Improvising Music
and Conversation
 ( for the young and old ) 


This page is a proposal, written by Craig Rusbult — I have a PhD (in Education) plus enthusiasm, excited about the possibilities for improving our teaching-learning-thinking in a variety of areasduring life on a road less traveled.

What?   By working cooperatively with others, I want to help more people – especially seniors and K-12 students, the old and young – increase their enjoying of music by making their own music.    {and also increase their enjoying of conversation}

Who?   I'm highly motivated by these goals for music education, am looking forward to working with partners who want to help us achieve the shared goals that we think are worth pursuing.  Although I'll be emphasizing the benefits of using a colorized keyboard to make music, this method of improvising (and teaching) is compatible with other methods.    {more about working cooperatively to achieve goals}

Why?   Emotionally, good music is wonderful.  It's fascinating and enjoyable, can be beautiful & dramatic, familiar & mysterious, relaxing & exciting, inspiring us mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Music is one of the best things in life.     {my lifelong experiences with music}

Why?   Scientifically, we are discovering the many ways that good 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.    {research about the many benefits of music}


What?   You can enjoy the music of others, and also make your own music.

How?   If you want to improve your making-of-music by creative improvising, you can learn by doing, when you do musical experiments (you try new musical ideas) to produce new musical experiences so you can listen-and-learn.

How?   While you're experimenting, a keyboard that is colorized (with red, blue, and green) will help you instantly-and-intuitively know the notes in each chord (red, blue, or green) and this will help you use harmony to make melodies more easily and effectively.


options:  You can continue reading (to learn more about harmony-and-melodies) or skip ahead to Strategies for Improvising and Different Ways to Enjoy Music.



How?   A useful-and-fun way to experiment is by...


using harmony to make melodies:

You can enjoy the music of others, and also invent your own music – with beautiful harmonious melodies – when you let your melody-making be guided by harmony.  This is the same method that's used by skillful musicians when they are making the music you love to hear.  One approach is by...

keyboard (37 mini-keys) with color codingusing colors to make harmonious melodies:   Whether you have lots of musical experience or only a little, an easy way to make harmonious melodies is to colorize a keyboard* and let your playing be guided by the colors, by the black & white, plus red, blue, green.  How?  A simple way to do musical experiments, to listen and learn, is to...

    • play only the black notes, in any way you want.  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.   /   after you've been playing for awhile, read this:  Probably you already are doing one type of musically-interesting exploration.  Have you noticed that you're “doing something special” with one kind of black note?  {with one note in the group-of-two or group-of-three}   If yes, you've been choosing one kind of black note, and temporarily making it your home-note by “emphasizing it” when you play.  If no, you can begin doing this now.     more about home-note(s) and how to emphasize it(them) }
    * In the late-1970s, I invented this play-by-color improvising system.  It was first “published on the web” in 1998, is Copyright © 1998 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved.
    • play harmonious melodies:  When you use harmony by playing only red, everything you do will sound wonderful, will sound harmoniously pleasant because you're playing only the notes of a harmonious chord.  keyboard (37 mini-keys) with color codingThen, so instead of merely sounding pleasant (with only red) you can be learning how to make music that is "extremely good" – is pleasant AND interesting – you can explore a wider variety of possibilities, by playing mainly red but also including some non-red notes that are white (mainly) and also black.  {risky adventures: Although some things you do won't "sound wonderful... harmoniously pleasant" so it's more risky to play in these ways, including non-red notes has the potential to be more interesting.  But you're not risking anything very important.}    /    Then play only blue, and mainly blue.  And only green, mainly green.  For each color, do musical experiments that produce new musical experiences.  Play with a variety of harmonies, melodies, and rhythms.  Have fun exploring the possibilities, listen and learn.   /   You probably have been doing this, but if not you now can begin to...
    • use the method that's a favorite of almost all musicians, by mixing red & blue & green notes, making chord progressions by alternating time-periods of only red (or mainly red) with only blue (or mainly blue) and only green (or mainly green).  As you gain more experience in mixing the colors (red, blue, green, black) you'll be learning from your experiences;  you are becoming more skillful in improvising music that is interesting and enjoyable, by making harmonious melodies.    {more about playing red-blue-green in popular chord progressions like 12-Bar Blues}
    play harmonious chords:  You probably have done this already, but if not you can begin to play multiple red notes (2, 3, 4,...) at the same time, and this also "will sound wonderful... because you're playing only the notes of a chord," and we think the notes of a chord sound harmoniously pleasing whether they are played sequentially (to form a harmonious melody with sequential harmony) or are played simultaneously (in a harmonious chord with simultaneous harmony).  You can do musical experiments by exploring the different ways to simultaneously play only red notes.  Then alternate between time-periods of only red, and times of only blue, and only green, and only red,...  While you're doing this, you'll be hearing the sounds of different chords, and the interesting music that is produced by changing the chords, when you're alternating between red, blue, and green.   Enjoy the new experiences that arise from your experimenting;  listen and learn.     {more: systematic ways to explore some possiblities of chording}
    • major and minor:  When your improvising is guided by the red/blue/green colors of the lower whole-dots, you're playing with major chords in a major key.  And when you're guided by red/blue/green in the upper half-dots – doing creative experiments with harmonious melodies & chords – you're playing with minor chords in a minor key.     playing in the key of C-Major or A Minor using 1,4,5 chords that are major or minor }


