse experimenting in these two keys, to explore them more widely & deeply — and you can develop your musical skills much more quickly because it's easier to play skillfully in two keys, instead of many keys.   But even though you're “playing in 1 key (C Major or A Minor)” you can “hear in 12 keys (major or minor)” by telling your electronic keyboard to transpose so it automatically raises (or lowers) every note by the same amount.  Of course, using your time well is important because (as Ben Franklin wisely advised) "do not squander time, for it's the stuff life is made of."    {more about using time effectively}   {time-efficiency increases when specializing in two keys and also when the keyboarding goal is playing melodies rather than two-hand playing.}


making things better:  Education for Problem Solving — it's my main educational website, is an extension of my PhD work about Scientific Method — broadly defines a problem as an opportunity to make things better in any area of life, so problem solving occurs whenever you are trying to make something better;  and education is learning from life-experiences.  In the context of musical improvisation, problem solving occurs when you "make things better" by making music that is better, is more interesting-and-enjoyable.

your options:  You can read this page in any order, by going to...  Using Harmony to Improvise Melodies (in Part 1A above, or in Part 1B);  or continue reading below in Part 2 (with Strategies for Improvising and Different Ways to Enjoy Music) or in Part 3 (Learning-plus-Teaching and Combining Different Methods of Teaching and Comparisons of teaching the Young & Old).


Part 2:


Strategies for Improvising

experiments produce experiences and learning:   The main way to improve your improvising is to learn by doing, when you do musical experiments (you try new musical ideas) to produce new musical experiences so you can listen-and-learn.     { In this section, imagine from two perspectives with "you" as yourself or a student. }


How?  To produce experiences that are more effective for learning, you may find it useful to...

play in different ways:   My Other Page has five tips for learning more by playing in different ways, while expecting to improve,  seeking new adventures,  playing sometimes slow but sometimes faster,  by thinking or not-thinking,  with objectives for learning and/or performing.

develop-and-use a better growth mindset:   In all areas of life (including when you "try new musical ideas") you can learn more effectively when you develop & consistently use a better growth mindset, so — when you ask yourself “how well am I doing in this area?” and honestly answer “not well enough” — you are thinking “not yet” (instead of “not ever”) because you are confident that in this area of life (as in most areas, and all of the most important areas) you can “grow” by improving your skills, when you invest intelligent effort.*  An effective growth mindset combines honest accuracy (in self-perception) and optimism (about being able to grow & improve).

develop-and-use an adventurous attitude:   When a person is beginning to improvise music, it's an unfamiliar activity, maybe uncomfortable, and you may not feel confident.  You need a growth mindset – plus wanting to learn from new experiences, no matter what happens – so you will have an adventurous attitude, will continue seeking new experiences.   /   One way to feel more comfortable, and feel more creatively free, open to exploring new ways of making music, is to improvise in low-risk situations, like when you're alone and nobody (not you or anyone else) cares about the quality or klunkers.  A feeling that “no matter what happens, I'll be ok” will help you relax.  You'll feel more free to do the creatively-risky experimenting that produces new experiences and new learning.   {experiences: getting more & learning more - learning from all experience (both failures and success) - performing and/or learning}    /    Another way to feel more comfortable is to use a colorized keyboard so you'll have easy-and-intuitive recognition of the chord-notes you can use to form harmonious melodies.  You'll enjoy hearing the melodies you're making, and this positive feedback (with immediate gratification) will motivate you, will help you feel more confident in your ability to make music that is interesting and enjoyable.

play slow and play faster:  It's very useful to sometimes play slow and sometimes play faster, because each produces a distinctive kind of experience, and each is useful in different ways.  When you play slowly, you have more time to think & play & listen;  this makes it easier to freely experiment, to creatively “try things” by combining note-sequences in a variety of ways, helping you discover how to improvise different kinds of new melodies and new rhythms, to make music that's interesting-and-enjoyable.  When you play faster – but not necessarily “fast” – with other musicians (recorded or in person) so you'll have rhythmic accountability, this helps you develop the disciplined skills of playing rhythmic melodies with accuracy and continuity, as explained in playing slow and faster.

play while thinking or not-thinking:   [[ iou – I'll develop this in June, re: your use of thinking strategies to regulate metacognition, to control whether to use it and (if yes) how to use it, plus connections with slow paying and faster playing. ]]


define objective(s) for performing and/or learning:

What?  When you want your best possible performance now, you have a Performance Objective.  When you want your best possible learning now, so you can improve your best possible performance later, you have a Learning Objective.   For example, compare a basketball team's early-season practice (with a Learning Objective, wanting to learn NOW so they can perform better LATER) and late-season tournament game (with a Performance Objective, wanting to play their best NOW).   /   The title is "and/or" because your highest priority can be to maximize your learning now, or your performing now, or some combination of both. 

How?  You can "perform better later" in two ways.  First, if you have learned from experience, your potential performing has improved, so you can do better.  Second, this potential must be actualized by converting “can do better” into “are doing better” with high-quality actual performing.  How?  In a basketball team's late-season practice their main Learning Objective is to promote better performing in the near-future tournament game, by doing the learning (in practice now) that will improve performing (in the game).  You can use a strategy of “learning to perform” in any area of life, including your musical improvisations.     { more and more }

What and How?  [[ iou – during June I'll describe dedicated practice (of various kinds, including physical practice when you physically play and mental rehearsal when you imagine playing) that is purposeful practice with goals for intentional learning.  I'll distinguish between two kinds of goals for "learning to perform" when the goal of performance is either to skillfully duplicate pre-composed music (it's the assumed goal in many youtube videos) or to skillfully improvise self-composed music (it's the main goal in this page, although improvising can include an old melody (pre-composed, which you should be able to play as-is by duplicating) that is paired with new melodies (self-composed variations of the old melody). ]]



Hearing Music and Making Music

What?   An easy way to enjoy is by listening to music when it's made by other people.  You also can enjoy making your own music.

What?   For most people, listening is the main way we enjoy.  But this hearing music can be supplemented by making music, and both ways can bring us joy.   /   Every person is unique, with their own personal preferences for experiencing music.  What kind of person am I?  IF I was forced to choose, instead of listening to only my own music I would prefer only the higher-quality music made by other people, in the creative combinations (of melody, harmony, and rhythm, plus arranging) they have cleverly invented.  But this IF isn't a reality that limits me.  I don't have to choose, so I enjoy hearing their music and making my music.  Both kinds of music are sources of joy for me, in different ways.  I'm sure you also enjoy the music of others, and maybe you already are enjoying (or will enjoy in the future) the music you make.     { if you're curious, in my youtube-channel you can hear some of my favorite music – and see videos of my juggling & our cute dog. }


How?  You can...

listen to the music of others “live” in person, or (more often) with a time-shifted recording.

make your own music by using your internal instrument (voice) or an external instrument (keyboard,...).  It's easy to make music by using your voice, with or without words,* because singing is an efficient connection between thinking and doing, with easy-and-intuitive translating of your musical ideas (imagined by you) into musical sounds (made by you).  You also can have an intuitive translating (of ideas into sounds) when you develop skill in playing a keyboard, or another instrument.

You can use the differences between instruments – each has a unique sound and music-making capabilities – by "creatively experimenting with different instruments, including your voice, and exploring the possibilities of each;  don't limit yourself to what is possible with other instruments, because each music-making instrument allows different types of musical improvisations, and inspires them."  I think it's especially useful to combine explorations using voice-without-words and a colorized keyboard, because each instrument inspires different kinds of melodies;  there will be two-way mutual transfers between them, with each helping the other improve.   /   Among expert musicians the most common music-making method is using popular chord progressions.  You can practice doing this – and learn from your experiences, to improve your skills – by playing along with videos.

* When I want to sing a familiar melody as-it-is (with no changes), singing it with the lyric-words is easy and works well.  But if I want to creatively modify the melody with intuitive translating of ideas-into-sounds, I find that when singing “tones without words” — e.g. by simply starting every note with “d” or (for smooth legato) with “h” or with only a vowel (no consonant) — it's easier (for several reasons) to intuitively release fresh new ideas, with creative music tending to happen more often.


Many Ways to Play Music

What?   There are close connections between improvising and composing.  When we think flexibly about the timing of music making, we can view improvising as real-time composing, and composing as slow-motion improvising;  also, with composing there is a preserving of the musical results — in memory(s) or with “sheet music” or in other ways (like the note-numbers I use for my melody-examples that illustrate melody-making strategies) — so the musical composition can be reproduced at later times.  Transitions from improvising-to-composing can be easier if you record your improvisations so you can listen-and-preserve afterward.  When a self-composed improvisation is preserved, it becomes a self-composed composition that (from the time-perspective of someone who reproduces it later) is a pre-composed composition.     { synonyms: This page is about improvising melodies, but verbs with similar meanings are composing, designing, inventing, creating, playing, and making melodies. }

How?   You can play a pre-composed melody by “reading it” from sheet music, or “playing it by ear.”  In both ways, your playing requires using memories of various kinds, combining them with complex interactions.  { Similar complexities occur in cognitive-and-functional knowledge that develops when interactive experiences produce interactive memories.}   In both ways, your melody-playing skills will increase with practice, and with "an intuitive translating (of ideas into sounds)" when using an instrument.

How?   If you want to make music, you can do this with pre-composed music or self-composed music, when you...

   • play a melody:   While you're listening to a song, you can play along with it – using your own vocal instrument or an external instrument – by just playing the melody as-is (in its pre-composed form) with no changes.  You can play along with others (live or recorded) or just remember a melody and play it by yourself.  Or instead of these two ways to “play by ear” (with others or by yourself) you can “read sheet music” to play a pre-composed melody, by yourself or with others.    {playing by ear and improvising}

   • improvise melody-variations:   In a common way to improvise, you begin with a pre-composed melody;  then you modify this melody by changing some of its notes, or adding notes or removing some, or emphasizing notes differently (than in the original), by making the note-spacings closer together or further apart, or harmonizing with the original melody, or changing its rhythm, or... any other way you want to modify the old melody and invent a new melody that you form by combining the pre-composed melody with your own self-composed variations.   /   terms:  Usually a single song contains multiple melodies (two or more) so you can do multiple improvisations, by modifying melodies to produce variations of melodies that are melodies-variations.

   • improvise harmonious melodies:   Play along with a chord progression, and during each chord you improvise by playing notes (both in-the-chord and out-of-chord) that “fit well” with that chord.  This is the main method for playing a colorized keyboard, by using its red-blue-green to guide your inventing of harmonious melodies.   /   You can play a chord progression and “hear the chord changes” in two ways, either while you're playing melodies or while you're hearing chords by playing along with a recording (a youtube video or another kind) or when playing with other musicians in a jam session, or — if you have invested the time required to learn two-hand keyboard — by playing both chords (with left hand) and melodies (with right hand).


   • combine old and new:  You can improvise melodies that combine old melodies (pre-composed in a song, as-is unmodified) with the self-composing music you are improvising by playing variations of these melodies and/or harmonious new melodies that feature chord notes but also include non-chord notes, in chord-melodies plus scale-melodies.  This combination is a common way to improvise, when musicians begin with old melodies (within a song they like) and invent new variations of these old melodies (i.e. new versions of the old melodies) along with harmonious melodies that “fit well” with the song's chord progression.


enjoy pre-composed and self-composed:   You can enjoy pre-composed music by just listening, or also playing along with it, by ear or with sheet music.  And you can enjoy making your own self-composed music with improvising, by modifying an old (pre-composed) melody and/or by improvising a new (self-composed) harmonious melody.   {4 ways to improvise}



Part 3 – Music Education


Below, three “green boxes” describe...

• Evaluating the pros & cons of teaching with a colorized keyboard – by first acknowledging my need to learn more from students (by using Reality Checks) and from teachersand then making current claims (tentatively, planning to adjust when I learn more) about four benefits of combining my method with other methods.

• Learning (from my two pages - with and without a keyboard - from your discoveries and my explanations) and Teaching.

Music Education for the Young and Old – with Many Similarities, plus Big Differences.



I will use Reality Checks to improve my

understanding of learning & teaching by...

learning about how students learn:  I'm confident that a colorized keyboard can help people "immediately play music that sounds pleasantly harmonious, is interesting and enjoyable... so they will be motivated to continue doing it," and this will provide many benefits for them.  But I don't yet have enough experience to provide logical evidence-based justification for these claims.  Therefore, now (in mid-November) I want to learn more about the learning process (by students) and guiding-of-process (by teachers) when using a colorized keyboard.  I want to do experiments that produce experiences of two kinds – for those who are playing, and for me – so I can learn more, can understand more thoroughly and accurately.  I want to observe the actions of people (young & old, in-between) while they're playing, and communicate with them.  I will use these experiments to do Reality Checks by comparing my Predictions (about “how people will respond”) with Observations (of “how they actually do respond”);  these Reality Checks will give me feedback about how closely my thinking (about “how the world works”) matches the reality (of “how the world really works”).  Then I can use this feedback to modify my thinking so it more closely matches reality.

learning about how to teach:  During these experiments my Reality Checks will be combined with Quality Checks so I can evaluate-and-modify different strategies for personally customized coaching that guides the process of “experiments ➞ experiences, listen and learn” for discovery learning by people who are playing with a colorized keyboard.     { Of course, all teachers use Reality Checks & Quality Checks to improve their strategies for guiding the process-of-learning by their students. }


teaching music with a colorized keyboard

has pros & cons, questions and challenges,

so I need to improve my understanding by...

learning from teachers:  This section will be very incomplete until I get more feedback from teachers, so I can learn from their expert knowledge about possible pros & cons, for teachers and students.  I need to learn from teachers, re: what they think about teaching with keyboards — my colorized and regular non-colorized, individually and in groups — and how to creatively combine different teaching methods to construct an overall system of teaching music plus other ideas-and-skills.  Music teachers know a lot about teaching music;  I want to learn from them so I'll know more, and so I can share what I'm learning — about all aspects of teaching, but especially by using keyboards — with other teachers.   /   And I need to learn from students by "observing the actions of people... while they're playing, ... [in order to] modify my thinking so it more closely matches reality," and "to evaluate-and-modify different strategies for guiding the process of discovery learning by people who are playing with a colorized keyboard."

appropriate humility (not too little, not too much):  Although I've had a lifetime of experiences with music and have learned a lot, it isn't much (in many important ways) compared with teachers who have more experience and more knowledge.  But despite justifiable reasons for humility (compared with most teachers) I'm confident about having some useful ideas to share with teachers.   /   I don't claim that the educational utility of using a colorized keyboard is now supported by strong observational evidence, because currently we don't have enough experience to rationally evaluate its value.  But I do claim that we have logical reasons for expecting it to help learners improve their cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory, so its educational possibilities are worth considering and exploring;  we should begin using the method so we can learn more about it.


combining different Methods of Instruction:

This page begins by describing what I hope will happen, and how.

      What?  By working cooperatively with others, I want to help more people — of all ages, but especially K-12 students & seniors, the young & old — increase their enjoying of music by making their own music.
  How?  I'm looking forward to working with partners who want to help us achieve shared goals that we think are worth pursuing.  I'll be emphasizing the benefits of using my colorized keyboard to make music, but other methods also offer benefits.  Therefore, my method of teaching (and improvising) should be creatively combined with other methods to form a synergistic blend that's better than any single method by itself.

pros and cons:

Teaching with a colorized keyboard offers important benefits (but with limitations) and other methods also offer benefits.  Therefore, by combining methods we can design instruction that's more effective in achieving a wide variety of whole-person goals.  Below are some current claims — that will be modified while I'm continuing the exciting process of learning more from students and from teachers — about designing a system of instruction that combines my method (using a colorized keyboard) with other methods of teaching.  I think it will be educationally beneficial if we use colorized keyboards in addition to other methods that are being supplemented, not replaced.

Although I'm biased — yes, I enthusiastically like my ideas, 🙂 — in this section I'm trying to be objective in evaluating the pros & cons of my method, the benefits (claimed by me) & disadvantages (acknowledged by me).  I think the effects of most disadvantages can be minimized if my methods are revised with ongoing re-designing (as I/we continue to learn more) and are combined with other methods.  I think the overall benefits will greatly outweigh any disadvantages.  But I want to hear what you think, so I can get your perspective on the pros & cons, so I can learn from you.

I make claims about the benefits & limitations of playing a colorized keyboard, saying "basically I'm confident that four kinds of benefits (musical, psychological, educational, time-and-life) will happen for improvising melodies;  but although these benefits are important, they're limited."


