Improvising Music
and Conversation
 ( for the young and old ) 


What?   By working cooperatively with others, I (Craig Rusbult)* want to help more people — especially K-12 students and seniors, the young and old — increase their enjoying of music by making their own music.    {and increase their enjoying of conversation}    {* I've enjoyed music throughout life, am an enthusiastic educator with a PhD. }

How?   I'm looking forward to working with partners who want to help us achieve 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 teaching (and improvising) should be combined with other methods, in a creative blend that's better than any single method by itself.    { working cooperatively to achieve goals }   { I want to learn from teachers & students. }


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 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.    {research about the many benefits of music}


What?   You can enjoy hearing the music of others, and also making 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.


What?   The solid foundation of Western Music (in Europe & Americas) is chord progressions – sequences of chords – that use three 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."   /   * Musicians usually begin with “the fundamentals” by using these 3 chords, and then add other chords for extra spice, to make their music more interesting.   /   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.    { Why do we like harmony? }

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 ChordsHow?   The notes of these 3 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 (how to do it) shows you the notes in these 3 chords – red, blue, green – so you can learn how to improvise melodies more easily, and understand music more deeply.   /   my informal terms and standard musical terms:  I informally refer to these 3 chords as “red, blue, and green” but if you know basic music theory, you'll recognize them as the 3 foundation-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.     { learning music theory }


Why?   Below are four reasons to use colors – because of the beneficial effects for music, education, psychology, plus time-and-life.   /   But... although I'm confident that when using colors the overall results will be beneficial, I realize that the effects will be a mix of positive & negative, with pros & cons.  Below I'm describing the beneficial effects, the positives.  Later I'll examine both positive & negative, and will explain why I want to learn more from music teachers (by asking “what do you think about the pros & cons?”) and from music students (by observing their playing, and talking with them).

why?   What are the musical benefits of using colors?  When you're doing musical experiments (you're trying new ideas) a colorized keyboard gives you easy-intuitive-instant recognizing of the notes in a “red chord” because all of its chord-notes (no more, no less) are red.  Or you can play the notes of “blue chords” (they're all of the notes that are blue) or “green chords” (all that are green).  You will intuitively-and-instantly know the notes in each harmonious chord (red, blue, or green) and this intuitive knowledge helps you connect harmony with melody because you're using harmony to improvise harmonious melodies.     { more about playing with the three chords }   { getting opinions – from students & teachers – about these 4 kinds of benefits }

why?   What are the educational benefits of using colors?  These three chords (the “red,blue,green” that are C,F,G aka I,IV,V) are the chords used most often in popular music playing and standard music theory.  Although my approach – using a colorized keyboard – is innovative, the results are traditional, are in the mainstream of music theory, because its focus is the mainstream chords we use when playing music.  The colors will help you {or your students} make music that is creative, yet familiar.  You {and they} will be using “the standard chords” that are used by most musicians, are the foundations of music making and music education.  The musical concepts that you {they} learn will help you {them} build better understanding — and this improved knowledge will transfer to playing other instruments, like trumpet, saxophone, violin, guitar,... — in all areas of music education, will help you as a learner and musician and teacher. 

why?   What are the psychological benefits of using colors?  It promotes confidence and motivation.  When your musical experimenting (your “playing games with the music”) is guided by colors, you'll enjoy the experience — because you're making beautiful music with harmonious melodies that sound good* — and this positive feedback will help you feel confident.  Your confidence will help you develop-and-maintain a creative attitude so you're feeling free to relax and do, listen and learn.  And your confidence (from the positive feedback) will improve your motivation.  You will enjoy the music you're improvising, so you'll want to continue doing it.  If you're teaching, using colors will help others 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 can become much more interesting and enjoyable.  And with a little practice, it will begin sounding even better.   /   * Your new music improvising probably will "sound good" more quickly if you {or they} already have experience with music making.  But even if a person doesn't have much previous experience, they can make rapid progress.