iou – some history:  Initially I described “harmony-based music & music theory” in a full-length page, beginning in 1998.  Then (in late 2022) I wrote about it in this page, and (later in 2022, continuing into 2023) made new diagrams and wrote new descriptions in the full page.  Soon (mid-to-late January) will revise both sections (Part 1 here, and Part 2 later).


the benefits of using colors:   When you're doing musical experiments (you're trying new ideas) a colorized keyboard gives you an easy-intuitive-instant recognizing of notes that are in the chord, because all of the chord-notes (no more, no less) are red;  or they're blue, or green.  This intuitive simplicity helps you make better-sounding music.  It promotes confidence, helping you develop-and-maintain a creative attitude – of relax and do, listen and learn – while you're “playing games with the music,” guided by colors.   /   You also can be learning music theory by self-discovering logical patterns in the lower whole-dots (and upper half-dots), and learning from my explanations.  One aspect of music theory will help you understand...


why chord-notes sound harmonious:   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.   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-and-minds.  With creative uses of these pleasant interactions – by using them sometimes, 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. }

note:  italicized links go to other parts of this page, and green-shaded links go to my big page about Improvising Music.



Who?   In a question-for-myself that is essential for every writer, I ask “who is the ‘audience’ I'm writing for? who do I want to communicate with?”  But instead of a single answer with simplicity, there are multiple answers with complexity.  It seems unwise to “simplify” because I think this page will be interesting-and-useful, in different ways, for a wide variety of readers who are educators (teaching in a senior facility or K-12 school) and/or musicians (ranging from beginners to experts).  I'm hoping it will be useful for its readers, including you, with clear explanations for beginners and fresh perspectives for experts, with innovative ideas for music educators who will have very different goals-and-methods when teaching the old & young because life situations are very different for the old & young.   One way to make the page more useful for a variety of readers is to give you...


options:  The basics of Improvising Music by Using Harmony are above in Part 1, and you can learn more in Part 2.  Or continue reading below, with Strategies for Improvising and Different Ways to Enjoy Music.


Strategies for Improvising

experiments produce experiences and learning:   A basic strategy 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.

developing-and-using a better growth mindset:   In all areas of life (including when you "try new musical ideas") you can learn more effectively by wisely developing & consistently using 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 important areas) you can “grow” by improving your skills, when you invest intelligent effort.  An effective growth mindset combines honest accuracy (in self-perception) with reasonably-justifiable optimism (about being able to grow & improve).

developing-and-using an adventurous attitude:   When a person is beginning to improvise music, it's an unfamiliar activity and they might feel a little uncomfortable.  They may not feel confident.  They need a growth mindset – plus wanting to learn from new experiences, no matter what happens* – so they 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.  With a feeling that “no matter what happens, I'll be ok” you can relax.  You'll feel more free to do the creative experimenting that produces new experiences and new learning.   {experiences: getting more & learning more - performing and/or learning}    /    Another way to feel more comfortable is to use the benefits of a colorized keyboard so you'll have easy-and-intuitive recognition of the chord-notes you can use to form harmonious melodies.  This will help you be more confident in your ability to make music that is interesting and enjoyable.