I'll begin by acknowledging...

two practical challenges:  Teachers (and their school or facility) must consider...   1) the COSTS (in money & time) of buying keyboards and colorizing them, including   2) the limited TIME a teacher has, to prepare for instruction and then teach in the classroom.

and the need for...

tough decisions about keyboards:  A teacher may want to begin by experimenting with one colorized keyboard.  If they become confident that keyboards (as-is and colorized) will be useful tools for teaching, their institution (school or facility) may want to buy more, to build a keyboard lab for scaled-up group instruction.  This can be a big investment of money (and time) so it's a tough decision, although it's made easier by the relatively low cost of keyboards, compared with wind instruments (trumpet, saxophone,...) or string instruments (violin,...).  Buying a keyboard with quality that is satisfactory for teaching (for students to learn well and enjoy playing) is fairly cheap – can be less than $100, certainly below $200 – and they require minimal maintenance.   /   also: When a classroom has multiple keyboards, how many should be colorized and not-colorized?  Converting either to the other isn't quick-or-easy,* so decisions about “the mix” are necessary.  And how should they be colorized?     { A page about the two-step process of colorizing a keyboard – by getting it and colorizing it – includes an explanation of why...  de-colorizing is quicker-and-easier when using electrical tape although paper labels do have many advantages;  and labels-decolorizing is easier with olive oil. }     { Maybe a keyboard with lighted chord-notes will be designed later – AFAIK, none do this now – so it would have many benefits of my colorizing, plus other benefits. }


I'll continue with claims about four benefits of using colorized keyboards — that are related to earlier descriptions of benefits for music, psychology, education, and time use — for helping students improve their playing of music and their knowledge of music:

    A.  Students will be able to play harmonious music in melodies (and chords) immediately, because the colors make it easy to quickly-and-intuitively recognize the chord notes and play them (along with some non-chord notes) in the harmonious melodies they are improvising.  Their melodies will be interesting & enjoyable, and this positive feedback will promote confidence that increases motivation so it's more likely that they will want to continue playing the colorized keyboard and making harmonious melodies.  The positive feedback will happen quickly – producing gratification that is quick (almost instant) – and this timing (by having immediate fun “now” instead of eventual fun “later”) will be psychologically valuable for improving confidence and motivation, making it more likely that students will want to continue playing a colorized keyboard, and then...

    B.  Their improvisational melody-making skills will improve quickly and they can use their time more efficiently (a major life-benefit) because they can focus on improvising well in two keys — those with colorized chord-notes, first learning C Major, and later also A Minor — instead of “diluting the effects of their practicing time” by spreading it over 12 (or 24) keys.  But even though they're “playing in 1 key (major or minor)” they can “hear in 12 keys (major or minor)” by using the automatic transposing of their electronic keyboard.

    C.  They will improve their cognitive knowledge of music theory (to understand it) and their functional knowledge of music theory (the functional skills of using theory to make music) by combining different kinds of interactive experiences (visual, mental-physical, aural) during their playing of music and thinking about music.  This cognitive-and-functional knowledge is educationally valuable because the “colorized chords” (red-blue-green, major & minor) are the main chords that are the harmonic-and-melodic foundation of most music we hear, both classical and popular.


I'm confident that these three beneficial results (A,B,C) will happen.  But there are justifiable uncertainties about a fourth claim,

    D.  Students will improve their keyboard skills in some ways by using a colorized keyboard, and in other ways with other methods.

so we should think carefully about this fourth claim.  Some factors to consider are examined in the rest of this long section.

your options:  Some parts of what's below (in the “gray box”) might be TMI for some readers.  You may think (as I do) that it's all fascinating, but if while reading you're thinking “this is too much,” feel free to skip that part, to be selective by reading only what you want.



Goals for Playing Keyboard

When we're thinking about the benefits of different ways to combine instruction methods (e.g. playing a colorized keyboard plus other methods) an important “human variable” is the fact that people vary so they can have many kinds of goals, including these:

    M) some will mainly want to play Melodies with a keyboard (similar to playing melodies with a trumpet or saxophone),

    CM) some will want to play Chords-and-Melodies, as in traditional two-hand playing of Chords (with left hand) plus Melodies (with right hand).

When decisions to “do M” or “do CM” are being made – and either choice can be wise – two important evaluation criteria are goals for playing music and using time.


For playing Melodies in two ways — when playing pre-composed music “by ear” and/or improvising self-composed music an electronic keyboard offers important advantages (compared with other instruments) due to its...

   visual structure that is clear-and-simple, with pitch increasing from left to right, with white keys for all scale-notes (no more, no less) in the key of C Major or A Minor, and showing (if it's colorized) the main chord-notes.  This visual structure is useful for playing melodies and also for learning theory, to develop a cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory that is cognitive (to understand music) and functional (to play music).

    transposing ability, which lets a player specialize in two keys (C Major, A Minor) so they can improve more efficiently and use their valuable time-and-life more effectively, because they can “play in C Major” but “be heard in any major key” by using the keyboard's automatic transposing.

    wide variety of tones, being able to sound like hundreds of instruments, not just one as with piano, trumpet, or saxophone.

    and it's easy to play well – just press a key and it plays the note with a clear tone that's in tune – compared with the challenges, when using other instruments, of producing a clear tone (e.g. for brass or woodwinds, this requires strengthening mouth muscles) and playing in tune (the difficulty is obvious with a trombone or a fretless string instrument like violin, but also occurs with a wind instrument or when singing).

But other instruments offer other advantages, so I'm not claiming that a keyboard is better in all ways, even though it's better in some ways.


assumed limitations:  For simplicity, I'm assuming single-note Melodies {for M} and {for CM} playing Chords & Melodies with left & right hands.  But these two limitations are not necessary, because {with M or CM} a Melody can sometimes include two (or more) simultaneous notes;  and {with CM} the left & right hands — each with five fingers, thus increasing the variety of possibilities — can sometimes play Chords & Melodies (traditional), and at other times play Chords & Chords, or Melodies & Melodies, or Melodies & Chords;  and either hand can mix Chords-and-Melodies.  Although I recognize the wide variety of musical possibilities – with different ways to use ten fingers – in the discussions below I'll assume single-note melodies (even though multi-note melodies are possible) and traditional uses of left & right hands (although many other uses are possible).


A person may wisely decide to...

choose M:  If they want to “do only M” (or at least “focus on M”) this can be a wise choice, if their main goals-for-music can be achieved more effectively with M, and if they decide that their overall goals-for-life can be achieved more effectively by doing only-M (or mainly-M) because it's an effective use of the time they're willing to invest in music.  Just because a keyboard can be used for CM, this doesn't mean it should be used in this way by all people.

choose CM:  The customary goal of keyboard players has been two-hand playing of Chords (left hand) plus Melodies (right hand);  that's why this is the “traditional” way to play, so it's the “expected” choice, and it can be a wise choice.

do some of both:  A person may want to “mostly focus on M but also do some CM,” or vice versa.


How do I use a keyboard?  I play by ear – mostly Melodies, but also Chords (although not both-at-once) – while looking at the keys.  And I'm satisfied with this, because I have M-goals (not CM-goals) and "mainly want to play Melodies."  My main goal for keyboarding is to become skillful with M (playing Melodies), but not to attempt a mastery of CM (Chords + Melodies, in traditional two-hand playing).     { my history of having fun with music }

But I do appreciate the amazing music that can be made by one person with the two-hand playing of MC.  And I have tremendous respect for the skills of traditional players, because I recognize the extreme difficulty of using 10 fingers for independent musical purposes,* usually (but not always) playing chords & playing a melody with the left hand & right hand;  doing this without looking at the keys or their fingers;  and if they “read sheet music” they're reading many symbols simultaneously (on two sets of lines) while doing the “10 fingers, two purposes” playing without looking.  Wow.  Contrast this complexity with the simplicity of a wind instrument (like my trombone) playing one note at a time, and reading one note at a time.  I think skillful two-hand playing is one of the most difficult skills in any area of life.  And this is why doing it well requires so much practicing time.    {and complexity increases even more with keyboardists who also sing, or even play harmonica}    /   * Although the purposes of left-and-right hand actions are musically related, they're physically-mentally unrelated & independent, mostly, usually.


considering benefits-and-costs:  The complexity of two-hand playing offers benefits, but it requires costs, and (as discussed below) both should be considered.  Two costs are the time required to develop two-hand skills (this is definite, certain) and (this is speculative, is uncertain but possible) its limitations for creatively skillful improvising.


Due to the extreme difficulty of two-hand playing with CM, here is an observation and a question.

• an uncontroversial observation:  I think musicians & educators generally agree (with logical justification) that if a person wants to achieve similar levels of skill when playing with M (only Melodies) or CM (Chords + Melodies), they will have to invest MUCH more time to become skillful with the two-hand playing of CM.  Players (and educators) should consider the time-and-life benefits produced by colorizing and also by M-goals.

• a controversial question:  I think there will be disagreements (with logical justifications) about a possibility that should be considered, when we recognize that humans have limited capacities for processing information and doing actions.  Maybe the extreme difficulties of CM (with two-handed playing) push a player's capacities to near the limits, so they have less “unused capacity” that can be used to do creative improvising of Melodies.  Therefore, can a musician improvise more creatively when they focus on playing Melodies (M) instead of two-hand playing (CM)?  Maybe.   /   While we're thinking about this important question, answering “yes” might be justifiable for two reasons:   • our "limited capacities for... doing actions" that may hinder creative improvising during CM, and   • the practicing time that is required for “automating into the subconscious” many two-hand tasks (as explained in a brief video) so their “automating of non-improvising tasks” lets a player be more effective – but probably less effective than with 1-hand playing? – in coping with the challenges of "limited capacities" during CM.     {more about this question}


When making decisions about music education, teachers & administrators must consider the variety of contexts-for-learning that occur due to the variety of learners and teaching situations.

many kinds of learners:  When we're making decisions about how to teach keyboard, we want to understand-and-consider the many factors that vary for each learner.  With a keyboard, goals vary so we ask “do they want to mainly play melodies {M} or also be a skilled two-hand player {CM}?”  What is their current skill-level {it ranges from none thru novice-intermediate-advanced} and the eventual skill-level they want to achieve with M (playing melodies) and/or CM (two-hand playing)?  What is their level of motivation {low, medium, high} for wanting to improvise (to play self-composed melodies in addition to pre-composed melodies) and their desired level of improvising skill {novice-intermediate-advanced}?  And moving beyond keyboards, learners have differing...  ages (from pre-K thru elementary-middle-secondary in K-12, plus adults who are young, middle aged, older);   knowledge of music theory (ranging from low to high);   musical instruments (none;  or keyboard, string, wind, voice, percussion) they now play or want to play;   plus other factors that vary.

many kinds of teaching situations:  Imagine a K-12 school that has many music classrooms (for each grade) with 25 students who are "many kinds of learners."  Imagine that different schools (and teachers) have different whole-person goals for the desired outcomes of their music education and overall education.*  All of this produces a wide variety of educational contexts in K-12 schools.  Plus additional contexts for higher education in colleges, informal education (that people do on their own), and education for older people (in community centers & living facilities).     {And different approaches can be used for pursuing goals;  e.g. a music program might want to use a keyboard lab (to teach M or CM or both), or have a multi-instrument band to play pre-composed music “by ear” and/or improvise self-composed music.}



Will using a colorized keyboard guarantee that all learners achieve all benefits that I claim?   No.  But I think it will help most learners achieve most benefits.  For most learners, playing a colorized keyboard will be helpful — especially for Benefits A-C, and for some aspects of D — and it will be more effective when it's combined with other methods of instruction.  When we're distinguishing between all learners and most learners by excluding some learners (if all = most + some) it's useful to distinguish between different kinds of learners, and between different kinds of teaching situations.


my humble disclaimers:  My claims-for-benefits are made with justifiable humility, due to the wide variety of learners and educational contexts.  And also because I realize that my current claims will be modified (due to what I'll be learning from students and from teachers) to become the future claims I'll make later, when I know more.  In the words of Maya Angelou, I'm trying to “do the best I can [with current claims] until I know better. Then when I know better [because I've learned], I'll do better” with future claims that are more justifiable and accurate.

current claims and future claims:  My tentative current claim is that using a colorized keyboard will be effective in achieving Benefits A-B-C, will help almost all people, whether young or old, with all musical goals and all levels of musical skill & knowledge.  But when this generalized claim is customized for specific kinds of learners, I think C (improving cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory) will be better for those who begin with lower levels of this knowledge;  and B (better time-efficiency by specializing in one or two keys) will be more relevant for learners who are motivated to invest some of their valuable time in playing a keyboard.

claims about keyboard skills:  My current claims about Benefit D are less precise (because I know less about it, and also think there will be more variability among learners), and are less generalized because teaching D requires more personalized customizing (compared with Benefits A-C) for different kinds of learners.  In terms of M-skills (playing melodies) and CM-skills (two-hand playing), I'm confident that a colorized keyboard will improve M for almost all learners, but I'm not sure about its effects on CM.  My uncertainty is because I'm not sure how CM-skills will be affected, especially for learners who already have a fairly high level of skill with traditional two-hand playing.   Overall, I think a colorized keyboard will be useful to improve keyboard skills in some ways (especially for M-goals), and adding other methods – with a combining of methods – is useful to also improve in other ways (for CM-goals).

claims about using time effectively:  [[ iou – During April, I'll condense-and-revise ideas that respond to a relevant question — Will “specializing with colorizing” be a disadvantage if you ever have to play on a non-colorized keyboard? — and are discussed here.  Also, I'll examine other questions about the pros & cons of "specializing in two keys" by playing with colors, like those you'll see here plus this problem:  There are rational reasons for musicians wanting to “play in all keys” but an unfortunate result is that most keyboards are always intentionally out-of-tune so their harmony sounds less harmonious.  This is not desirable;  it's a problem (an opportunity to make things better) and a possible solution – that does "make things better" – is a feature that keyboards should have so they can choose whether to play with equal-tempered tuning or just-intonation tuning. ]]


IF your main educational goals are to help students (who are many kinds of learners) play music and understand music, you can focus on Benefits A-C — helping them experience the satisfaction of success in making melodies, with time-efficient learning in two keys, improving their cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory — along with some of the keyboard skills in Benefit D, then the rest of this gray box becomes less important.   /   But there is more to consider IF you also want to help students (some or all) become proficient in traditional two-hand playing;  for this I think – AFAIK now (with my current limited knowledge) – playing a colorized keyboard will have minimal effects on traditional two-hand playing, at least for novices who later will be developing their “two-hand playing skills” with...

{ Originally this section continued below, with ideas (now in an appendix-page) about...  independence of hands - spatial knowledge of keyboard - using effective technique - playing in many keys.




Learning and Teaching

I've invested a lot of time in developing two pages about making music.  Each page has a different focus, being written for people whose main goal is to improve the skills of other people (as teachers) or themself (as learners).

• for teachers:  The page you're reading is intended mainly for people who want to help others improve their skills with improvising music, in the differing contexts of a K-12 school or senior facility.  It's for people who mainly want to teach. (and also to learn)

• for learners:  In a much bigger page – about Improvising Music (by using Creativity plus Music Theory) – the focus is helping a musician who wants to improve their own skills with improvising music.  It's for people who mainly want to learn.  It offers clear explanations for beginners and fresh perspectives for experts.  You can get a feeling for the Other Page – with a quick “big picture” overview – by browsing its Table of Contents.


Learning plus Teaching:  But despite the differing focus, there are many similarities & overlaps, due to the connections between learning and teaching.  One aspect of teaching a skill is to know it yourself;  this page will help you know music theory, and play music melodies;  then while you're teaching others, you will be learning.  Learning helps you teach, and teaching helps you learn.  This page helps you in both ways, and so does The Other Page, although it has less focus on teaching.  Each page will help you understand music more thoroughly, explore it more deeply, and play it more skillfully.  When both kinds of knowledge – music theory & music playing – are improved for you, both will help you do improved teaching.


Learning with (and without) a Colorized Keyboard

My Other Page is designed to help any musician – whether they play keyboard or another instrument – improve their learning and playing, so in that page I emphasize the value of using a colorized keyboard for learning, whether their main playing is done with a keyboard or another instrument.

If you never play a colorized keyboard, can it help you understand music and make music?   The Other Page answers Yes (for understanding) and Yes (for making) because "Whether you want to make music by using a colorized keyboard or a black-and-white keyboard, or another instrument (guitar, trumpet,...), the diagrams [of a colorized keyboard] can help you in two ways, when [as in Part 1B] you learn logical musical patterns [to understand music with music theory] and play beautiful harmonious melodies [to make music]."   How?  You can use colors either by seeing the red notes (and blue notes, green notes) on a keyboard you have colorized (how?), or finding these notes on an un-colorized keyboard, or translating the keyboard notes into the notes of another instrument (saxophone, guitar,...).

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 ChordsIn this page the color-diagrams also will help you learn-and-play, no matter what instrument(s) you play, whether you're seeing, finding, or translating.  But there is a difference in the pages.  Here I'm strongly recommending that you {and others, especially students} do play a colorized keyboard, because you'll get valuable benefits.  The experience of playing-with-colors will help you {or them} learn music theory (because it's easier to see the most important patterns of notes) and will make it easier to play more skillfully because the colors make it easy to intuitively-instantly know the chord notes in a harmonious red chord – they're all of the red notes (no more, no less) – or in a blue chord or green chord.  This intuitive simplicity will help you {or them} immediately make harmonious music.  If you're teaching people who are young or old, or in between, the satisfactions of immediate rewards make it more likely that they will be motivated to continue making music.  So if you're interested in teaching others, I recommend that you fully utilize the benefits of a colorized keyboard by playing it and letting others play it.    /   You can learn about using harmony to make melodies with minimal theory (in Part 1A), and then with more theory (in 1B) so you'll understand the language of music.


three other pages:  In addition to these two main pages about improvising music, I've written three others.