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 (instead of all 24) their specializing allows diversifying and improving.  The colors will help them achieve a desired level of proficiency in less time, so they can use more of their time to also enjoy other aspects of life.  For most people, a major benefit is using 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.


    my bio:  I'm Craig Rusbult, an enthusiastic educator with a PhD (in Curriculum & Instruction) from U of Wisconsin, excited about possibilities for improving our thinking-learning-teaching, have 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 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 green shading (these go to part of my Big Page about improvising music) and purple shading (to other pages I've written) and gray shading (to pages written by others).   /   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.

    the page:  It's large, is like a website inside a web-page.  It has many parts, and you can know “where you are” by the box-borders & background-colors.  You have options for what to do next, because you can read the parts in any order.  You can go to... 

Part 1A (below in a box with borders) – Using Harmony to Make Melodies (without much Music Theory),

Part 2 (with yellow background for the text) – Strategies for Improvising and Different Ways to Enjoy Music,

Part 3 (with green background for the text) – Learning (from Students & Teachers) and Teaching the Young and Old,

Part 1B (in another box with borders) – Using Harmony to Make Melodies (with more Music Theory) – or go to

extra topics that include Do-it-Yourself Keyboard Colorizing & Scientific Research about Effects of Music & Improvising Conversation;  and (with purple background) the many ways "I've had fun with music" during My Personal History with Music.



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?  This is 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.


How? (for learning)   Almost always, the best way to learn is by doing musical experiments that produce musical experiences so you can do-and-learn.  Ideally, you would be playing a colorized keyboard, with me sitting beside you.  I would say “look at the colors, begin playing whatever you want, listen and learn.”  I would observe your playing, and – when you request it, or when I think it will be useful – I would provide feedback or offer suggestions.  This kind of personally customized guiding isn't possible with a web-page, so instead I'll suggest stop-and-go playing, by alternating between reading and playing;  you read for awhile to get new ideas, then play for awhile, read again, play again,...

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



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 three ways to explore:

1 – play mainly red notes to make Harmonious Melodies,

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

2b – mix red & blue & green to make Harmonious Chords, and

with 2a and 2b you also are making Harmonious Chord Progressions.


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

1 – make harmonious Melodies by playing mainly red notes:

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 ChordsBut doing this is 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 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.   /   do more:  Although you can be musically creative while you're playing only red notes, your musical adventures will be more fun when you expand your exploring, when you...

play mainly red notes but also some non-red notes, for variety.  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-scales by moving from one red to another red, and back again — 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 sometimes it won't.  But the rewards are worth the risk, because using non-red notes will make your music more interesting.


searching for patterns:  In the diagram with all colors above – or the diagrams with one-color isolations below – examine the two rows of red notes (low & high) and find the repeating pattern.  Then continue reading.   /   This pattern (of low-high-high, low-high-high,...) is important because it's the foundation for most music playing (classical & popular) and thus for music theory.

using home-notes:  All red notes in the lower row are special “home notes” that tend to be musically emphasized, perhaps by starting on one of the low-reds and playing them a little more often (but not too much more) and ending on a low-red that's one of the home-notes.

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


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.

An accurate keyboard-diagram shows all colors (red-AND-blue-AND-green), but
these diagrams – with isolated colors (red OR blue OR green) – 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, melodies, and rhythms.  Have fun exploring the possibilities, listen and learn.     { In another way to experiment, play only the black notes. }


How?  In addition to #1, two other "interesting ways to do musical experiments [with Melodies & Chords], so you can listen and learn" — with musical adventures that are better, will be much more interesting and enjoyable – are with 2a & 2b, using sequential harmony & simultaneous harmony.  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...

2a – make harmonious Melodies by mixing 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 with 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 musically-useful option (among many) is red-blue-green-red.   /   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. }

2b – make harmonious Chords by mixing RED & BLUE & GREEN:  Of course, you can play multiple red notes (2, 3, 4,...) at the same time, in many different ways, to form many kinds of red chords.*  Then alternate between time-periods of simultaneously 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.  While you do this, 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 red, blue, and green.  You also can try different Enjoy the new experiences that arise from your experimenting, listen and learn.   /   * You can make a variety of same-color chords (all-red, all-blue, or all-green), and also mixed-color chords.  Try different ways to “play same-color chords” and to “mix the colors” for awhile, and then (if you want) read my tips for exploring chords.