Different Ways to Enjoy Music

What?   An easy way to enjoy is by just 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 listening to their music and my music.  Both kinds of music are sources of joy for me, in different ways.  Probably you also think “both ways are enjoyable.”     { if you're curious, you can hear some of my favorite music – and watch our cute dog & my juggling }


How?  You can...

listen to the music of others “live” in person, or (more often) with a recording that's on physical media (CD, tape, vinyl record);  or in a digital file (MP3, AAC/M4A,...) you download or internet-stream;  or on radio (AM or FM, broadcast or streamed) or TV (broadcast, cabled, streamed).

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.    /    terms:  To make a generalizing-of-principles easier, when I write “playing an instrument” it often means making music by using an instrument that is either internal (vocal) or external, so it's generalized to include all ways of making music.  But usually the term instrument – when it's used by most people in most situations – means a non-vocal external instrument.

* If 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 modify the melody, I find that when singing “tones without words” (e.g. by starting every note with “d”) it's easier (for several reasons) to intuitively release fresh new ideas, with creative music tending to happen more often.


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 with no changes.  You can play along with others, or you can just remember a melody and play it by yourself, with voice or instrument.  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}

• modify a melody:   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 deleting 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.


enjoy pre-composed, enjoy self-composed:   As described above, 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 using harmony to make a new (self-composed) melody.     { It's useful to view improvising as real-time composing, and composing as slow-motion improvising with a preserving of the musical results. }


Music Education for the Old and Young:

Many Similarities, Some Big Differences

iou – I'll continue developing this outline soon (in late January) and will begin writing paragraphs.

There are major similarities in the ways that all people (whether young or old, or in between) make music, and in our educational methods of helping them make music.  But there also are some differences when we examine...

• the major benefits (cognitive, emotional, social) for old & young;  these are mostly similar but with some differences;

     for young, it helps develop what they will become;  for old, it preserves (or restores, or improves) what they have.

• a career in music – it's possible for young people (with dreams of playing Carnegie Hall, being a rock star,...),

     but is unlikely for most old people who [i think] will be satisfied with just having fun in immediate-local contexts.

• having time to invest – for young people, music is "in competition with other activities" so time-investment often is

     easier for old people who are more likely to "be bored," not swamped with possibilities for time-using activities.

• most young people will feel more comfortable with the numerous buttons on a typical electronic keyboard,

     due to their experience (and confidence) with modern phones-tablets-computers;   by contrast,

     many older people will feel overwhelmed by the options, will find it more challenging to cope with the complexities.

• number of students – there are many more for each teacher (especially if multiple class-periods) in K-12, therefore...

     teachers can do better personal attention & customizing in senior facility;  maybe also in community senior center?

• the process of introducing new ideas, like my ideas, might be easier in senior facilities?    I'm not sure, but I think

     decisions-to-adopt will be easier for teachers of seniors, with less red-tape bureaucracy & hurdles due to inertia,

     with more freedom (by the staff in each facility) to decide their musical activities, compared with rigidities in K-12.



These sections are in a gray box to show that they're “extra information.”  I think they will help you be more effective in using music theory to guide your making of music.  Of course, it would be better if I was there in person with a colorized keyboard, mostly just encouraging you to “try new things,” to “let your actions be stimulated & guided by the colors,” and occasionally asking “are you ready to explore in a new way?” or offering customized information on a need-to-know basis.  But that isn't possible, so I hope my writing will help you learn more about music, and enjoy it more.

iou – As explained during Part 1, "soon (in late January) I will revise both sections (Part 1 here, and Part 2)" using the new diagrams that are a central part of new activities & questions & explanations in my full-length page.


Using Harmony (and colors) to Make Melodies – Part 2

How?   Earlier, Part 1 is an outline of using harmony to make melodies by "playing games with the music, guided by colors."  The following sections explain, with more detail, how playing a colorized keyboard can help you use chord progressions (that combine simultaneous harmony with sequential harmony) to make beautiful music.  And also learn music theory.  But there is less detail than in the corresponding parts (about playing a keyboard & using harmony) of my BIG page about Improvising Music — where you can go (by clicking a green-shaded link) when you want to learn more deeply — because those parts were condensed to make this section.