The Math of Music explains how interactions between the physics of music and physiology of humans produces the harmonies – both simultaneous and sequential – we like to hear.   {how physics-and-physiology produces harmony}

how to get a keyboard and colorize it.

a “keyboard page” has practical information about...  how to use the most-useful buttons on complex Yamaha keyboards — including their “split keyboard” so two people can play side-by-side in a duet or one person can alternate two “voices” during a song (e.g. with call-and-response or in other ways), plus their internal recordings of chord progressions that you can “play along with” either duet or solo) to supplement external recordings of chord progressions — and more.  [[ iou – during late February, I'll describe the "and more" with some details. ]]


two ways to improve (by reviewing old plus learning new),

two ways to learn (by your discoveries and my explanations)

In my Other Page a question – "How can this page help you improve your understanding of music theory?" – is followed by these two paragraphs:

"improving by reviewing plus learning:  ... You can improve in two ways.  If you know a lot now, for you most of this ‘Music 101’ will be basic concepts you already know (although you may see some fresh perspectives on what you know), so most of your improving will come from reviewing;  of course, reviews can be useful to solidify your musical knowledge.  At the other end of a broad range, if you don't know much now, most of your improving will be learning. .....  [ This is followed by descriptions of reviewing by experts and learning by novices, plus learning & reviewing by both. ]"


"your discoveries and my explanationsIn the sections below you can learn music theory (it describes musical patterns in the relationships between notes) in two ways, by your discoveries [as in Stage 0 of Part 1A] and from my explanations [in Part 1B].  How much of each?  You can choose. .....  [ This is followed by descriptions of how you can choose. ]"


two ways to teach, by explaining and guiding:  You can help others learn from your explanations.  And you can guide their discoveries.   /   Many fellow teachers think discovery learning can be an effective way to learn, with a process that is enjoyable and personally satisfying.  I agree.

[[ iou – In late-February this introduction will “connect” with my introduction to “what a teacher should know-and-do” so they can be an effective coach who guides discoveries (as described in this section) and teaches theory (described later). ]]

two ways to communicate:  Both ways to teach – by explaining and by guiding of discoveries – can be done by communicating through writing (stop-and-go reading can be especially effective) or in person with customized coaching.

your in-person guiding of their discoveries:  When you're with someone who is playing a colorized keyboard, you can do personally customized teaching.  You may want to mostly just watch and listen, after a general encouragement to try new things and “let your playing be guided by the colors.”  But you may want to make specific suggestions, like try doing       .”  Different approaches — with guiding that varies thru a range from minimal (mostly just encouraging their explorations) to significant (with specific suggestions) — will have different effects on learners, with “what's best” depending on the situation and the goals of a learner.    [[ iou – I'll say a little more soon, in mid-January, by using what I'll be learning from experiments (and thus experiences) with people who are playing-and-learning while I'm trying different ways to guide their process of discovery learning. ]]

learning how to teach:  You continually learn from your experiencesby using Reality Checks & Quality Checks to evaluate-and-modify your designing of instruction and your personally-customized coaching to guide the process of “experiments ➞ experiences, listen and learn” for students — so you'll improve your strategies-for-teaching in ways that improve the process-of-learning by your students.



Music Education for the Young & Old:

Many Similarities, plus Big Differences

There are major similarities in the ways that all people (whether young or old, or in-between) make music, and in our educational methods (with our principles, strategies, activities) for helping them make music.  And there are significant differences.

During late-2023 I'll be learning more by interacting with both age groups, but now (with my knowledge as-it-is) here are some thoughts:

a major similarity is the quick gratification (almost immediate) – for both young & old – of being able to quickly begin making harmonious music when they use a colorized keyboard.    { I think this claim is justified, but don't yet have much evidence for it. }

listening to music and playing music produces benefits (physical, mental, emotional, social) that are mostly similar for young & old, but there are differences;   for the young, with central nervous systems (brain,...) still developing, making music helps them more fully develop into what they are capable of becoming;   for the old, it can preserve (or restore, or improve) what they already have.

a career in music is possible for young people (with some dreaming about playing Carnegie Hall, being a rock star,...) although it won't happen for most;   but even thinking about these possibilities is unlikely for most old people, who (like most young people) will be satisfied if they just enjoy making music for themself or for those in their community.

having time to invest is more difficult for young people, because music is “in competition” with many other activities,   so time investment often is easier for old people who are more likely to “be bored” instead of being swamped with numerous possibilities for competitive time-using activities.

coping with the technical complexity of an electronic keyboard, with numerous decisions to make and buttons to push, usually will be easier for young people who feel confident with modern technologies due to their experience with phones-tablets-computers;   by contrast, I think many older people will feel less comfortable (maybe overwhelmed), will be less able to cope with the complexities, or even to try.  For both age groups, leaders (teachers in K-12, activity directors in senior centers or facilities) can help by “setting up the keyboards” and responding to questions;  I've made an ideas-page with useful information for them.

ergonomic principles are especially important for seniors — who are more vulnerable due to their older tendons & cartilage, and often rheumatism — to avoid damage with over-use injuries (to wrists,...) while playing keyboard or other instruments,   but also should be considered for K-12.

the number of musicians (and players-per-keyboard) is usually more with K-12;   in senior facilities, I think (but could be wrong, and it will vary with situations) there will be more time for personal attention & customizing.  And in K-12 the intention is teaching for all students, while in a facility the main intention is facilitating for some seniors, by making the process easier for those who are curious, are wondering whether they want to (and will be able to) make music.

the process of introducing new ideas might be easier in senior facilities.  Maybe decisions-to-adopt will be easier with seniors, with less red-tape bureaucracy & hurdles due to inertia, with more freedom — by the staff in each facility, or by companies (with many facilities) who want to offer additional “musical benefits” that will be appealing for residents — to decide their musical activities, compared with various kinds of rigidities in K-12.

my justifiable humility:  But for this "introducing new ideas" process – and for many other comparisons above – my humble disclaimer is that “I think” or “probably...?” or “maybe” because I'm not sure.  As described in the section's intro, "I'll be learning more by interacting with both age groups" and then I'll know more.



Part 1B:


Using Harmony to Make Melodies

Earlier, Part 1A showed – without much music theory – how you can use colors (red, blue, green) to make harmonious music that is interesting and enjoyable.  But even though there isn't much formal theory in 1A, it does emphasize two essential concepts:

    • The foundation of Music Theory is the fact that people think the notes of a chord sound harmoniously pleasing (due to interactions between musical physics and human physiology) whether the notes are played sequentially (in a harmonious melody with sequential harmony) or are played simultaneously (to form a harmonious chord with simultaneous harmony).
    • The most common melody-making method – it's the favorite of most musicians – is playing melodies that are guided by chord progressions, using (as a foundation for harmony) the three chords – red, blue, green – of my colorized keyboard.

Below, Part 1B shows how musicians describe the logical patterns of music (that form the structure of music) in the language of music theory and how this connects with my language of red, blue, and green.  Why does it connect?  Because "although my approach is innovative, the educational results are traditional" with colors showing "the mainstream chords that are used most often by musicians," are the solid foundations of playing music and learning music theory.  I want to help you combine playing and learning, with...

practical music theory:  Here in Part 1B (inside this box-with-borders) my two main goals are to explain how you can use chord progressions — that combine simultaneous harmony (in chords) with sequential harmony (in melodies) — to make harmonious music that is beautifully interesting, and also to learn music theory.


Table of Contents for 1B:  You can read the rest of Part 1B in any order, by clicking links for...  improving Cognitive-and-Functional Knowledge (to understand music and play music) – the benefits of logically-organized Music Theory – [[ iou – I'll finish this ToC soon, probably in late May. ]]

In this page, Parts 1A & 1B describe (with useful concepts & terms) the benefits of improving cognitive-and-functional knowledge by understanding-and-playing C Major and A Minor and both together in the musical context of chord progressions (the most common way to make music) that – in a variety of ways – guide inventing of harmonious melodies 

Basically, Part 1A mainly helps a person play musical patterns, and Part 1B helps them also understand musical patterns.  But there are overlaps.  In both 1A and 1B, playing & understanding occur – with productive interactions between them – and these mutually supportive interactions lead to...

improving Cognitive-and-Functional Knowledge

Making music with a colorized keyboard helps you {or a student} learn, to improve your cognitive knowledge of music theory and your functional knowledge of music theory that is a practical working knowledge” of using theory to make music.  Two kinds of learning occur when you improve your understanding (your cognitive knowledge) and improve your playing (your functional knowledge).  These two aspects of overall knowledge (cognitive plus functional) are closely related, and using either can improve the other.  Your overall theory-knowledge will improve when both “kinds of knowledge” are developed together and are used together, to form a creatively productive cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory.


a summary for the rest of this green box:  I'll describe a process of learning that occurs when you combine interactive experiences (to produce interactive memories) that are visual (when you see notes on the keyboard), aural (when you hear notes you've played), mental-and-physical (when you make decisions about which notes to play, and play notes) or just mental (when you think about notes and their musically-logical patterns, without playing notes).  The overall result of these interactive memory-producing experiences is to improve your cognitive-and-functional knowledge, your cognitive understanding of music and your functional playing of music.  How does this happen?  One way to learn about “the process” is to use what we know about...


How does a learner develop their cognitive-and-functional knowledge?  This happens in a process of interactive experiences that produce interactive memories.

combining interactive experiences:  When a student improvises melodies using a colorized keyboard, their experiences of understanding music theory (forming cognitive knowledge) occur in the practical context of using music theory (with functional knowledge) to make harmonious music when they are playing chord notes and non-chord notes.  During this active process of using theory while understanding theory, they are “experiencing theory” in many inter-connected ways.  They are seeing (the notes of important chords - red,blue,green) and are deciding (to choose the notes they're playing) and are hearing (the melodies and/or chords they're playing)All of these experiences — visual, mental/physical, and aural (while they are seeing, deciding/playing, and hearing) — combine to form a robust cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory that is a strong foundation for the growth of their understanding-and-playing in the future.   /   valuable visual information:  When playing a keyboard, vivid visual experiences are produced by color-cues (in the usual white-black plus red-blue-green for three main chords) that show musically logical patterns.  These experiences are valuable, both musically & neurologically, and the effectiveness is enhanced by the simple linearity of a keyboard that has note-pitches continually increasing when moving rightward, with white notes being in-scale for C Major and A Minor.   /   In addition to learning "in the practical context of using music theory... to make harmonious music," three other ways to improve their understandings are the experiences they generate when they think about music theory while not playing, or (with mental rehearsal) imagine playing, and when they learn music theory from others, in person or in a video or web-page.

combining interactive memories:  It's useful to view the growth of cognitive-and-functional knowledge as a process that occurs when related kinds of interactive experiences (visual, mental-physical, aural) produce corresponding related kinds of interactive memories.  The colors (red blue green) help a student understand the musical patterns of music theory, and remember these logical patterns in their visual memories plus cognitive memories (short-term working & long-term storing).  When they play the keyboard, they supplement these memories (visual + cognitive) with muscle memories.  While they are playing, all of these “ways to remember” will help them use the musical patterns creatively, to make music that is interesting and enjoyable.   /   We also can think in terms of spatial memories that are one aspect of visual memories (formed when they play while looking at the keys);  and are one aspect of cognitive memories (e.g. when they decide, consciously and/or unconsciously, “the note I want to play is higher by an interval of a fourth” and they imagine “where that note is” on the keyboard);  and are one aspect of muscle memories (formed when they play while looking at the keys, and while they're not looking).


more:  Ideas in this section are illustrated — in the educational context of helping students improve an important improvisational skill — by showing the mutually supportive interactions between functional knowledge and cognitive knowledge that occur when a student mainly uses their functional knowledge, and mainly uses their cognitive knowledge.


terms with different meanings:  The system of practical skills that I'm calling Functional Knowledge (it's a Working Knowledge of how to make music by using theory) is not the Functional Harmony that is a prominent perspective on the harmony that is the central core of Music Theory.


Both aspects of theory knowledge – cognitive and functional – are made easier & better due to...


the benefits of logically-organized Music Theory

(and the logically-organized Language of Music)

in your music understanding and music playing:

We'll begin by looking at...

the general benefits of logically organizing knowledge:  Our modern system of Music Theory, described using The Language of Music, is beautifully elegant.  It's complex, with many related aspects, each having many levels that you (and other musicians) can explore, to help you invent music that is interesting and enjoyable.  But it's also simple in important ways.  Because of music's logic, it will “make sense” when you see how the parts fit together to form a coherent whole, when (in your thinking & playing) you understand how the combining of parts produces a coherent story.  When you understand Music Theory at deeper levels with wider vision — when you can see “the big picture” of how it all fits together, and you have internalized “the logic of music” in your own mental models of music — instead of being more complex it can become more simple, easier to understand.   /   As an illustrative analogy, compare three ways to describe the same mental action of remembering.  Quiz 1 asks you to remember 22 letters, t s e k h a u o e n d y g c a l h t e y n m.   Quiz 2 is remembering these 22 meaningless letters, but now they're organized into 6 meaningful words, sneaky the lunch dog my ate.   Quiz 3 is remembering these 6 words (thus the 22 letters) after they've been logically organized into an interesting story.   {can you convert the words into a story?  a clue and story}


and will continue by connecting general benefits (of logically-organized knowledge) with...

the specific benefits of logically-organized knowledge in Music Theory:  Why can you easily find page 86 of a book, find the word “grace” in a dictionary, or find a book in a library?  It's due to meaningful organization.  Book pages are in numerical order, dictionary words are alphabetical, and library books are arranged according to a system like Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress.  If you understand how a system is organized, you can use the system more effectively.  We also can use this principle – that logical organizing makes understanding easier (and better) – for the system of Music Theory.  Your process of understanding the following sections — about closely related keys (C Major & A Minor), using Minor within Major, and useful concepts — may not be quick.  But I think it will be easy, if you're willing to patiently learn each step.  And I'm confident that it will be worthwhile.  If you're motivated by wanting to improve, and you patiently persevere, you will be rewarded with more music-knowing and better music-making, because...

after you've learned enough, you'll harvest the abundant benefits of organization:  While you're learning about The Key of C you may think “wow, this is a lot, I didn't want to know this much.”  But by learning music you'll be earning rewards, with better playing of music.  Therefore, helping you "learn enough" – but not too much, too soon – is my goal.  This is consistent with Einstein's principle that we should “try to make things as simple as possible (so it's not too much) but no simpler (so it's enough).”  When you see how parts of the puzzle fit together to form important parts of a unified whole (in “the big picture” of music) you'll appreciate the wonderful ways that apparent complexity becomes actual simplicity, due to the logical organization of music theory.

music theory is a music language:  It's useful to think of Music Theory as a Music Language that helps us think about music (and generate ideas about music) — analogous to the ways our English Language helps us think about (and generate ideas about) all areas of life — and communicate with others.


music theory is useful but isn't necessary:  [[ iou – in May, I'll explain why although I recommend learning music theory, it isn't necessary now because you can "play now and learn later" and also it's possible (and it does happen) for a musician to skillfully play music without knowing much about theory.  Even though knowing music theory usually is useful, it isn't necessary.  /  analogy: when each of us was young, we learned how to speak language without knowing all of the principles and guidelines;  but eventually most people benefit from learning the principles of language, and their speaking (plus hearing, writing & reading) improve.  does not-knowing typically lead to a ceiling?  /  but don't give up just because it seems difficult - like thinking "the alphabet is too complicated, with 26 letters combined in many ways" so you never learn how to find words alphabetically as in a dictionary. ]]


  [[ iou – Soon, probably in early April, this “green box” will be a brief explanation of why (quoting from an introduction about music education) "a teacher needs some knowledge of basic music theory — just enough to help a learner recognize the musical patterns, and help them convert their knowledge of music into their making of music — but not a lot."  Here I'll describe what a teacher needs to know, and how they can help students learn it. }


two options:  To learn more about the logic-and-language of music, you can play mainly Red Notes and do it now.  Or first try a different way of “playing with colors” when you...


play only Black Notes:

Just play any way you want, listen and learn, enjoy.  You cannot “make a melodic mistake” because anything you do will sound fairly good, so just relax and experiment with playing the black notes in different ways.

But you'll think some ways-to-play are more enjoyable (for aesthetic appeal, personal expression,...) so listen for these, and have fun exploring the melodic & rhythmic possibilities.     { pentatonic scales – major & minor – and black notes }



play mainly Red Notes:

Part 1A begins with playing only red and continues on to playing mainly red + mainly blue + mainly green, doing creative experiments "with a variety of harmonies, melodies, and rhythms" when you're “having fun exploring the possibilities, listening and learning.”  It's useful to play red-blue-green with a colorized keyboard because this will help you use harmony to make melodies whether there is minimal theory (in 1A) or (here in 1B) with more theory.


three options:  You can search for patterns in the red-blue-green, or read about patterns (in the Key of C Major) or learn why...


I've written more, so (even though you'll have

to read more) it will be easier for you to learn:


what happened:  In July 2023, I decided to radically revise the next part of Part 1B — a long set of sections, from here to Using Harmony Changes (in a Chord Progression) to make Harmonious Melodies — because the many changes will help you learn more easily.  How?  My earlier writing was compact (usually this is good) but (usually not good) this brevity required you to mentally process large chunks of information, to quickly learn a large system of concepts by making large leaps in understanding.  By contrast, this new version explains the concepts in smaller steps, making it easier for you to understand because you can learn the large system gradually, one easier step at a time.  Basically, the old version had brevity but was difficult, while the new version is less brief but is less difficult and this will help you learn more easily.     { analogy – This way of learning music theory is like learning how to juggle by doing easy steps instead of tough leaps. }


an option if you're feeling TMI:  While you're reading this long set of sections, if you're ever feeling “this is Too Much Information, it's more than I want to know,” you can skip ahead to Making Melodies by Using a Chord Progression with less theory, or even minimal theory (just enough, only what's required) when you simply play along with Backing Tracks by using your musical intuition, guided by the keyboard's colors.   /   In the long run, eventually you probably will be motivated to learn Music Theory.  When this happens you won't think “it's TMI,” you'll think “it's TLI, MIiB” (Too Little Information because More Information is Better) and you're wanting to learn more.  But probably you will find it fascinating NOW, when you're learning Music Theory by...


keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 Chordslearning Musical Patterns:  Basically, music theory is a logical organization of musical patterns.  When you know the patterns, your knowledge will help you make harmonious music.  How?  Basically there are...


two ways to learn Musical Patterns:  You can learn with discoveries (by you) and explanations (from me, or another teacher).  Both ways to learn can be satisfying & effective.  But if you want to do more self-discovering, you should do this now — by searching for the logical patterns (in red-blue-green) that are the foundation of music theory, perhaps repeating what you already did with Step 0 (Search for Patterns) in Part 1A — before you read my explanations in the next section, for the Key of C Major.  And before you read these...

hints for discovering:  First study the red notes, and search for patterns.  You also can find patterns in the blue notes, and in the green notes.  {maybe it will be easier if – as in these color-isolating diagrams – you look at only red notes, and only blue notes, and only green notes.}   Then compare patterns in the red notes with those in the blue notes and green notes.  Are the patterns similar?  are they identical in all ways?   { answers for "...similar?" and "...identical?" }


also:  You can search for additional patterns in my fully-colorized keyboard that has twice as many colored labels.



the Key of C Major:

When you understand the logical patterns of C Major, you'll know the foundations of Music Theory.*  And knowing Theory will help you make Music.  Or you can think of Music Theory as Music Language that helps us think about music and generate ideas about it, in the same way that our English Language helps us think about all areas of life, and communicate with others.   /   * Then when you add the patterns of A Minor and Minor-within-Major your foundations will become deeper & wider.

In the sections below, my goal is to help you develop a deep understanding of C Major, so – by using logical analogy – you then can transfer your knowledge to all other keys, and you also will understand them.     { To increase your motivation for learning theory in Parts 1A & 1B, I recommend appreciating the benefits of logically organized Music Theory and – if you haven't already done this – studying the colorized keyboard and searching for patterns, so you can learn from your own discoveries. }


scales using black &forming Red C-Chords:  When you study this diagram and you focus on the notes that have a bottom-row red bar (they're labeled with "1" and "C") you'll see that the notes in a Red-Chord (it's a C-Chord) are every other white note of the C-Scale — with Scale-Notes labeled as both numbers (1234567) and letters (CDEFGA) — beginning with C as the 1-Note.  These Chord-Notes (C, E, and G) are the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the C-Scale, in the Key of C, aka the Key of C Major.  You can understand the every-other-note spacing by “thinking” with written symbols – with numbers (1 2 6 7) and letters (C D E F G, i.e. CdEfG) – and also with spatial relationships on the keyboard, by seeing with your eyes (which is transformed into visualizing with your visual memory) and by knowing with your muscle memory.     { Interactions between these “ways to know” — using numbers & letters, and spatial relationships by seeing & visualizing, plus muscle memories — help you develop your cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music. }

I distinguish between the two meanings of scale by using colors:  • a scale is a group of scale-notes (e.g. C,D,E,F,G,A,B) that can be played in any way;   a scale is playing a consecutive sequence of scale-notes, as in a full-octave scale of CDEFGABC or CBAGFEDC or in mini-scales that are less than an octave.


a viewing tip:  It will be easier to see-and-understand these three “color-isolation diagrams” if you view them on a large-screen monitor with a computer.  On a medium-screen laptop (or tablet) or small-screen phone, enlarge a diagram by “spreading it out” and then do sideways scrolling.

top row:  notes (1 3 5) in C-Chords,
middle:  notes (CDE...) in C-Scale,
 bars:  red notes in C-Chords.

  scales using black &
top row:  notes (1 3 5) in F-Chords,
middle:  notes (FGA...) in F-Scale,
 bars:  blue notes in F-Chords.

  scales using black &
top row: notes (1 3 5) in G-Chords,
middle:  notes (GAB...) in G-Scale,
 bars:  green notes in G-Chords.

  scales using black &

forming red Chords:  The left-side diagram shows that a C-Chord is formed by playing every other note (1,3,5) of the C-Scale (in the Key of C) that begins with C as the 1-Note, so a C-Chord is C D E F  G (i.e. CdEfG), is C E G, is 1 3 5.   /   other chords:  In addition to 135 (with C as the lowest note), inversions of C-Chords have different low notes, as with 351 or 513 and many others.  And we can form many other F-Chords & G-Chords.

forming Blue Chords:  Study the center diagram , and you'll see the same pattern.  An F-Chord is formed by playing every other note (1,3,5) of the F-Scale (in the Key of F) that begins with F as the 1-Note, so an F-Chord is F G A B C (i.e. FgAbC), is F A C, is 1 3 5.     {and as with C-Chords, F-Chords include 1,3,5 arranged in different orders.}

forming Green Chords:  The right-side diagram also shows this pattern.  A G-Chord is formed by playing every other note (1,3,5) of the G-Scale (in the Key of G) beginning with G as the 1-Note, so a G-Chord is A B C D (i.e. GaBcD), is G B D, is 1 3 5.     {and it's 351,...}


options:  [[ iou – I'll describe your options-for-reading later, sometime in early May. ]]


Chord Names

In this set of sections about C Major, so far the focus has been forming chords.  Now we'll shift to naming chords, because it's an important part of “the language of music” used by musicians, especially for describing chord progressions.


In the Key of C, three main chords (C,F,G) are “musically special” — due to harmonies that we enjoy for physiological reasons and artistic reasons — so they're used in my keyboard colorizing.  In fact, these chords are the foundation for almost all of the music we hear.


Earlier you saw, in three one-color diagrams* – each with a single color of red OR blue OR green – how each main chord (it's C or F or G, in the Key of C) is formed with the 1st & 3rd & 5th Notes of its own Scale (of the C-Scale, or F-Scale, or G-Scale);   the letter-name of each Chord is the 1-Note of its own Scale, so a C-Chord has a 1-Note (in the C-Scale) that is C,  and an F-Chord has a 1-Note (in the F-Scale) of F,  and a G-Chord has a 1-Note (in the G-Scale) of G.


* Unlike the three one-color diagrams, below all three colors are together in one diagram, showing the way you actually see the colors on a colorized keyboard, with red-AND-blue-AND-green.

There are two kinds of chord names, using letters (like C,F,G) and roman numerals (like I,IV,V).  As described above, "the letter-name of each Chord is the 1-Note of its own Scale," which could be a C-Scale, F-scale, or G-Scale.  Another way to name these three chords uses only the C-Scale, plus the Roman Numerals of I (= 1) and IV (= 4) and V (= 5).   In the Key of C, the C-Scale (it's C D E F G A B, and also is 1 2 3 4 5 6 7),  C is the 1st Note so the C-Chord is also called the I Chord,  and F is the 4th Note so the F-Chord is also known as the IV Chordand G is the 5th Note so the G-Chord is aka the V Chord.

this keyboard is labeled with colors (red, blue, green) plus numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and letters (C D E F G A B) to show the logial patterns of C Major
Here are summaries for the two naming systems.

names with letters:  The three one-color diagrams show how we form chords from the 1-3-5 Notes in the Scale of each Chord, so...  a C-Chord is formed by the 1,3,5 Notes of its C-Scale, and it's called a C-Chord because its 1-Note is C;   an F-Chord is formed by the 1,3,5 of its F-Scale, and it's called an F-Chord because its 1-Note is F;   a G-Chord is formed by the 1,3,5 of its G-Scale, and it's called a G-Chord because its 1-Note is G.  Therefore, the Chord-Notes you see on a colorized keyboard are 1,3,5 or 1,3,5 or 1,3,5.

names with roman numerals:  The three-color diagram puts chords into a musical context (it's the Scale of C in the Key of C), showing why the “C and F and G” also are called “I and IV and V” because the 1-Note of each Chord (C or F or G) is the 1st Note (the I) or 4th Note (the IV) or 5th Note (the V) in the Scale of C.


Do you see the connections between two sets of numbers – 1,3,5 and I,IV,V – that are commonly used in Music Theory?


And here are details for the two naming systems.

two kinds of numbers:  Musicians typically use regular numbers for Scale-Notes (1 2 3 4 5 6 7), and use Roman numerals for Chords ( I ii iii IV V vi )* with capitalized Major Chords ( I, IV, V ) and uncapitalized minor chords ( ii, iii, vi ).  The two kinds of numerals are used in this way because it's part of the “language of music” in the logical system of music theory that helps us make music, understand it, think about it, and discuss it.   /   * For familiar convenience – because in everyday life we rarely use Roman numerals – sometimes a musician will write “1” (or 4,5) instead of “I” (or IV,V) if the context makes it clear that they're talking about Chords, not Notes.    { And sometimes a minor chord is just given a number – as in "1645" when a reader knows this is the common 50s Progression.}


key-specific terms and key-general terms:  When a chord progression (CP) is described using letters {like C-F-G-C} this is useful only for one key (in this case, the Key of C) so these key-specific terms.  But the Roman Numerals for this progression { I-IV-V-I } can be used correctly for any key, for all keys, so they are key-general terms for chords.   For example, this CP is {C-F-G-C} only in the Key of C, and is {G-C-D-G} only in the Key of G, but calling it { I-IV-V-I } is correct in all keys.

practical utility:  The key-general terms are useful in many ways, as when we discuss chord functions or chord progressions.  For example, the 50s Progression is typically described as “I-vi-IV-V” because this communicates “the kind of progression it is,” including the important presence of a minor chord (the uncapitalized “vi”) and lets a musician think “C-Am-F-G” for playing in the Key of C, but for Key of G it's “G-Em-C-D”, and so on.  This generalizing lets us “think in all keys” with flexibility. 


assumptions about major & minor:  When a musician says “C” they implicitly mean “C Major” whether it's the Key of C, Scale of C, or a C Chord.  If they mean “C Minor” they will explicitly state that it's Minor.  For example, the 50s Progression can be described as “C-Am-F-G” (in the Key of C) where three chords are implicitly assumed to be major, and Am is explicitly defined to be A Minor.  Or the meaning can be clarified with Roman Numerals (“I-vi-IV-V”) because capitalized chords (I,IV,V) are always Major, while an uncapitalized chord (vi) is Minor.



the key of A Minor:keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 Chords

This fully-colorized keyboard shows chord-notes for the main chords of C Major (in two lower rows) and A Minor (in two upper rows) because both keys – major & minor – are musically important.  And because the chords of A Minor can be musically useful when playing in the key of C Major.

Compared with C Major, in A Minor all patterns are similar (they're analogous) except they are shifted to the left by 2 notes, from C down to A;  or we can view the shift as 5 notes rightward, from C up to A.  Both keys use only white notes for their Scale and their three main Chords;  this is useful for my keyboard-colorizing and your keyboard-playing.  In each key, the three main chords (red, blue, green) are formed with a spacing of “every other white note.”

terms:  A Minor is the relative minor of C Major;  and C Major is the relative major of A Minor.  We call them relative because they're related, because both keys use the same set of scale notes;  the same scale notes (all of the 7 white notes) are just arranged in a different order, as either CDEFGAB or ABCDEFG.

Because the two keys are so similar, I won't describe the details of A Minor, like I did for C Major.  Instead you can use the logic-of-analogy to convert your knowledge of C Major into analogous knowledge of A Minor.

The two keys are similar, but there is an important difference in their Scales, because A Minor has three flatted notes - b3, b6, and b7.  This produces a difference in Chords (and thus Melodies) because in C Major the three main Chords have a 1-to-3 interval of 4 semitones (defined as a Major Third);  but in A Minor each of its three main Chords has a 1-to-3 interval of only 3 semitones (so it's a Minor Third) due to the three flatted-notes in its Minor Scale.  This difference – hearing a Major Third or a Minor Third – produces an important difference in the sounds of Chords and Melodies, because the “major sounds” & “minor sounds” are different, and both are musically useful.     { similarities & differences between Major Chords (I,IV,V) and Minor Chords (i,iv,v) }

In the Other Page you can see more details for A Minor, how its main chords — the (i, iv, v) of (A Minor, D Minor, E Minor) aka (Am, Dm, Em) — are formed from "every other white note," as with C Major.

this keyboard is labeled with colors (red, blue, green) plus numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and letters (C D E F G A B) to show the logial patterns of C Major

Below is a photo for part of a colorized keyboard.  It has a low-and-high system – with major chords low, minor chords high – so the notes of major chords will be easier to see (and thus to use for playing) because the major chords are used more often.  But the notes of minor chords are available, are clearly marked, and with practice they also can be easily used.    { And there is a practical reason for moving minor chords to the top. }

this keyboard is labeled with colors (red, blue, green) plus numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and letters (C D E F G A B) to show the logial patterns of C Major



 Major plus Minor

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 ChordsA fully-colorized keyboard shows the notes of major chords and minor chords, because both are musically important.  In each kind of key – major and minor – we can make music that is wonderfully interesting and enjoyableOverall, I prefer Major – and when playing a keyboard my favorite key is C Major – but Minor also can be beautiful.  So we should think Major-plus-Minor instead of Major-versus-Minor.  Both modes of music are wonderful.  Each is an essential part of fully appreciating our human possibilities for making music and hearing music, when they are separate, are Major OR Minor.  And they can be very good together, with Major-AND-Minor, when we...


play Minor-within-Major in two ways, by...


1) using Minor Notes within a Major Chord:

During a Major Chord, you can play Minor Notes (as in a chromatic scale-melody) to produce a “blues” sound-and-feeling or to achieve other musical goals.


2) using Minor Chords within a Major Key:

Many popular songs use a chord progression that combines Major Chords with Minor Chords, in the context of a Major Key.  We hear this combination often, in a wide variety of music.  Four examples are the 50s Progression and I-V-vi-IV and ii-V-I and Pachelbel's Progression.  These are 4 of 7 Common Chord Progressions You’ll Instantly Recognize;  and a 5th Common Progression (but with no minor chords, using only Major Chords within a Major Key) is 12-Bar Blues with melodies that often (as in "1" above) play Minor Notes within Major Chords.  You can play these more easily on a fully-colorized keyboard because it has two sets of colors, for Notes of Major Chords (in red, blue, green), and for Notes of Minor Chords (in red, blue, green).

When playing in a major key, musicians mainly use major chords, but also some minor chords.  Similarly, in a minor key we mainly play minor chords, but also some major chords.

terms:  Earlier, our logical system for naming chords – with letters & roman numerals – is explained and summarized.  Using this system, the Key of C Major has Major Chords (“C, F, G” that are “I, IV, V”) and Minor Chords (“Am, Dm, Em” that are “vi, ii, iii”).  In this “major context” the minor chord Am is labeled vi because A is the 6th note in a Scale of C Major, CDEFGAB.  For the same reasons – due to their positions in the Scale of C Major – Dm is ii, and Em is iii.  


Below are two ways to visualize Minor Chords within a Major Key, in the Key of C Major.

In the first diagram, the two kinds of chords (Minor & Major) are on separate rows, with Minor Chords below the Minor Note-Bars, and Major Chords below the Major Note-Bars, followed by two ways to describe a C-Scale, with numbers (1 2 3 4 5...) and letters (C D E F G...).   /   related diagrams:  The bottom five rows (with note-bars, note-bars, chord-numbers, scale-numbers, scale-letters) contain the same information that's in an earlier diagram for C Major but here the info is rearranged.

this keyboard is labeled with colors (red blue green) plus numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and letters (A B C D E F G) to show the main chord-notes of C Major

Below in another view of these chords, both kinds – Major & Minor – are on the same line.  In some ways this view is more simple, but in other ways is more complex.  Basically, it's just a different perspective, which can be mentally stimulating and musically useful.

this keyboard is labeled with colors (red blue green) plus numbers (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and letters (A B C D E F G) to show the main chord-notes of C Major

Here you see all three Minor Chords, but in most chord progressions that use Minor within Major only one minor chord is used;  it's the vi in a 50s Progression (I-vi-IV-V) or a popular cousin (I-V-vi-IV), and is ii for a jazz progression (like ii-V-I-I).  Or two minor chords are used, as in Pachelbel's Canon Progression with vi and iii.



some useful concepts-and-terms

Before we move on to Strategies for Making Music, here are descriptions of some useful terms — they're just words we use to represent useful concepts — in the language of music.


rhythm, beats & bars, tempo:  The basic unit of rhythm is a beat – you “tap your foot” with each beat – and a bar (aka measure) typically has 4 beats;  but it's 3 beats-per-bar for a waltz.  The “speed” of a song – the tempo of its beats – can be slow or (with a higher rate of beats-per-minute) faster.

rhythmic phrases and melodic phrases:  A phrase is defined as "a series of notes that sounds complete, even when played apart from the main song."  We can think about (and hear/feel) similarities & differences between rhythmic phrases and melodic phrases ... [[ to be completed after I learn more, iou. ]]


pitches – intervals of semitones & tones:  The pitch of a note is “how high it sounds.”  On a keyboard, pitches are lowest for notes on the left side, and the pitch steadily increases when moving rightward.   An interval is the difference in pitch between two notes.  The smallest interval – a semitone – is the interval between any two adjacent notes.  If the interval is two semitones, it's called a tone.    { intervals used in major chords & minor chords and names of intervals }


flats and sharps:  The black note between D and E can be called E flat (typically written E♭, or Eb) because it's one semitone “flatter” than E);  but it's also D sharp (written D#) because it's one semitone “sharper” than D.  Both terms – Eb and D# – have the same meaning;  they are equivalent ways to specify the same note, to define it.  Each term can be useful, in different musical contexts.  For example, usually we say that the Key of F includes Bb (we don't say A#), and the Key of G has F# (not Gb) — as explained in playing melodies during an F-Chord or G-Chord (it's "flats and sharps, Part 2") — even though Bb is the same note as A#, and F# is Gb.   /   terms:  When we describe a flat-note, the position of b matches the way we speak.  Thus, for “E flat” the b is placed after the E, so this note is Eb.  Similarly, 3b is “3 flat”.  But for a “flatted third” the b is spoken before 3, so it's b3.


scales and scales:  Yes, scale is a term with two meanings.  It's either a group of scale-notes (e.g. C,D,E,F,G,A,B) that can be played in any way, or (with a more-restrictive meaning) is playing scale-notes in consecutive sequence without skipping any, typically beginning & ending on a home-note, as in CDEFGABC ascending or (less commonly used) CBAGFEDC descending.  In this page I'll use two colors — scale (for a group of notes that can be played in any way) and scale (for scale-notes played in consecutive sequence) — to clarify my meaning;  but most writers don't do this, so to understand their intended meaning you must be aware of the context.     { there are many scales: minor & minor, diatonic & chromatic, blues,... }


scales and octaves:  If you “play a scale” with only the 7 scale-notes (1234567, in C Major it's CDEFGAB) this will sound strangely unfinished, because it “feels more natural” (it “sounds more musical”) to end with C, as in (12345671) where 1 is an octave above 1.   /   partial equivalence:  Wikipedia says "the human ear tends to hear both notes [1 and 1] as being essentially ‘the same’, due to closely related harmonics," and describes "octave equivalence, the assumption that pitches one or more octaves apart are musically equivalent in many ways," but not in all ways.