We'll begin with simplicity, when you...


• play only black notes:  At first, just play any way you want, listen and learn.  Because anything you do will sound fairly good, you cannot “make a melodic mistake” so just relax and experiment with playing the black notes in different ways.  But you'll think some ways-to-play are more useful for enjoyment (for aesthetic appeal, personal expression,...) so listen for these, and have fun exploring the melodic & rhythmic possibilities.

A simple way to explore is common because it's musically useful.  To do it, you choose one kind of black note – e.g. all notes labeled "minor" below – as the home note(s)* that you musically emphasize, so they become a focus of your melody.  How?  One musical strategy, among many possible, is to “emphasize” this kind of note by starting on one of them and occasionally returning to it (or them), by playing “below it & above it” or “between them,” and ending on one of them.  After awhile, shift to "major" as your home note(s), and listen to the different sound of this different 5-note pattern.  Then continue shifting until you've used each of the 5 kinds of black notes – "minor" and "major" and the other three – as the home note, so you've listened to the differing sounds of each five-note pattern, of each five-note pentatonic scale.

* octave-notes are plural yet singular:  Huh?  Is being “both plural and singular” possible?  Yes, here I'm combining singular-and-plural in homenote(s) – and also in "it (or them)" – because both are musically justified.  In a group of notes that is "one kind of black note" we think each of the notes (e.g. every note labeled "minor") sounds very similar (essentially "the same") whether it's a particular note, or is another note that's an octave lower or higher.  Each of these notes is a homenote, and together they're the homenote(s), are the homenotes.     { My unusual combining of singular with plural – in "homenote(s)" and "it (or them)" – is grammatically illogical, but is musically logical. }

scales using black & scales using black & scales using black & scales using black &


• play only white notes:  As with the black notes, for awhile "just play any way you want, listen and learn."  Then if you use the "C" notes as your “home note(s)” – as with "minor" or "major" above – you'll be playing in the key of C Major, using its scale notes of C D E F G A B, aka 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.*   /   terms: Although I'm calling this the home note of a scale, it's commonly called the scale's root note.   /   Or use "A" as your home note(s), to play in the key of A Minor, with scale notes (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) of A B C D E F G.   /   for variety:  When you're playing with either key, of course you also can mix in some black notes.   /   * If you play "1 2 3 4 5 6 7" it will sound strangely unfinished, because it “feels more natural” to end with C, as in “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1” where 1 is an octave above 1.  This natural sound-and-feeling is why illogical grammar (combining plural with singular) is musically logical (so we use octaves in our music).

• play only some white notes:  If you play only (or mainly) the white notes underlined with red – they're C,E,G, the notes of a C Major Chord – you're playing in the key of C Major, making beautiful harmonious melodies by using sequential harmony, and everything you do will sound very good.  Or to hear beautiful simultaneous harmony, play 2 or 3 (or more) red notes at the same time.  This combination of notes {C E G} forms a C Major Chord, and (due to the physics of sound waves and the physiology & memory of our ears-and-brain) these notes sound pleasantly harmonious, whether they are played simultaneously (in a chord) or sequentially (to construct a melody).   /   You also can play only (or mainly) the notes overlined with blue – A,C,E, the notes of an A Minor Chord – and you'll be experimenting with one of the many harmoniously-interesting ways to play in the key of A Minor.


• play only-red and only-blue and only-green:  On this colorized keyboard you see notes that are red {they're C,E,G, the notes in a C-chord} and blue {F,A,C in F-chord} and green {G,B,D in G-chord}.  colored notes - black & white, plus red, blue, greenBegin by playing only the red notes;  then play only blue notes for awhile, then only green notes.  How?  You can just improvise the sequence of colors (and thus chords) by playing red-notes, and then (whenever you want) shifting to another color (either blue or green) and then to another color, and so on.  Or alternate the colors according to a plan.  You can do “planned changes” between red-blue-green in many ways.  For example, play red-blue-green-... for awhile, like 8 beats for each color, or 4 or 16;  or if you're in a waltzy mood, do 3, 6, or 12.  Or instead do red-green-blue-...  or red-blue-red-green-...  or red-blue-red-green-red-blue-green-red...;  or invent your own ways.  For each chord, you can mix chord notes with non-chord notes that are white (and also are red, blue, or green) and black.     { You can learn more about notes that are red,blue,green and the two main reasons (physiological & creative) that these three chords – C,F,G, the 1,4,5 notes in a scale of C Major – are the most common chords in the key of C Major. }