     One kind of octave equivalence is the musical utility of thinking about a home-note(s) and the ways you can musically emphasize it (or them), with me using language that is singular-yet-plural, which is grammatically illogical but is musically logical.
 One kind of octave non-equivalence occurs because we "tend to hear both notes [1 and 1] as being essentially ‘the same’" only when we hear them as two isolated notes, rather than in the musical context of other notes.  As a simple example, compare the sounds of "13451" with "13451" and you'll hear a distinctive difference.  With a skillful use of this difference between octave-notes, a musician can produce very different sounds-and-feelings in the music. 


Strategies for Making Music

For most musicians the main music-making strategy — so it's what I'm teaching in this page, and is the main reason that a colorized keyboard will be musically useful for you — is...


Using Harmony to Make Melodies with

Harmony Changes in a Chord Progression:

What?  Every chord has harmony.  During a chord progression – it's a sequence of chords – we hear changes in harmony.  Using a chord progression is the most common way to make music, whether it's classical, popular (in all areas), or jazz.   /   This is "the most common way" in our modern western culture.  I think it's the best way, and I won't wander away into descriptions of music in other modern cultures or in the past.

Why?  Because we enjoy hearing two kinds of harmony, when the harmony either is only-simultaneous (in a chord) OR is only-sequential (in a melody).  We also enjoy BOTH together, and this happy combination occurs when musicians are playing Harmonious Melodies that “fit well” with the Harmonious Chords in a progression.  In this way, we enjoy harmonies that are simultaneous-AND-sequential, with Harmonious Chords AND Harmonious Melodies.  Using a chord progression is an effective way to combine harmonies-and-melodies, to make music that is enjoyable (because people enjoy hearing harmonious chords plus harmonious melodies) and is interesting due to the harmony changes (when chords change during the progression), and because both parts of the music (chords & melodies) can be played in a wide variety of ways.


What?  Most of the songs we hear use a chord progression with three main chords that are the “red chord” and “blue chord” and “green chord” on my colorized keyboard.  In most music, harmonious melodies are created by playing mainly red notes during the time when a red chord is being played, and playing mainly blue notes {or mainly green notes} while a blue chord {or green chord} is being played.

How?  Part 1A outlines one process for developing skill, in two stages.  During Stage 1 "you begin with the simplicity of only red notes" and "everything you do — whether you move upward (rightward) or downward (leftward), play only consecutive red notes or skip some — will be a harmonious melody that sounds harmoniously pleasant."  But "while playing only red notes, your musical adventures will be limited.  You'll have more fun when you... play mainly red notes but also some non-red notes for variety,... to explore a wider variety of possibilities" so you are "making music that still is pleasant, but now is more interesting."   /   Then during Stage 2 you improvise melodies that are guided by chord progressions, when you alternate time-periods of only red and only blue and only green.  Then begin mixing mainly red with mainly blue and mainly green,... improvising melodies that harmonize with each chord in the chord progression."   /   This basic outline also is used in Part 1B, which just describes ways to "explore a wide variety of possibilities."


How?  As explained in Part 2 (Strategies for Improvising), "the main way to improve your improvising is to learn by doing, when you do musical experiments (you try new musical ideas) to produce new musical experiences so you can listen-and-learn."

Below you'll find some "new musical ideas" you can try.


Strategies for Making Melodies

Skilled musicians use these melody-making strategies during chord progressions.  This context-of-use makes them more valuable because almost all musicians (including me) think that using chord progressions is the best music-making strategy.


scales using black &Here you see notes (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,1) in a Scale.  {it's the Scale of C Major, but you don't need to know this, instead just think of the notes as 12345671.}   The non-chord notes (2,4,6,7) are gray, to highlight the chord notes (1,3,5) that usually are featured when improvising melodies during a Red Chord when you're playing a mainly-red melody.  To make it mainly-red instead of only-red, you can supplement chord-melodies (using only chord notes) with scale-melodies (using some non-chord notes).  We'll look at each “kind of melody” before combining them.  Your music will sound harmonious when you...

play chord-melodies:  During a red chord, when you play only red notes everything you do will sound harmonious and pleasant.  In Stage 1 of Part 1A, I recommend doing creative experiments, "trying different ways to play only-red, by changing directions (go up for awhile, then back down, and up,...) and skipping some red notes."  That's the process I've used to compose my melodies that are educational examples.  When you use the process — by "doing creative experiments" for awhile, before you play my melody-examples — I think your experiences will be more enjoyable and educational.  How?  As usual, slow playing allows creativity in your exploring, when you're playing notes in different sequences and with different rhythms.   scales using black &/   What?  Using ten scale-notes (here I'm labeling them 0123456789), my melodies – 1358, 3531, 3153, 3558 – probably are similar to what you've been playing.  Longer chord-melodies can be simple, as in 1358531_ , where "_" shows that the final note lasts two beats instead of the one beat used for the other notes, to make the 7-note melody last 8 beats.  And melodies can be a little more complex, as in 1358351_ , 31538531 , or 1355358_ .  You can invent a wide variety of chord-melodies, especially when you also use chord-notes that are lower than 0 and higher than 9.  And you can...

play scale-melodies:  By using non-chord passing notes (both white and black) you can move between chord notes that are target notes — so you're passing from one chord note to another chord note (it's a target note) — in ways that are smooth and musical.  This is a common way to play brief mini-scales (they're partial scales, are less than a full scale of 12345678) that I call scale-melodies, as in 345, 345432121, 34, 56787676, or 21012345.   /   terms:  Early in this section, I'm using colors to distinguish between two kinds of scalesa scale is a group of scale-notes (1,2,3,4,5,6,7, e.g. C,D,E,F,G,A,B) that can be played in any way;   a scale is playing a consecutive sequence of scale-notes, as in 345.   But later, sometimes I just say "scale" with no color, so you'll have to get the meaning from context.


mix chord-melodies with scale-melodies:  When you do this, making music will be more interesting and more fun.  In fact, this combining (of chords with scales) is the main way that experts make melodies.  As usual, you can do experimenting for awhile before you continue reading.   /  [[ In early April, I stopped working on this but will return to it in June. ]]


[[ iou – Sometime soon, this paragraph will be used somewhere in the early part of this section about melody-making strategies. ]]

melodies for goal-directed education:  These melody-making strategies – and others – are illustrated in my example melodies that are intended for teaching, to help you convert abstract ideas (in your thinking) into concrete reality (in your playing);  i.e. I'm not trying to compose “hit songs”, 🙂.   Instead my objective is educational, to show you how melody-making strategies can be used to make mainly-red melodies;  or to make melodies that are mainly-blue or mainly-green.  Each melody is a goal-directed Aesop's Activity that (analogous to an Aesop's Fable) is designed to illustrate a specific strategy you can use to improvise your own melodies.  To learn more effectively, you can use stop-and-go reading, by stopping to play-and-hear each example melody, and then continuing to read.


defining a skip-melody:  Another useful melody-making strategy is what I call a skip-melody.*  When defining terms, it's useful to think about two kinds of difference.  First, re: “the kinds of notes,” a chord-melody has only chord notes (as in "135"), but a scale-melody also includes at least one non-chord note (as in "345" or "123456").  Second, re: “playing notes consecutively or skipping,” a scale-melody has consecutive scale-notes, but a “skip melody” uses non-consecutive scale-notes.  A “skip melody” can be made in two ways, with a chord-melody (as in "15") that technically this is a “skip melody” but I call it a scale-melody and thus limit skip-melody to cases when one of the two notes (first or second, being skipped-from or skipped-to) is a non-chord note, which occurs in a sequence of "14" or "24" or "25", but not in "35".


two kinds of scales:  Yes, this term has two common meanings.  Therefore, to reduce confusion I'm using colors to distinguish between a scale that is a group of scale-notes (1,2,3,4,5,6,7, e.g. C,D,E,F,G,A,B) that can be played in any way;   a scale is playing a consecutive sequence of scale-notes, as in 345.

two scales:  My examples of mixing chord-melodies with scale-melodies use only white notes that are in the diatonic scale (it's C D E F G A B, with only 7 notes) of C Major.  But this limitation isn't necessary.  You can use some non-chord notes (only white) to form diatonic scale-melodies;  AND you can use all non-chord notes (both white & black) to form chromatic scale-melodies, using any notes from a chromatic scale (it's C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B, with all 12 notes) of C Major.     { flats and sharps }

two kinds of scale-melodies:  While you're inventing scale-melodies, both scales are useful.  Each kind of scale-melody, using only consecutive white notes (in a diatonic scale) or using all consecutive notes (in a chromatic scale) can be useful in different ways, because each produces distinctive “sounds and feelings” in melodies.*

many kinds of scales:  When musicians are making melodies — by mixing chord-melodies, scale-melodies, and skip-melodies — we can use diatonic scales (major & 3 kinds of minor) and chromatic scale, and pentatonic scales (major & minor) and related blues scales (major & minor & hybrid), plus 7 modes.


* I enjoy improvising with both kinds of melodies, so I sometimes “think classical” or “think blues” to inspire different ways of playing.  While “thinking classical” I play mostly in-scale notes (white), and “thinking blues” is useful when I want to include more out-of-scale notes (black).     { more about different ways to “think ____” while playing, by filling the blank with classical or blues, or with jazz, rock, or popular. }

With both scales – diatonic or chromatic – almost all scale-melodies are mini-scales, are partial scales, not full scales.  Now you can freely experiment — by including any kind of melodies (using chords or skips, plus scales) — in two ways, by continuing to play diatonic scale-melodies (as you did earlier) or beginning to play chromatic scale-melodies.   /   tips:  While you're exploring possibilities for chromatic scale-melodies, in addition to creative slow playing – so you'll have time to try new note-sequences & note-rhythms – you may find it useful (as I do) to play self-limiting games.  For example, limit the range of your melodies (chord + skip + scale) by using only the notes from 0 to 5, i.e. using 1 2b 2 3b 3 4 5b 5 ,  or limit the range so it's 1-to-3, or is 3-to-5 or 1-to-5.  Or explore the octave's upper end with 5-to-8, or 5-to-9, 5 or 1-to-5.

[[ iou – In early May, the paragraph above will have a little more content – but not much – and some examples.  For now I'll just include a section that's fairly recent (although not yet revised in March) about playing blues.  But here is an option to consider:

playing “classical” with chromatic:  Before you read the next section about “blues” melodies, for awhile (if you want) try finding ways to “think classical” while playing more black notes, so you can find melodies with “more black notes” while you're “thinking classical” instead of “thinking blues”. ]]

[[ iou – Later, maybe... I'll re-locate (to another location) the "technical" aspects of the first paragraph – re: "two scales" and their term-names, because you don't need to know these terms for scales, you just need to know how to use the scale-notes for making melodies.  I want this long section about "Strategies for Making Melodies" to be useful for players who do know some theory, or don't know much theory;  therefore I should remove these terms here, and just provide a link to where the terms are explained. ]]


play “blues melodies” by using

“blues notes” and blues scales:


How?  You can...

use blues notes:

When playing “blues melodies” (during 12-Bar Blues, including “jazz blues” and “blues rock”) a common melody-making strategy is to use “blues notes”.  Two of these are minor notes from a minor key — a flatted-third (b3) and flatted-seventh (b7), aka 3-flat (3b) and 7-flat (7b) — while playing major chords in a major key;  this is one of two ways to play Minor-within-Major.  Another useful “blues note” is the flatted 5th (b5, aka 5b) because even though this note isn't in the Minor Scale, it lets you play melodies with a pair of minor-sounding “flatted chord notes,” as with a flatted-E (the Eb that is 3b, is the b3) plus flatted-G (it's Gb, 5b, the b5).  And the flatted 7th (b7) actually IS a chord-note in the 7th chords (1,3,5,b7 - aka 1,3,5,7b) that usually are played in Blues Progressions.  These three notes – 3b, 5b, 7b – are useful for playing chord-based melodies (mainly-red, mainly-blue, mainly-green) with a “blues” sound-and-feeling.

How do you adjust when the chord changes?  During a C Chord you can play chord notes (C,E,G) and also non-chord notes with blues-notes (b3,b5,b7 - 3b,5b,7b - Eb,Gb,Bb) featured;   during an F-Chord you play chord notes (F,A,C) and also non-chord notes with blues-notes featured (these are the b3,b5,b7 notes of an F-Scale, Ab,Cb=B,Eb, which are 6b,7,3b when described on a C-Scale of 0123456789);*   during a G-Chord, play its chord notes (G,B,D) plus non-chord notes that feature the blues-notes (3b,5b,7b) of a G-Scale (they're Bb,Db,F, are 7b,2b,4 on a scale of 0123456789).     {* The "6b,7,3b" are the positions of these notes in a C-Scale.  Why?  Because I often “think in a C-Scale” that uses its note-numbers, even when I'm playing an F-Melody (during an F-Chord) or G-Melody (during a G-Chord).  But I'm also aware of note-locations within the F-Scale, e.g. I know that 7b (Bb) is the flatted-third of an F-Scale, and thus is a commonly used blues note. }     { melody-examples that use blues notes }


Another way of thinking about this “way to play” is to...

use blues scales:  Musicians think about “playing blues” in many ways.  One common way, described above, is to play melodies that include notes with a “minor sound” (b3,b5,b7) in the scale of each chord (I,IV,V - C,F,G).  Another way, also popular among musicians, is to “play blues” by using a Blues Scale.  The most common – so it's often called “the Blues Scale” – is a Minor Blues Scale (1-b3-4-b5-5-b7) that is a Minor Pentatonic Scale with b5 added;*  it includes b3,b5,b7 but excludes four notes (2,3,6,7) that are in the Scale of C Major, and some of the black notes.  Or they use a Major Blues Scale (1-2-b3-3-5-6) that is a Major Pentatonic Scale with b3 added.  Or they use both scales, alternating between them.  Or the two scales can be combined into a Hybrid Blues Scale (1-2-b3-3-4-b5-5-6-b7) that includes the 9 shared notes;  it's a Minor Blues Scale plus extra notes (2,3,6) that give a player more flexibility, making this a useful scale for improvising melodies.     { note:  The term scale has two meanings so it's important to recognize that a blues scale is "a group of scale-notes that can be played in any way [with creative flexibility]" and is not the rigidity of always "playing some [or all] notes of a scale in consecutive sequence without skipping any." }     {* Minor Pentatonic Scale and Major Pentatonic Scale }

[[ iou – in mid-June, I'll compare these two approaches, with "blues notes" and "blues scales":   I begin with a diatonic scale (only white notes) and encourage you to add black notes (especially 3 "blues notes" but also others);   • a "blues scale" approach begins with a limited number of notes (6 in either Blues Scale, 9 in a Hybrid Blues Scale) and you play only these notes (6 or 9), which include 3 black notes.  I think both approaches can be useful in different ways, for players in different learning-situations.  And I'll describe what I'm now viewing as a semi-mystery when some musicians play the same blues scale throughout a progression, for all chords. ]]


[[ The sections below — about "thinking ___" and "the benefits of playing slow" — are copied from an earlier version that will be revised in small ways.  But the major ideas will remain as-they-are now. ]]


How?  Below are three “ways to think” while using non-chord notes as passing notes — as in the improvising strategies of "mixing scale-melodies with chord-melodies" or "using black notes to make chromatic scale-melodies" — and this thinking may inspire you to creatively invent melodies during a chord progression of I-IV-V-I (sometimes used in classical), 12-Bar Blues (the standard for blues), ii-V-I-I (often used in jazz), or another progression:


sometimes I'm thinking classical” while playing mainly red {or mainly blue, mainly green} plus some non-red {or non-blue, non-green} that are mostly white (in scale) and occasionally black (out of scale), because my melodies are focusing on white notes that are in the scale.