• play only-red and only-blue and only-green:  Instead of playing in C Major (with its 1-4-5 major chords: C,F,G), you can play in A Minor (with its 1-4-5 minor chords: A,D,E) by using the “higher colors” with half-circles, keyboard (37 mini-keys) with color codingfor the chords of A Minor {A C E} and D Minor {D F A} and E Minor {E G B}.  These two ways to play, by using the 1-4-5 chords of C Major or A Minor, have different “sounds” but are essentially analogous.   /   also:  In the key of C Major, many of the commonly-used chord progressions include mainly its major chords (C Major, F major, G Major) but also, for spicy variety, its minor chords (A Minor, D Minor, E Minor).  Therefore when you improve your skill in the key of A Minor – with its main chords (A Minor, D Minor, E Minor) – you're also improving your skill when you play in the key of C Major.

This method of improvising – by playing mainly the notes of each chord, while the chords are changing – is an effective way to make music, because you are creatively ...


Using Harmony (with a Chord Progression) to Make Melodies:

Why?  This is the most common way to make music – whether it's classical, popular (in all areas), or jazz – because it's an effective way to create harmonies-and-melodies that are interesting, and are enjoyable due to the harmonious melodies that occur when melody-making is guided by harmony.  This music is popular because people enjoy two kinds of harmony, simultaneous and sequential.

Why?  Due to the interactions of musical physics with human physiology and memory, people enjoy hearing chord-notes when they're played simultaneously (to form a chord that is harmonious) and also when they're played sequentially (to form a melody that is harmonious).

How?  To make “harmonious” melodies by using sequential harmony, you can play along with a single chord, or with a chord progression.  You already have been doing this when (while playing only-red and only-blue and only-green) "you just improvise the sequence of colors" or "alternate the colors according to a plan."  But "the most common way to make music" is to use chord progressions that are pre-planned, because musicians have discovered that some chord progressions are especially useful for making music with "harmonies-and-melodies that are interesting and are enjoyable."  Musicians commonly use a wide variety of chord progressions, although most progressions are variations of a few basic themes.  One common chord progression is 12 Bar Blues, and I'll be using it to illustrate strategies for skillfully improvising music.  But these music-making strategies also work well for other chord progressions.


12-Bar Blues

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 pattern that repeats every 12 bars of music, which usually (with a rhythm of 4 beats per bar) is every 48 beats.  In the key of C-Major, for 12-Bar Blues the basic CP-pattern 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.  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.

What?  In addition to this description, you also can HEAR some chord progressions of 12 Bar Blues, in youtube videos or in other ways, including some electronic keyboards that have a variety of CP's (including 12-Bar Blues) pre-recorded into their memory, so you can just “push a button” to make your keyboard play a chord progression, so you can play along with it.

How?  After some listening you'll want to play along, to “experiment, listen and learn” so you can improve your ability to play notes that “fit” with the chord progression, to make music that sounds good.  At first you may find this easier if you play only the note-colors that match the chord being played;  during the 4 measures of CCCC play only notes that are in a C-Chord (CEG), then during FF play only the notes of an F-Chord (FAC), and so on.  As you continue learning from your musical experiences, you will discover the kinds of note-sequences (the kinds of melodies) that sound good with each chord.  And you will develop intuitive abilities for how to merge your melodies (using only chord notes) with the changing chords in the 12-bar pattern, so you make smooth transitions from one chord to the next chord.  After awhile, you will find it easier to make smooth transitions when you play mostly chord notes but also some non-chord notes;  e.g. during a C Chord you play mostly chord-notes (red C,E,G) but also some non-red white notes (that are blue or green) and even some non-scale notes that, in the key of C Major, are black notes.  For all chords (for C, F, G, and others) these non-chord notes (both black and white) are passing tones that produce melodic variety, to make your melodies more pleasantly interesting, more fun-to-hear for you and others.


What?  Some videos have a chart showing you the 12 chords in a pattern of basic 12 Bar Blues.  This adds visual information that is useful because it helps you learn the 12-bar structure, and recognize the chord changes while you're listening & playing.  Often, instead of a simple CCCCFFCCGFCC the chart 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 pattern (CC) from the beginning (CCCC) of the next 12-bar pattern, so instead of CCCCCC it's CGCCCC.     {more about turnarounds}


using harmony to make chords – Part 2

harmonious melodies and harmonious chords:  People think the notes of a chord sound harmoniously pleasing, whether they are played sequentially (to form a harmonious melody with sequential harmony) or are played simultaneously (in a harmonious chord with simultaneous harmony).

Part 1 describes ways to begin exploring the many possibilities of musical chording.  Here are some other ways, using a systematic approach to experimenting:

keyboard (37 mini-keys) with color coding• look at the three red-note patterns:  Notice that the first three red notes have an “every other note” spacing of 2-and-2.  But the next three red notes have a wider spacing of 2-and-3.  Looking rightward, the spacing changes to 3-and-2 for the next set of three red notes.  And looking further right, it's back to 2-and-2, repeating the first pattern except it's an octave higher.

• listen to the three red-note patterns:  Play each spacing-pattern, and listen.  Each pattern produces a different chord, with a sound that is similar (because you're playing only red notes) yet is different (due to the different spacings).

• listen to red-note melodies:  Experiment with each spacing-pattern by playing its 3 notes, one note at a time, and listen.  Play the notes of each spacing-pattern in many different note-sequences, and listen.  Compare the different sounds of the melodies you're making, when you change the spacing-pattern and/or note-sequence.    { if you play red-note melodies with four notes or more, you'll return to this kind of free experimenting. }

• experiment with non-red patterns:  Play a 2-and-2 chord with red notes, then move your hand one note rightward and play this chord.  {terms: using our labels for notes, you're changing from a CEG-chord to a DFA-chord, when all three notes move rightward – and thus “upward in pitch” – by one note.}   Continue moving your hand, and you'll play 7 kinds of chords before returning to the first pattern.  In these 7 chords, the number of red notes varies (it can be 3, 2, 1, or 0) and each chord will have a different sound, but all will be fairly pleasant.  Then instead of always moving 1 note rightward, change the amount of movement (so it's 1,2,3,4,...) and its direction (so sometimes it's rightward but sometimes is leftward).  And listen.

• continue experimenting:  Do these explorations with a spacing of 2-and-3.  And with 3-and-2.  Then blend all of these, so you're using all spacings (2-and-2, 2-and-3, 3-and-2), with movements of differing amounts & directions.  Enjoy your experimenting, listen and learn.  Of course, you also can play many kinds of chords with two notes;  or with four notes, and more.  You can do a wide variety of experiments with chords, and even use chords to make a melody. {iou - soon, "use chords to make a melody" will be a link to a simple “chord melody" I'll play & record.}


iou - Later, maybe this section will end with a few additional ideas.




octave notes are singular-yet-plural (Part 2):  Earlier I describe the singular-yet-plural nature of homenote(s).  This combining of singular-with-plural is grammatically illogical, but is musically logical.  And it's a central element in almost all music.  For example, humans intuitively use octaves when we sing together, whenever it's necessary because our voices differ in pitch-range, with some voices being lower and others higher.*  Even in solo melodies, and in chords, players use octaves;  listeners (including the players & others) think the using of octave-notes is musically pleasing, and thus is musically logical.     {* Or when you're singing a melody and some notes are outside your limited vocal range – they are too low or too high – you intuitively shift to notes that are "essentially the same" but are an octave higher or lower, to put the notes within your vocal range so you can sing them. }


colorizing a keyboard:  Later I'll write a section here, but now you can get ideas for DIY-colorizing by using colored tape or labels, or in other ways.





Scientific Research:   { iou – in late January, here I'll briefly describe some of the scientific research about music, and will provide links to pages & videos with more detail.  I've begun searching and there is a LOT of research;  modern science strongly supports claims for the benefits that people – especially seniors & juniors (the old & young), plus people with neurological diseases – get from listening to music and making music. }  {e.g. improved physical performing & enjoying, as in my Synchronous Running with Tempo Music}


Educational Collaborations:   This page begins with 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 two instruments, their voice and an electronic keyboard.