sometimes I'm thinking blues” and – during mainly red {or mainly blue, mainly green} – my non-chord notes include more black notes (than in “classical”) so the melody has more of a “blues” sound-and-feeling.     { strategies for improvising blues-melodies }


sometimes I'm thinking jazz” while playing along with the common jazz progression of ii-V-I.  If you do this, an adventurous attitude — so "you'll feel more free to do the creatively-risky experimenting that produces new experiences and new learning" — will help you you have fun while improvising jazz melodies.     { excellent explanations-and-music are in videos (38 minutes total) about Jazz Theory & Jazz Improvisation by Julian Bradley for his Jazz Tutorial.  These are two of my favorite teaching videos.   /   Along with many other useful tips, he recommends beginning with simplicity by playing in one key,   [[ iou – I'll fix the rest of this paragraph soon, during May 7-9. ]]   this is one of two valuable benefits (re: effective time-use and instantly recognizing chord-notes)* of a colorized keyboard — "for anything composition-related," which includes improvisation. [plus * 70% of improvs involve chord notes]

While you're thinking “classical” and/or “blues” and/or “jazz” (or “rock”,...) you also can be thinking “popular” with the goal of inventing beautiful melodies of the kind that you (and others) will enjoy, like the melodies in songs that become popular.     { For this, a great video is Maybe 4 Notes is All You Need from Aimee Nolte. }

Of course, during any chord progression you can do all modes-of-playing by alternating time periods (that can be short or long) of “thinking classical” and “thinking blues” or “thinking jazz” (or “thinking rock” or “thinking   ?  ”).  And instead of either “classical” OR “blues” you can “think classical-AND-blues” or “think blues-AND-jazz” (or other combos) so you're playing in a wider variety of ways, to expand the range of possibilities you're exploring.


new melodies plus old melodies:  You'll add interesting ingredients to your musical mix when, in addition to the new melodies you're inventing, your improvising also includes old melodies that already exist in a familiar song.  This blending of old with new is a popular way to improvise, because it works well.  How?  By alternating times of old with new, and retaining some connection(s) with the old song.  When you're “doing old” you can alternate times of using old melodies as-is, and modified to form semi-old melodies that are slightly-unfamiliar (with some unpredictable Musical Mystery but not too much) so your variations can be recognized as variations of the old melody, but are not totally different.  And when you're “doing new” you CAN be totally different in the new melodies you're inventing — perhaps by alternating times when the focus is chord-notes (in chord-melodies) and is scale-notes (in scale-melodies) — IF your new melodies “fit well” with chords in the chord progression of the old song.  In these ways you always can retain some connection with the old song, either with similarity that is only-harmonic (if your new melodies are totally unrelated to the old melody) or is harmonic-and-melodic (if your new melodies are closely related to the old melody);  when doing this the strategy is to sometimes play new melodies (with only harmonic) and sometimes play old melodies (with harmonic plus melodic).


the benefits of playing slow:  During your improvising — whether you're thinking “classical” or “blues” or “jazz” or “rock” or “popular” or “  ?  ” or you're using another type of strategy (e.g. with imagery for thinking-and-feeling)* to stimulate creativity — you may find (as I have) that slow experimenting often is productive.  Your slow playing can help you break out of familiar habit-ruts, because you have more time to intentionally try unfamiliar sequences-of-notes (by playing-with-thinking and also playing-without-thinking, because both ways to play can be productive) so you're using the notes in new ways, and this makes it more likely that you'll discover new ways to make music.  And playing slowly can help you convert your understanding (of theory-principles) into your playing (with theory-principles).

the benefits of playing faster:  But you shouldn't play only slowly, instead alternate between slow playing and faster playing, perhaps while using a metronome (or a backing-track video) that motivates you to make quick improv-decisions so your playing stays in-tempo and in-rhythm.    [[ iou – Soon (in early May) this paragraph will be longer, and both paragraphs – for slow & faster – will be revised. ]]

[[ now there is a newly-condensed version -- and later, when this version is revised it will use some of these ideas:   regarding terms, I need to find a better term (and better way to describe) the "rhythmic accountability" that is much more important than just playing faster, and hopefully I'll soon find it.   /   I also need better terms for the following concepts:  a skillful rhythmic melody will "fit into the available time" smoothly, in ways that produce an effective cooperation between melody & rhythm;   rhythmic continuity (or maybe consistent rhythmic accuracy?) occurs when your "playing along" cooperates with an external source of rhythm, e.g. a metronome or video, or other musicians in a jam session. ]]    [[ also, I'll connect these "speeds" (or "rhythmic accountabilities") with other ideas, like metacognition (tends to be easier with slow), flow (can occur in both, but especially in faster), rhythmic skills (occur in both, but better learned in faster), learning and/or performing with learning in both but performance more-emphasized in faster, using single-chord videos (with rhythm, i.e. for faster) vs drones (with no rhythm, for slow with no rhythmic accountability);  and more.   /   This entire section – slow plus faster – will be important, with plenty of useful ideas. ]]

[[ the next paragraph will be radically condensed-and-revised, probably eliminating most links ]]

links & ideas:  You can learn more – and improve more – by alternating between playing slow and fast, by thinking and not-thinking, while seeking new adventures, and aiming for high quality of learning and/or performingThere are connections between improvising and composing when we view the skill of composing as slow-motion improvising with a preserving of results that can be easier when you play slowly and record your improvisations so you can listen-and-preserve later.     { synonyms: This page is about improvising melodies, but verbs that usually have similar meanings are composing, inventing, making, creating, and playing melodies. }


iou – Soon, in late May, this section will be placed into the overall context of Strategies for Making Melodies.  Until then you can see a music-making context in my Summary Page.

iou – And I'll use this section as part of a summary about The Circle of Fifths that will condense a details-filled description in my other big page.


using the scales of each chord:

Below, the table shows that in the Key of F Major, the F-Scale has Bb (it's called B-flat because it's “flatter” than B, by one semitone) instead of B, because this change is necessary to produce a correct-sounding Major Scale.  Similarly, in the Key of G Major the G-Scale must have an F# that is F-sharp, is “sharper” than F.     { flats and sharps }

 C Scale: 
 F Scale: 
 G Scale: 

If you play a melody in the Key of F, this F-Melody usually will sound musically strange if you use B as a passing note (between A and C) instead of Bb.  For the same reason, when playing a song in the Key of C an F-Melody (that's played during an F-Chord) almost always sounds better when Bb (not B) is used as a passing note.

But if you play a G-Melody (in the Key of G, or during a G-Chord in the Key of C) and use F instead of F#, this usually will sound less strange, compared with the strangeness of an F-Melody that uses B instead of Bb.  And in some musical situations, you may think the F sounds better than F#.  In fact, a basic G Chord (playing GBD) often is supplemented to form a G7 Chord (playing GBDF in a 7th chord) so F becomes a Chord Note, instead of being a Non-Chord Note that also is a Non-Scale Note.

This sub-section is limited to The Key of C Major.  More generally, in all other keys a Major Scale requires playing one or more flat-notes or sharp-notes.  If you want to know the what-and-why, you can learn how The Circle of Fifths is constructed by using The Logic of Scales.


From a Detailed Table of Contents in my Other Page,

Musical Imagery:  While you're playing or singing, feel (for yourself) or communicate (for others) your musically-metaphorical “imagery” for the atmosphere-character-flavor-mood of the music, for the ways you're thinking & feeling.     { full section }


Musical Mystery:  Usually, music that is interesting and enjoyable is semi-predictable, with some surprises.  Why?  Because when we hear music, we intuitively follow the flow of what has been happening, and “predict” what will happen.  If there is too much sameness, we become bored.  But we get frustrated if the music is too difficult to predict.  We tend to enjoy an in-between mix, with frequent confirmation of expectations along with some surprises, in a blend that is interesting rather than boring or frustrating.     { full section }

Musical Tension:  In the music we enjoy, one aspect of artistic semi-mystery arises from creatively mixing consonance (sometimes) and dissonance (other times).  To do this, a common strategy is moving away from the home-chord (or home-note) of a key, and then returning to it.  In this way and others, musicians can produce tension (in their chords and/or melodies) and then resolve the tension.     { full section }   { using home-chords in a progression }  { using home-notes in a melody }

[[ I'll continue by summarizing principles from the full section along with saying "Usually a listener won't consciously interpret this music as dissonant tension, but they will subconsciously sense it with their musical intuitions.  This strategy for making artistic melodies — by using artistic mystery, with some surprising unpredictability but not too much, with cycles of producing tension and resolving tension" plus other ideas, and links to the awesome videos – with brilliant explanations, examples, and audio-video production, editing cuts, with segments assembled seamlessly – by David Bennet, plus one-minute description, and more ]]

[[ iou – I'll continue writing the rest of this section in late June.  It used to be extremely long, but soon the rest of this new version (condensed & revised) will be here. ]]



four popular Chord Progressions

Musicians almost always use a Chord Progression because it's useful for creating music that is interesting (due to the chord changes) and is enjoyable (with harmonious chords & melodies).  Although you can improvise while using a chord progression invented by yourself it's much more common to use a chord progression invented by others, as in these Four Popular Chord Progressions:


    12-Bar Blues — in the Key of C, it's CCCCFFCCGFCC or (with a common turnaround) CCCCFFCCGFCG or other variations, and generalized (for all keys) it's I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I or is I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-Vuses only the three main major chords.  So does a simple progression (I-IV-V-I, C-F-G-C) that is commonly used in music (especially classical) and is examined in Stage 2b of Part 1.     { In all chord progressions, musicians often add “extra notes” to the basic 3-note triads, especially with 7th chords. }

    Adding a minor chord (vi) expands the range of possibilities, with the 50s Progression (I-vi-IV-V, it's C-Am-F-G in the Key of C) and – by changing the sequence of chords – a popular cousin, 1564 (I-V-vi-IV, C-G-Am-F).  Another minor chord (ii) is used in the common jazz progression of ii-V-I (aka 2-5-1 or 251) as in ii-V-I-I, Dm-G-C-C.   Of course, a CP in a major key can have two (or more) minor chords, as in this progression (or another you can hear) and in Pachelbel's Canon.


    also:  Instead of playing in a major key, some chord progressions (those with only major chords) can be directly adapted for a minor key, as in 12-Bar Minor Blues or by modifying the major chords in “I-IV-V-I” to get the analogous “i-iv-v-i” (e.g. Am-Dm-Em-Am) with minor chords.  And we can invent-and-use other progressions in a minor key.


In this page you can learn more about 12-Bar Bluessimple I-IV-V-I50s Progression & a popular cousinjazz progressions.

You can learn more about (and hear) a much wider variety of chord progressions in 26 videos that are excellent — with clear explanations of “why” and many musical examples, produced with high quality — from David Bennett Piano.

You can hear and play along with “backing track” videos in YouTube (a few tips & many links) for all of these chord progressions, and others, so you can hear the CP's and improvise.


50s Progression:  Why is it popular?  A simple reason is the smooth blending of minor and major (with its minor chord and three major chords) while playing in a major key, and this blend adds interesting variety to the music.  A complex reason is why the blending is smooth, due to a sharing-of-notes in its chords (and thus in its chord changes), as explained in the 1B-Appendix.     { The 50s Progression and variations }

a popular cousin:  A very common progression (used in many songs) rearranges these four chords from I-vi-IV-V (50s) into I-V-vi-IV (cousin) and it “works well” for harmonic reasons.   {these four chords are analyzed and enjoyed in pages & videos & forums}


changing the rate of change:  For any progression, you can adjust the rate of chord-changing to make it faster or slower, by playing each chord for a time that is shorter or longer – e.g. for 4 beats (1 bar) or 8 beats (2 bars) – and by making the tempo (in beats/minute) faster or slower.


four simple progressions:

The main major chords are “I, IV, V” that in C Major are “C, F, G” or (using my color-terms) are “C, F, G” or “red, blue, green”.  Together, these three chords are “special” due to musical patterns (described in music theory as a Circle of Fifths) that occur for physical reasons – due to interactions of musical physics with human physiology – and artistic reasons. 

We can use these three chords (red, blue, green) to form simple harmonic structures that let us creatively invent complex melodies, or simple melodies that are beautiful and artistically satisfying.  Some of the best music is created by using only these chords, I and IV and V.

These four progressions can be musically useful:

    • red-blue-green-red is C-F-G-C in the Key of C where it's I-IV-V-I, and generally (in any key) is I-IV-V-I.  This common progression – that sounds better with some inversions of the chordsismusically conclusive” (and therefore “musically satisfying”) because its final two chords {V-I} end with the home-chord {the I-chord} so it has a useful musical function.  It's useful as a standalone 4-chord progression, and it works well as the second half of an 8-chord progression.  Why?  Because the two 4-chord halves produce interesting variety, and also because its “conclusive conclusion” will be more dramatically satisfying when it's preceded by a 4-chord sequence that – as in each CP below — is musically “non-conclusive” because it ends with a green-G (V) or blue-F (IV) instead of red-C-I, as in...

    red-blue-red-green-red-blue-green-red  (C-F-C-G-C-F-G-C) or (I-IV-I-V-I-IV-V-I).

Among these three 8-bar sequences, this one (above) is my favorite, but you also can try...

    red-blue-green-blue-red-blue-green-red  (C-F-G-F-C-F-G-C) or (I-IV-V-IV-I-IV-V-I),

    red-green-blue-green-red-blue-green-red  (C-G-F-G-C-F-G-C) or (I-V-IV-V-I-IV-V-I).


Of course, you can use each 4-chord progression as a standalone CP (and some videos do this), although I've shown only the “conclusive” I-IV-V-I while the others — I-IV-I-V and I-IV-V-IV and I-V-IV-V — are shown only as the first half of an 8-chord progression.


practicing all changes:  When you play any of the 8-chord progressions for awhile, and then play any other, you'll be practicing all of the 6 possible chord-changes.  You will be moving from I (to IV & V) and also from IV (to I & V) and from V (to I & IV), so you can improve your skills with playing all changes that use the 3 main chords of C Major.

a wide variety of chords:  Although I say "all changes" many other changes are possible, when other chords (not just I and IV and V) are used.  This page emphasizes ways to make music by using basic chord-notes (formed from the 1,3,5 chord-notes) in the main major chords (I, IV, V) and playing melodies that focus on chord-notes.  But creative musicians often make music in a wider variety of ways.  During a song that's in a major key, they sometimes play minor chords (as in a 50s Progression), plus complex chords that supplement the chord's basic triad-notes (1,3,5) with other notes, as in 7th chords.


Why do musicians use chord progressions?  Because we enjoy hearing two kinds of harmony, when the harmony either is only-simultaneous (in chords) OR is only-sequential (in melodies).  We also enjoy BOTH together, and this combination happens when musicians are playing melodies that “fit well” with each chord in a progression, so we can enjoy harmonies that are simultaneous-AND-sequential, with Harmonious Chords AND Harmonious Melodies.  During a chord progression, we hear many kinds of harmonious interactions, of Chords with Chords, and Chords with Melodies, and Melodies with Melodies.  Using a chord progression is an effective way to combine harmonies-and-melodies, to make music that is enjoyable (because people enjoy hearing harmonious chords and harmonious melodies) and is interesting (due to the harmony-changes when chords change, and when chord-based melodies include some non-chord notes instead of only chord notes).



 12-Bar Blues

Why?  It's a chord progression that provides a useful structure for improvising.  And it has been influential in modern music.  New World Encyclopedia and Wikipedia both say "blues musical styles, [and] forms (12-bar blues), [and] melodies, and the blues scale have influenced many other genres of music, such as rock and roll, jazz, and popular music."

How?  A first step in making it "a useful structure" is understanding the chord progression.  You can do this by reading (in this section) and hearing (in videos).  You can hear examples of 12 Bar Blues with youtube videos and in other ways.  Listen (and maybe play along) so you can learn.


What?  When you carefully listen to a song with a Chord Progression (CP) of 12-Bar Blues, you will hear chord changes (harmony changes) occurring in a time-pattern that repeats every 12 bars of music, which usually (with 4 beats per bar) is every 48 beats.  In the key of C-Major, for 12-Bar Blues the basic CP is 4 bars with C-Chords (CEG), 2 with F-Chords (FAC), 2 with C-Chords (CEG), 1 with G-Chords (GBD), 1 with F-Chords (FAC), and 2 with C-Chords (CEG).  Written in condensed form, it's CCCCFFCCGFCC in the Key of C, or more generally (in any key) is I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I.  Usually each 12-bar pattern (it's the CP pattern of 12-Bar Blues) is followed by another 12-bar pattern until the song ends.

blues without colors:  Here I'm usually showing Blues-CPs with red-blue-green, in the Key of C.  But elsewhere you'll see CPs without colors, and you'll hear CPs in other keys – especially G, D, A, E (useful for guitar) but also F, Bb, Eb (for wind instruments like saxophone or trumpet).