[[ iou – the rest of this section will be developed soon, in mid-December, so – to show that it's "under construction" – it's in gray font.

[[ Helping people make music with a colorized keyboard is a main focus of my proposal, because this is an easy way (for most people enjoy the process of making their enjoying of music.}

[[ How to do this?  I'm not sure, so I'm still thinking about options for the process, trying to decide the best timings for “what to do first, and later” during a process of contacting other educators (e.g. activity directors in senior living centers, teachers in K-12 classrooms, profs in OSU's Music Education), and people in a company that makes electronic keyboards (probably Yamaha), and others.     { iou – This paragraph will be updated when things begin happening. }

[[ and there will be an outline of my plans for cooperative collaborations;  it will be a modifed version — adapted for music education (and the very different learning-situations in senior living facilities and in K-12 schools) — of what I say about working with others to improve our problem-solving education for K-12. }



Improvising Music and Conversation

What?  In early-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.  Not for using the ideas of other people.  I continue to think that conversation activities will be extremely beneficial for seniors (and maybe 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.   /   * I think the conversation activities I've described might be useful, but the evaluations-and-decisions (about activities) should be done by experts.

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.   /   For these reasons — because conversation activities would be personally important & would be difficult, and I have low expertise — I should approach conversation education cautiously, by humbly sharing ideas with others (who have more teaching expertise & experience) and mainly 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 – In mid-December, here I'll describe some ideas (with quotes & links) about the importance of conversation, and difficulties in doing it well.



some personal history:

I've had fun with music.

My early experiences were listening to music on the radio, and in 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 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;  mostly I was just playing whatever was on the sheet music.

After moving to Seattle for graduate school (in Chemistry) at my first UW, I began playing improvised music.  At first, with my trombone I “played by ear” along with songs I had tape-recorded (from vinyl or radio) or was hearing on the radio, playing melodies (with variations) or supporting roles (roughly like a bass line, or the kind of harmonizing-with-melody “second trombone” supporting role that I often played in high school).  The next summer, jam sessions with Harold & Charlie (playing clarinet & trumpet) included improvising with 12 Bar Blues (a simple chord progression they taught me), and I was fascinated by the elegant beauty of the simple music theory.

In Fall 1975 while living in Eugene OR, I met Joe Kasik at the Saturday Market where he sold the bamboo flutes he made.  He showed me, at the market and then the workshop in his home (where he and his wife, Nancy, had a back yard ending with the Mackenzie River) some “how to do it” principles.  After returning to Anaheim in late 1975, for two months I was making bamboo flutes and selling them at weekend markets in Orange County.  To help people play, and to sell more flutes, I wrote a 4-page booklet about making music by playing song-melodies and by improvising with chord progressions.  For two years, 1980-81, I taught workshops on playing kazoo (to make music by humming, which basically is singing) for Seatle's largest-in-USA Northwest Folklife Festival.

After moving to Madison for graduate school (in History of Science, before moving to Curriculum & Instruction) at my second UW, 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.

discovery plus explanations:  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 a well-designed eclectic combination can be more synergystically effective – for having fun, and learning – than either pure-discovery or pure-explanation by itself.

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.  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 5.3 screens) [[ iou - later I'll have a couple of links for times between 2004 and now when it's 25.2 screens ]]

Until mid-July 2019 our mother was fairly independent, low maintenance, could move around the house without help, with minimal pain.  Then she injured her lower back while bending over to remove shoes, and life was never the same for her.  After 10 days of me (and a part-time nurse) trying to cope with the new situation, she was in facilities (medical, nursing care, residential) for the next 4 months, the rest of her life.  Mom died at 95 after a long-and-good life, with her & Dad helping people (family, friends, and others) have good lives.  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 quality of everything.  But I observed their activities, and later (after 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 also (but mainly as a learner & with a humble sharing of my ideas, as explained above) improvising conversation.

Recently [[ here I'll describe my learning some neuroscience of music, in web-pages and youtube videos. ]]   [[ neuroscience is a long-time interest of mine, begun in 1970 during my first year of grad school in Seattle, is fascinating & important. ]]



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