7th chords:  During a progression of 12-Bar Blues in the most common genres (for blues, blues rock, jazz blues), musicians typically use 7th Chords for all chords (not just for G7, as is common in non-blues music) to form C7, F7, and G7.  These chords have an extra note (the chord-scale's flatted seventh, b7) and this is important when you're improvising chord-based “blues” melodies because when you play “mainly chord notes” these include the usual 1 & 3 & 5, plus b7.  Occasionally the chords also are modified in other ways, especially for jazz blues.

turnaround endings:  Usually instead of a simple CCCCFFCCGFCC.... the progression is CCCCFFCCGFCG.... with the final C (a C-Chord) replaced by G (a G-Chord) to form a “turnaround” that helps to distinguish the ending of one 12-bar progression (CC) from the beginning (CCCC) of the next 12-bar progression, so instead of CCCCCC it's CGCCCC.  This leads to a sense of “coming home” when the next 12-bar CP begins with the home-chord of C.  But the turnaround is used only until the song ends, so the final 12-Bar CP can end with CC (instead of CG) because this ending produces “a satisfying conclusion” by finishing on the CC that is the home-chord in the Key of C.   /   The title is "endings" because although “CG” is the most common turnaround, sometimes other versions are used.     { more about turnarounds }

a quick-change beginning:  Another common variation is a “quick change” with one C (of CCCC) quickly changing to F (in the 2nd measure) to convert (CCCC) into (CFCC) so the 12 Bars become CFCCFFCCGFCG.

many variations:  In these videos you can see (in charts) and hear (in music) a variety of “jazz blues” variations on basic 12-Bar Blues.


hear the progression:  The best way to “know the progression” is to hear it many times, while playing chord-based melodies.  You will be actively learning-by-doing, and your activity will help you learn how to intuitively know all of the chord changes.  Due to the complexity – usually with 7 chord changes in every 12 bars – I recommend starting with melodies that use only chord-notes before moving on to using mainly chord-notes.  But it also can be useful to...

see the progression:  Most videos have a chart showing the 12 chords in a pattern of basic 12 Bar Blues.  This adds visual information, in a chart with 12 chord-terms that are static (this is OK) or (even better for a beginner) that also highlight each chord when it's being played.  This info is useful because it helps you learn the 12-bar structure, and recognize the chord changes by comparing what you're hearing (in the music) with what you're seeing (in the chart).


minor blues progressions:  By replacing each major chord ( I, IV, V ) with a minor chord ( i, iv, v ), you can play Minor Blues with a CP of ( i-i-i-i-iv-iv-i-i-v-iv-i-v ) instead of ( I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-V ).  My colorized keyboard shows chord-notes for C Major (in the two lower-rows of colors) and A Minor (in the higher-rows).  When you shift the blues progression from C Major into A Minor, it becomes Am-Am-Am-Am-Dm-Dm-Am-Am-Em-Dm-Am-Em.   Musicians also use modified versions of this basic progression.     { more about minor blues }

minor-sounding melodies:  Even in the usual “major blues” most melodies have a “minor sound” by including flatted notes, with b3, b5, and b7.    



practice “jamming with CP's”

by playing along with videos:

Below are links to videos with backing tracks — that provide rhythm-and-harmony (with chords or bass lines, or simple melodies) — so you can play along by improvising your own harmonious melodies that “fit well” with the harmony.  For some common chord progressions — currently for 12 Bar Blues and 50s Progression plus a popular cousin and later for others — you can choose from the many available videos and play along, to enjoy the music you're making and improve your skills.


[[ iou – During late-May I'll revise this section so it's shorter.  Before then, I strongly recommend that you go to another page for links to videos, because currently its links are more up-to-date (re: what I've found) than in this section.  But for info-about-videos, like the section below about "change...", this section is useful, is worth reading. ]]


Before the links to videos, here are some video-features you can adjust.  You can...

     change the length (of video):  If you want to practice over-and-over with a certain video, to “loop it” just right-click on the video, then click "Loop" so it's checked.     {but... this may not be possible with a tablet or phone, or at least it's more difficult.}

     change the speed (of video):  a video doesn't need to have a specific “tempo you want” because YouTube lets you change speeds (click the “gear” icon, choose .25  .50  .75  1.00  1.25  1.50  1.75  2.00) without changing the note-pitches, so the key remains the same.  This lets you enjoy the benefits of playing slow and playing fast.   /    But you can change your keyboard's note-pitches when you...

     change the key (of keyboard):  How?  All of my links are to backing tracks in the Key of C (because that's best with red-blue-green colorizing) but this doesn't matter much because you can use a video that isn't “in C” by adjusting, by having your keyboard automatically transpose.  For example, if a video is “in the key of E” just continue pressing the transpose-button until it's +4, and every note you play will sound 4 semitones higher, so when you “play in key of C” (easy for you) it “sounds like key of E” (in-tune with the video).   /   Why?  A keyboard's auto-transposing feature is useful for playing along with a video.  But it's even more useful when you want to jam with musicians who play an instrument that cannot auto-transpose.  For example, with my trombone other keys (especially F & Bb) are easier and I can play better;  but for valve trombone (similar to trumpet) I like Eb.  Guitar players usually prefer keys-with-sharps, like G, D, A, and E.  And other instruments have their own favorites.   Or maybe you like the music in a backing track that's not in the key of C, so you play this non-C video and change your keyboard-key to match it.  And when you want to play along with a song you like, usually it won't be in C, but you can “play in C” and do key-matching by transposing into the song's key.    {a keyboard feature that would make key-matching easier}


playing a CP without a Backing Track:  You also can play a CP by just alternating times of playing red-notes and blue-notes and green-notes in the sequence of a CP you like. 


videos for Chord Progressions:

As explained in the earlier iou, I recommend using another page for links to videos.

Two kinds of common Chord Progressions use only the main major chordsI,IV,V as in C,F,G (with red,blue,green chord-notes) — and these are easier to “play along with” until you also develop skills with the main minor chords.  These two types of CP's are 12-Bar Blues and I-IV-V-I.

Until I revise this section and update its links, currently (February 12) you may find it better to use a page for chord progressions to find videos that let you "practice jamming-with-others."


12 Bar Blues Progression:  You can choose your personal favorites (you'll like some better) from among these videos and the many others you can find.  Most videos show the chord progression (CP) they're playing;  it can be the simplest basic CP (CCCCFFCCGFCC) but more often it ends with a modified turnaround (CCCCFFCCGFCG) or has another variation (like CFCCFFCCGFCG or ...).  They often use “7th chords” and you can ignore these (by just treating C7,F7,G7 as if they're C,F,G) or use them by also including b7 in your chord-melodies or scale-melodies.   /   [[ iou – Now these are just links, but later there will be comments. ]]   from Marc Guitars, Blues ShuffleSlow Blues;   by AUsher Tracks, Fast Rock n RollRockin' ShuffleRock n RollClassicSmooth Slow;   by Cliff Smith, Medium TempoSlow;   by Randy Soller, Blues Shuffle and Slow Blues Shuffle.


I-IV-V-I — For this common simple-but-useful progression, the videos are fewer, and generally (in what I've found so far) they have less musical sophistication:  Improvising HarpistApplied TheoryChuan Musicvocal harmonysimple keyboardsimple piano.

This 4-chord progression can be used as the “second half” of an 8-chord-progression.  Earlier I describe four simple progressionsone with 4 chords, and three with 8 chords.  I found videos for the 4-chord CP (they're linked-to in the paragraph above), and the first half of each 8-chord CP, for  I-IV-I-V  and  I-IV-V-IV  and  I-V-IV-V.   iou – Soon (maybe January 13-15) I'll link to these videos for these “first half” CP's.


My description of five Popular CP's includes two (with videos above) that have only major chords, plus three (videos below) that also include a minor chord.


50s Progression, I-vi-IV-V (C-Am-F-G):  [[ iou – Later, I'll develop-and-revise this paragraph, but for now it will just have the links. ]] - [130 bpm & other] by John Alex --- (20:22) [animated to show - during the CP - each chord] --- (4:08) --- (9:43) [iou - I'll get the link] --- (3:30) by Frank Carr ---


50s rearranged, I-V-vi-IV (C-G-Am-F) to form a popular cousin:  ChussMusic - basicRock - basic - and [iou] other links soon.


jazz progression, ii-V-I, as in ii-V-I-I (Dm-G-C-C) plus other versions:  It's the most common CP in jazz.   [ iou – soon there will be links.]


[[ iou – The rest of this section is rough draft that will be fixed soon, maybe in very-late May. ]]

YouTube-Channels have many BT's, with variety:  My Backing Track  e.g. -- Russell Nolen Music (with nature art) don't show chords (intentionally - why? they explain, 5:57-6:53) -- C - simple guitar strumming that shows Chords as they're being played -- in 2020, I used Backing Tracks (BTs) for 12-Bar Blues to "play along" using my trombone, and --- CGFG (5:14) - instead of the CFGF in my 4-chord progression (Part A of 8-chord CP) --- [iou] i'll find-and-select some of the many that exist, as you can see in the "lots of ideas" linked-to above.

tips:  why use BTs for stage-performing & then how to use BTs (18:53) by Scott Uhl.

[[ iou – I'll continue making this section later, with descriptions & links to help you find videos in YouTube for 12-Bar Blues and the other chord progressions, so you can hear the CP's and play along. ]] 

[[ for now, lots of ideas are in one section of my Other Page.


strategies for using Instructional Videos and Pages

iou – Soon (in late May) I'll begin linking to – and briefly describing – some of the many excellent videos and web-pages I've been discovering.


APPENDIX for Part 1B

These sections originally were in the main flow of Part 1B.  I think some parts will be fascinating for some readers, but “too much” for others.  Therefore they've been moved into this appendix or into an appendix-page so they're out of the mainstream, and you can decide.  For a particular section, maybe you'll be fascinated and the ideas will help you understand and will stimulate your own explorations.  Or maybe not, and you can ignore them.


the mental benefits of organization:  Earlier (in the benefits of logically organizing Music Theory) I describe two easier ways to remember 22 letters – when they're organized into 6 words, or 1 story – and ask you to arrange the words (sneaky the lunch dog my ate) into a story.  If you haven't yet done this, ask yourself “what happens?” and probably you'll get this story.


The 50s Progression:  This is a popular chord progression.  Why?  A simple reason is the smooth blending of minor and major (with its minor chord and three major chords) that adds interesting variety to the music.  A complex reason is why its blending is smooth, due to a sharing-of-notes in 3 of its 4 chords, and thus in 2 of its 4 chord-changes.  How?  In the main 50s Progression — it's ( I-vi-IV-V ), and specifically is ( C-Am-F-G ) in the key of C Major — the vi-chord (A,C,E) shares two notes (C,E) with the I-chord (C,E,G) it follows, and it shares two notes (A,C) with the next chord, IV-chord (F,A,C);  and all three chords have C, which is the most important note of C Major, is the key's 1-note, its root note.  These multiple note-sharings provide two “smooth-sounding transitions” for the first two chord changes – from C to Am, and Am to F – in the Chord Progression (CP).  But although the two changes are smooth (due to the shared notes), the chords are shifting from major to minor, then back to major;  this combination of smooth transitions (with shared notes) and shifting tonality (major to minor to major) produces a progression that sounds beautiful, is musically interesting.   /   Then the CP ends with a V-chord (G,B,D) that shares only one note (its G that also is in a C-Chord) with the other three chords.  In the context of any chord progression, the chords have musical functions, and for various reasons this V-chord produces “musical tension” that can be resolved in the next bar, at the start of the next repetition of the CP ( I-vi-IV-V ), with a I-chord that is the home-chord in C Major.     { wikipedia's explanation of why “50s” is popular }    { For similar reasons, the order-of-chords can be rearranged to form other popular chord progressions like I-V-vi-IV or I-IV-vi-V,... }

also:  The common progression of I-IV-V-I can be slightly modified to form the functionally-similar vi-IV-V-I that, when it's repeated, is a time-shifted 50s Progression of “I-vi-IV-V”.


comparing major chords with minor chords:  What are the similarities & differences?  The basic chords of C Major and A Minor are similar — each is every other white note (the 1-3-5 notes of the chord's key-scale) and maybe an octave note — but are not identical, so they have different “musical sounds.”  Why?  We can understand the chords more deeply by looking at their semitone intervals.  In a chord of C Major, the 1-to-3 interval (C-to-E) is 4 semitones (it's defined as a major third by musicians), and its 3-to-5 interval (E-to-G) is only 3 semitones (a minor third).  A chord of A Minor has the same two intervals, but in reversed order;  its 1-to-3 (A-to-C) is 3 semitones (minor third), and its 3-to-5 (C-to-E) is 4 semitones (major third).  Both chords have the same intervals of 1-to-5 (C-to-G or A-to-E) with 7 semitones (defined as a perfect fifth), and 5-to-8 (G-to-C or E-to-A) with 5 semitones (perfect fourth), and 1-to-8 (C-to-C or A-to-A) with 12 semitones (octave).   /   a summary:  the third-intervals (1-to-3, 3-to-5) are identical but with reversed order, are major-then-minor in a major chord, but minor-then-major in a minor chord;  all other intervals — the fifth-interval (1-to-5), fourth-interval (5-to-8), octave-interval (1-to-8) — are identical.

terms for intervals:  An interval between two notes is defined by the number of semitones between them.  An interval of 2 semitones (e.g. between C and D) is called a second,  3 semitones is a minor third,  4 is a major third (aka a third),  5 is a fourth,  7 is a fifth,  9 is a sixth,  10 is a flatted seventh (used in a dominant 7th chord, aka a 7th),  11 is a natural 7th,  12 is an octave.  The italicized intervals occur in triad chords, in both major and minor.


7th Chords:  When playing blues (and other kinds of music) in C Major, often some basic chords (C, F, and/or G) are converted into Dominant 7th chords (into C7, F7, and/or G7), aka simply as 7th chords or seventh chords.  For example, a G7 chord is formed by supplementing G,B,D (the 1,3,5 notes of the G-Scale that is used to define a G-Chord) with F (which is the flatted-seventh in a G-Scale, is the b7);  this G7 (with G,B,D plus F) can replace a basic G (with G,B,D) that uses only triad-notesWhat is the musical reason for using G7?  It's mainly because in G7 a dissonant tritone — it's the interval of 6 semitones from B to F, or from F to B, i.e. between the scale-notes of 3 and b7 — produces “musical tension” (for “musical drama”) that is useful when playing in any style, including a “blues” style.     {supplemented chords - including Dominant 7ths and others – jazz chords include 9th & 11th & 13th)


diminished chords:  A totally different kind of “7th Chord” isn't even called a 7th Chord.  This chord — it's B,D,F with every other white note, starting on B — isn't included in my diagrams (like the “Minor within Major” that has “I ii iii IV V vi” in the same row) because this chord isn't Major and isn't Minor, instead it's a Diminished Chord that is rarely used in music.

7-9-11-13 chords in jazz:  To further supplement a b7 chord, musicians sometimes add additional “extra notes” like the 9th, 11th, and 13th.  You can hear some beautiful results (plus explanations) in a 20-minute video about Jazz-Chord Theory by Julian Bradley for his Jazz Tutorial.  Wikipedia describes jazz chords that include 9th chords (also used in classical & 11th chords & 13th chords.    /    terms and intervals:  a 9th (aka ninth) is 14 semitones (an octave plus a second);  an 11th is 17 semitones (an octave plus a fourth);  a 13th is 21 semitones (an octave plus a sixth);  each interval can be made “minor” by “flatting a note” by decreasing the interval one semitone.


triads:  A basic chord (the common major and minor, plus diminished & augmented) that has only three kinds of scale-notes — only 1 & 3 & 5, so it's not supplemented with extra notes — is called a triad.    { triads }



a dog story:  It's easier to remember the 22 letters when they're organized into a story,  The sneaky dog ate my lunch.     { it's "a story" – instead of “the story” – because other stories are possible. }



Einstein did express a principle of appropriate simplicity, although not with the words that usually are quoted.  As explained by Quote Investigator and Nature,

    "Did Einstein really say that? .....  Some [of the many quotations attributed to Einstein] are edited or paraphrased to sharpen or neaten the original."
    "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler" might, says Alice Calaprice,* be a compressed version of lines from a 1933 lecture by Einstein:  "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."    {* She is editor of The Ultimate Quotable Einstein. }



getting a keyboard and colorizing it

iou – Soon I'll write an introductory overview here, about my “do it yourself” page that describes a two-step process:  first, get a keyboard (if you don't already have one, buy one);  second, colorize the keyboard.


three features that (IMO) should be available:

iou – And I'll write another overview (for the last part of the do-it-yourself page) describing why I want to get an electronic keyboard (how?)* with three features that would be musically valuable due to the many benefits of using my system for red-blue-green colorizing of chord-notes and the pleasant harmony produced by mathematically-logical just tuning and the creative artistry facilitated by musically-logical transposing

* How to get this kind of keyboard?  If a musician wants one (or more) of these features, three possibilities are to...  find a keyboard that now has the feature,  or motivate a company to design it into a keyboard,  or find a “do it yourself” way by using MIDI & software.

The three features I want (with details in the DIY-page) are a keyboard...

 that “lights up all chord notes” (across the whole keyboard) for each chord being played – e.g. when playing in the key of C, for the main major chords (C,F,G - I,IV,V) or a minor chord (Dm,Em,Am - ii,iii,vi) or other chords.  The resulting benefits would be similar to my red-blue-green colorizing (with labels) but in many ways lighting would be better;  and in a few ways colored labels are better.   /   How to get this?  Many companies now make a “lighted keyboard” but afaik the lights are used only in other ways, including lights for a few chord notes but not all chord-notes.  Soon I'll be learning more, to discover if any current keyboards can do this as-is,  or if any companies want to design-and-manufacture it by using only software changes (this might be fairly easy & cheap) or with hardware changes (that would be more difficult & costly).

• with buttons that let you choose between Equal-Tempered Tuning (this is useful in a wide variety of situations, so it's typically the only option when playing an electronic keyboard) and Just-Intonation Tuning (with musical benefits in a few situations, especially when playing in a single key – like C Major with a colorized keyboard – either solo or with other instruments that can play just tuning).  The important benefit of Just Intonation is being able to hear harmonies that are more harmonious instead of the “compromise harmonies” of Equal Temperament, with overtone-interactions between notes that are designed to be intentionally out-of-tune.

 with buttons that let you numerically change the key by going 1 semitone up or down (it's the standard way, is usually the only way) and also (as an option that should be provided) logically change the key by going up 5 semitones (from C to F) to “add a flat” with a “Flat-button”,  or go up 7 semitones (from C to G) to “add a sharp” with a “Sharp-button”, thus giving a player two musically-logical ways to change the key, as in a Circle of Fifths.     {note: You can add a flat by going either up 5 or down 7 to get F, and you add a sharp by going up 7 or down 5 to get G.}   This extra option would be useful in some musical situations, including



Scientific Research (about The Effects of Music)

I've begun searching, and there is a LOT of research.    { some of what I've found is summarized in Scientific Research about The Many Benefits of Music }

Overall when all things are considered, modern science strongly supports many claims (but not all that have been made)* for the benefits that people — especially juniors & seniors (the young & old), plus people with neurological diseases — get from listening to music and making music that has been pre-composed or is being self-composed by improvising.  Currently I'm fairly confident in claiming that "most people, both young and old, get major benefits (mental, emotional, physical) when they listen to music, and also when they make music.  When people make music – especially by improvising it – the young can more effectively develop more of their full potential for what they can become;  and the old can more effectively maintain more of what they have become, or even add to it."  But... I want to learn more – so I can tell you more – about the claims that seem to have strong support (or weaker support, or none) based on scientific research.

* There is support for many claims, but not all.  This can be confusing.  Therefore my goal – in all I write about this aspect of life – will be to accurately describe the research (experiments & observations) and the interpretations, regarding the differing levels of support for different claims.  When we're evaluating claims, instead of binary conclusions (either yes or no) it's often useful to think about theory status – our estimates of a theory's plausibility – that can range from very low to very high.     { I've described theory status in a short summary and longer summary from my PhD work about Scientific Method(s) that use Reality Checks to evaluate scientific research. }    But...

I think it will be wiser — because it will be easier for me, and more effective for you, thus a win-win that's better for all of us — if I delegate this responsibility.  I need to find people who know more than I ever will know, who already are much more expert than I can become.  Maybe they have written a summary of the kind I want this page to be.  Or they know someone who has done this.  Ideally their summary would have levels:  • an introductory "big picture" overview, written in plain language so it's easy for an intelligent non-expert to understand;   • an intermediate level providing more details, with clear explanations that skillfully teach a reader what they need to know in order to understand, and with links to resources (web-pages, videos, podcasts) where they can find more information;   • an advanced level, maybe in the same page or (more realistically?) in linked-to pages, written by the same author or (more likely) by a team of authors who can combine their expertise in various areas.   /   How?  In this area – trying to understand the benefits of music – there should be funding grants for science projects (to discover pieces of the puzzle) and also for education projects (to show people “what the puzzle looks like” when its pieces are logically organized into a coherent whole, so they can see the big picture and learn how to understand it).


experimenting and interpreting:  The process of doing-and-interpreting scientific research is complex and difficult.  One complicating factor (among many) is the difference between showing correlation and (more difficult) showing causation.  For example, many studies show that k-12 students who do music activities – especially by playing an instrument – “do better” in a variety of important ways, inside & outside school, in the short term and long term.  But when interpreting these studies, we should consider the factor of self-selection and how it affects our conclusions about cause-and-effect.  Are the music-playing students doing better because they're playing music (so playing music causes doing better), or do better students choose to play music more often (so the better students are more likely to play music, thus causing the observed correlation)?  Each kind of causal relationship is plausible, and certainly both are happening to some extent.  Therefore it's important to do well-designed experiments, and logically interpret all experiments, so we can determine “how much of each kind” is happening.  I think (but will check to be sure) the experimental results are that “both do occur,” but playing music does help young students – on average, with "all other things being equal" – develop their abilities more fully, helping them achieve better outcomes in school, and generally have a better life.   /   And many other important factors contribute to the complexity of scientific research;  this makes it more difficult to skillfully do the research, and then interpret its meaning & significance.

One example from personal experience, also confirmed by scientists, is how Synchronous Running with Tempo Music produces physical-emotional-mental-motivational benefits, with improved physical performance, emotional enjoyment, mental attitudes, motivated perseverance.


iou – Later, what's in this section will be a little more (and better), as explained above.  And much more will be in a supplementary page.



working with other educators

The page-intro describes my goal of "working cooperatively with others, to help people of all ages — but especially seniors [in living facilities & community centers] and K-12 students [in classrooms, schools, districts], the old and young — increase their enjoying of music" by improving their improvising of music, in many ways but especially by using a colorized keyboard.

In the homepage of my website about Education for Problem Solving, the following paragraph is quoting from a section that describes my approach to working with other educators.

    co-creating better education:  A section about Working Together explains why "I want to work with other educators – and doing this as a free volunteer will be fine with me – to develop our ideas for how to help students improve their creative-and-critical thinking skills and their effective using of problem-solving process in all areas of life" because we think "strategies for improving our problem-solving education are worth developing and (by converting our strategy-ideas into classroom-actions) actualizing.  To do this developing-and-actualizing, collaboration is necessary because although I have some understandings and skills, I need help from other educators who have developed other understandings and skills,... who understand the perspectives of classroom teachers [and students] more accurately & thoroughly, or are skilled activity developers, and have other kinds of useful experience & expertise, so that by working together with coordinated cooperation, creatively combining your understandings-and-skills with mine, we can design curriculum & instruction that is a good match for how students like to learn (and are able to learn), and how teachers like to teach. .....  I want to see my ideas actualized in practical ways, by combining them with your ideas, working together to achieve your goals."
    more:  You can read the full section about "Working Together" in a full-width page (it's useful for a small-screen phone or tablet) or (better with a large-screen monitor) on the right side of a two-frame pair.

actions during 2024:  I'll continue doing experiments that produce experiences.  During April I'll be contacting people who work with seniors, e.g. activity directors in senior living facilities or community centers.  And I'll be communicating with professors in OSU's Music Education, and with scientists & educators elsewhere.  All of these actions will help me learn more about teaching the young & old, and will help the teachers I'm working with.      { iou – This paragraph will be updated when things begin happening. }

* As described in Learning and Teaching, I'll "begin investing more time in doing experiments that produce experiences... so I can learn more, can understand more thoroughly and accurately.  I want to observe the actions of people (young & old) while they're playing, and communicate with them.  I will use these experiments to do Reality Checks ... that will give me feedback [when I observe how people respond to playing the keyboard, and to the different ways I guide their musical explorations] for how closely my thinking (about “how the world works”) matches the reality (of “how the world really works”).  Then I can use this feedback to modify my thinking so it more closely matches reality."  Basically, these experience-producing experiments "will provide logical evidence-based justification for [or against] my claim... that people can immediately play music that sounds pleasantly harmonious, is interesting and enjoyable, so they will be motivated to continue doing it."  And I'll be learning from teachers who know more than me, in many important ways.



Improvising Music and Conversation

What?  In August 2022 this page had two proposals, to help people improvise music and conversation.  Now it's just one proposal, for improvising music.

What?  I've eliminated only the proposal for using MY ideas about conversation.  But I think we should use the conversation-ideas of OTHERS.  I continue to think that conversation activities will be extremely beneficial for seniors (and also for K-12 students) IF these activities are designed by people who have more expertise than me,* and IF they are done well by the activity directors in senior living facilities or in senior community centers.  Or by teachers in K-12 schools.   /   * I think the conversation activities I've described (in another page) might be useful, but the designing of activities plus evaluations-and-decisions (about the kinds of activities to do) should be done by experts.  One of my ideas is to design "conversation activities for seniors that – using the metaphor of a bicycle wheel (with center-hub, spokes, rim) – supplement center-to-rim interactions (typical) with around-the-rim social interactions (better in many ways).  I've been thinking about how useful this kind of conversation-facilitating activity would be for seniors in living facilities, but it can be adapted for seniors in other situations, and for younger people in a K-12 classroom or elsewhere."

Why?  My change of mind was due to a recognition that talking-activities should be done well – or not done at all – and doing them well would be difficult, plus my own justifiable humility in this area.   /    All conversation activities should be done well because conversation is relationally important, so it's personally important;  it can be “high stakes” emotionally, for people of all ages.*    Due to the complexities of people and our conversations, doing conversation activities with consistently high quality — for most persons (who as a group have a wide variety of backgrounds, personalities, abilities) in a wide range of situations — would be difficult.    And conversation education is an area where I have much less expertise, compared with music education where I feel more confident.    {* e.g. the main activity in my conversation-page might be a high-stress experience, like an intense “speed dating” session for singles.}   /   For these reasons — because conversation activities would be personally-important & difficult, and I have low expertise — I want to approach conversation education cautiously, by sharing ideas (with appropriate humility, due to my respect for those who have more expertise & experience) and asking “what do YOU think?”, by contrast with my confident sharing-of-ideas in music education.    {some ideas for possible conversation activities are in another page}

iou – Soon, maybe in January 2024, here I'll describe some ideas (with quotes & links) about the importance of conversation, and difficulties in doing it well.




Educating Yourself and Others:

Why am I enthusiastic about education?  It's because one exciting aspect of living (in our everyday experiences of thinking-and-doing) is education, when it's broadly defined as learning from experiences.

With this wide view of education, every person is an educator-of-self (is a learner, doing internal education), and often is an educator-of-others (a teacher, doing external education).*   You are being a teacher whenever you help another person get more life-experiences and/or learn more from their life-experiences.  During our daily living, every person sometimes does informal teaching.  But instead of viewing our actions as “teaching others” a perspective that's better because it's more humbly respectful (and more accurate) is “helping others learn” by their own actions, with us merely serving as facilitators of what they are doing.  We usually do this “teaching” by just living in ways that make their experiences more personally beneficial for learning, more effective in helping them develop their whole-person potentials.     { more:  a broad definition of problem solving  and  improving whole-person potentials with whole-person education  and  producing more experiences with more learning  plus  teaching with empathy so – as in my favorite movie & my sister's ideas – we can help others achieve their goals. }

* Although "every person is an educator [of self & others]" and "every person sometimes does informal teaching," those who choose teaching as a profession typically do it with more expertise, and they deserve great respect due to the importance of what they do and their skill in doing it. }



some personal history

a summary:  I've had fun with music.

My early experiences were listening to music on the radio, plus my father's collection of vinyl records.

Then I began playing pre-composed music with trombone in school bands, 5th grade thru high school, in small-town Iowa and Anaheim CA.  Our family's move upgraded me from one of the worst junior high bands (in Iowa) to one of the best high school bands (in California) where I enjoyed being a small fish (just one of the Second Trombones) in a big pond.  My experiences were enjoyable but shallow — with very little thinking about the music, simply playing whatever was on the sheet music in front of me (or in my memory), never playing by ear or improvising — without much understanding.  Then I began having...


experiences with improvising:

After moving to Seattle in 1970 for graduate school (in Chemistry) at my first UW, I began playing self-composed music.  At first, with my trombone I “played along” with songs I had tape-recorded (from vinyl or radio) or was hearing on the radio, playing the melody (by ear) or improvising melody-variations, or playing supportive functions that were a bit like a typical bass line or the kind of “second trombone” supporting role (by modifying the melody and/or harmonizing with it) but with less precision-and-consistency than in the parts I played in high school, that had been carefully pre-composed in the arrangement (composed for all instruments) being played by our band.  The music I played was only moderately skillful, but I enjoyed the exciting new musical experiences that were produced by my experimenting.

The next summer, jam sessions with Harold & Charlie (playing clarinet & trumpet) included improvising with songs (mainly Dixieland Jazz) and with 12 Bar Blues, a chord progression they taught me.  I was fascinated by the elegant beauty of this chord progression, and I enjoyed the process-and-result when we used this framework for improvising.  Even though I didn't understand much about “the theory” (just knew the basics), what I knew was enough.  I recognized that by using music theory we could coordinate our improvised melodies, cooperating to make interesting music, and it was fun.     { Another favorite kind of jam session is to sing familiar songs with others — by singing each melody as-is and with improvised variations — to take advantage of the familiarity, plus our intuitive translating of musical ideas into musical sounds with singing. }


During the next few years, in the early-70s while living in Anaheim I explored possibilities for using chord notes (plus non-chord notes) by experimenting when playing trombone, and making visually-logical representations of “spatial thinking” for trombone.  A decade later I was inspired to think about how to creatively use sliding-between-notes when I heard a beautifully artistic use of “long sliding” by Urbie Green* that illustrates using the special features of different instruments.  In a store for used LP-records, his album caught my attention because in 1972 during a two-month road trip (from Seattle to Madison-and-Milwaukee, then back to Anaheim) I heard him play in a Chicago bar, was impressed by his trombone artistry, by what he could do with the instrument.     { I've developed a wide variety of “visual representations” that include some for keyboards with “red-blue-green” and more. }


experiences with music education:

Some of my adventures during life on a road less traveled were learning about music and teaching it.

In Fall 1975 while living for a few months in Eugene OR, I met Joe Kasik at the Saturday Market where he sold the bamboo flutes he made.  He showed me some “how to do it” principles at the market and then in a workshop in his home, where he and his wife had a back yard ending with the Mackenzie River.  After returning to Anaheim, for two months I made bamboo flutes and sold them at weekend markets in Orange County.  To help people play better, and sell more flutes, I wrote a 4-page booklet about making music by playing song-melodies (plus variations) and by improvising with chord progressions.  I soon returned to Seattle and bought a melodica;  as described by Wikipedia, I added "a long flexible plastic tube" so I could "play the keyboard horizontally" while seeing the keys that I had labeled (red blue green), thus making (in the late-1970s) my first colorized keyboard.  For two years, 1980-81, I taught workshops on playing kazoo (to make music by humming, which is almost like intuitively singing without words) for Seattle's largest-in-USA Northwest Folklife Festival and this led to forming a creative kazoo band, led by a skilled accordion player.    {my many musical instruments}

In 1989, I returned to graduate school (in History of Science before moving on to Curriculum & Instruction) at my second UW, in Madison WI.  For 3 semesters I was a Teaching Assistant for a course (Physics in the Arts) that included color mixing – as in my concept of “splitting out the white” – and photography, plus music theory that showed students why major chords have a pleasant sound, due to the physics of sound and physiology of humans.  It's interesting that our ears hear two simultaneous notes as the same two notes but with harmony (or dis-harmony), but our eyes see two simultaneous colors as one new color.  This was one more experience that helped me learn about music, so I can help others learn.

I'm an enthusiastic educator (why?) who began teaching as a tennis instructor (for City of Anaheim) during high school.  Since then I've taught lots of chemistry, plus physics & calculus, ESL, juggling (with different quality-of-teaching for tennis & juggling)* and ballroom dancing and problem-solving strategies.  I've written a lot about improvising music (by using creativity + theory), now am beginning to do more teaching-and-learning in person.    /   * Although I had similar levels of “private skill” in both, my “public performing” was better in tennis, but ironically my “public teaching” was basically a failure for tennis but a success for juggling.  I've enjoyed both activities, in different ways at different times in life.  Playing tennis was an important part of life in high school and (to a lesser extent) in college and beyond.  Later, learning how to juggle (in 12 years, 45 minutes) – and then teaching it in UW Experimental College – has enriched my life in many ways, leading to a variety of fascinating adventures that otherwise would not have happened.

While learning more about education, I've grown to appreciate the value of learning by discovery.  But this should supplement (not replace) learning from explanations, because when both are used well in a creative combination, this can be more synergistically effective – for having fun, and learning – than either pure-discovery or pure-explanation by itself.     { As an educator, one personal goal is to balance “all would be best” fanaticism:  "Although sometimes the rhetoric of enthusiasts makes it seem they are claiming ‘if some is good, more would be better, and all would be best’ (where 'all' is the approach they advocate), most educators agree that we should avoid the uncreative restrictions of rigid "all would be best" thinking (based on either-or assumptions) because eclectic instruction usually works best, especially in the long run."  Therefore, we should try to creatively combine instruction methods for keyboarding and more generally. }

In 1997, I condensed my PhD dissertation (about teaching Scientific Method in Science Education) and made web-pages that I self-published on the web, eventually generalizing the ideas beyond science (into other areas of life) and developing a website about Education for Problem Solving.  A year later I wrote a page about Musical Improvisation, and have continued developing it.  The Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) shows this page in 2004 (fairly short, with 5.7 screens)   [[ iou - in July, I'll make a few links for times between 2004 and NOW when my Other Page is 48.5 screens, is “a website inside a page” and this page is similarly large. ]]


In early-2013 I moved from Madison to our family home in Anaheim CA, to serve as caregiver for parents.  Dad passed away (three weeks after an unexpected “no previous history” medical complication) in late 2013.  Then until mid-July 2019, Mom was generally healthy, fairly independent, able to walk around the house without help, with minimal pain.  Then she injured her lower back while bending over to remove shoes, and life was not the same for her;  she never again had a day without severe pain.  After 10 days of me (and a part-time nurse) trying to cope with the new situation in our house, Mom left the house and had strong pain medicines plus well-trained helpers in facilities (medical, nursing care, residential) for the next 4 months, the rest of her life.  A few weeks after a minor heart attack she died at 95, the end of a long-and-good life, with her & Dad (who had died at 91) helping others have good lives.

inspirations for activities in facilities:  My sister and I decided that the best residence for our mother was Sunrise Senior Living of Huntington Beach, and overall we were very happy with the high quality of everything.  Connie (sister) visited almost every day.  So did we (me and the dog of Mom-and-me), and I observed the daily “recreational activities” of Sunrise.  Then later (when Mom was no longer there) I imagined how they could do activities in ways that would be more beneficial for the residents, and more fun.  These thoughts have led to my two proposals, for improvising music and improvising conversation;  I feel confident about music, but for conversation I'm justifiably humble so for it I'll just share some ideas, and ask experts “what do you think?”


Yes, music has been fun for me.  Now I want to help others also enjoy music in more ways, more fully.




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