common chord progressions:  Although you can improvise your own chord progressions, musicians typically use pre-planned progressions, like a 50s Progression and 12-Bar Blues and other progressions.   /   Some useful sequences are...  red-blue-green-red  and  red-blue-red-green, red-blue-green-red  and  red-blue-green-blue, red-blue-green-red.  After awhile you can do these with consistent timings, like playing 4 beats (or 8) with each color.    { more about these three sequences and popular chord progressions plus hearing-and-playing }


two kinds of harmonyBoth ways to play only red (or only blue, only green) – by making a Melody (in 2a) or Chord (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) 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).    { more about 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 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 }


* This three-color system for harmonious improvising – invented by me – is Copyright ©1998 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved.


musical 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 a 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 music that is pleasant-and-interesting.  It promotes confidence, helping you develop & maintain a creative attitude – of relax and do, listen and learn – while you're “playing games with the music,” guided by colors.  If you're teaching in a school or senior facility, you can help others enjoy the satisfactions of immediate gratification — making it more likely that they will be motivated to continue making music — because they can immediately play music that sounds pleasantly harmonious, is interesting and enjoyable.  And with a little practice, it will begin sounding even better.     { another benefit – wisely using your time, and thus your life }   { We can ask questions about musical benefits but in a careful evaluation I think the benefits are far greater than any disadvantages. }


You also can play only the black notes, and things will be simple because with only these notes you cannot “make a melodic mistake” so everything you do will sound good.  With this confidence, you can just relax and explore the melodic & rhythmic possibilities.     {more about playing with black notes}


You can be learning more music theory by self-discovering logical patterns and also learning from my explanations.

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 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 & 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.


As explained earlier at the end of 2b, you can "try different ways to play same-color chords and to mix the colors for awhile," and then use these...

strategies for exploring chords:  One way to explore is based on the fact that while playing three consecutive red notes, you can use three different note-spacings, each with a different lowest-note.  In a different kind of experimenting, you can keep your hand in the symmetric “every other note” spacing (playing red-white-red-white-red with a 2-then-2 spacing) 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, by moving your hand rightward (or leftward) differing amounts, and by using the other two note-spacings (2-then-3, 3-then-2) for playing "three consecutive red notes."  Or make 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 use your imagination to fill the blank)     { some systematic ways to explore the many possibilities for chording }


the life-benefit of using time wisely:  A colorized keyboard makes it easier to quickly develop skill in two musically-related keys, C Major and A Minor.  You have a limited amount of time to invest in playing music, and this narrow specializing (by focusing on two keys, or maybe three) lets you do wide diversifying — because you can use your time to do a wide range of diverse experimenting in these two keys, to explore them 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 2 keys” you can “hear in 24 keys” by telling your electronic keyboard to transpose so it automatically raises (or lowers) each 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."     { using time effectively by playing in 2 keys, or maybe in 7 }   { An unfortunate result of wanting to “play in all keys” is that most keyboards are intentionally out-of-tune so their harmony sounds less harmonious.  This is not desirable, and a possible “fix” is a feature that keyboards should have. }


your options:  an Introductory Overview (of What-Who-Why-How) is followed by Using Harmony to Improvise Melodies (in Part 1A above, and in Part 1B).  Or continue reading below, with Strategies for Improvising and Different Ways to Enjoy Music and then Part 3 (Learning-plus-Teaching and Comparisons of teaching the Young & Old).


Part 2:


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) and 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, maybe uncomfortable, and 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.  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 - 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 beautiful melodies.  You'll enjoy hearing the harmonious 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.

more:  My big page has five tips for learning more by playing in different ways, often slow but sometimes fast, by thinking or not-thinking, seeking new adventures, expecting to improve, aiming for quality in learning & performing.  You may find it especially productive to sometimes play slowly — so you have more time to “try different note-sequences” in a variety of creative ways — because this helps you discover how to improvise new kinds of melodies.  Or improvise new kinds of rhythms, or discover other ways to make music that's 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 (broadcast AM or FM, 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 simply 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 (live or recorded) or you can 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}

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 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.

improvise a harmonious melody:   Play along with a chord progression, by improvising notes (both in-the-chord and out-of-chord) that "fit well" with each chord in the progression.  This is the main method for playing a colorized keyboard, by using its red-blue-green to guide your inventing of harmonious melodies.

[[ iou – Later I'll write more about doing BOTH of these;  modify a known melody to improvise variations of it (by singing-without-words or with an external instrument);  and mix this kind of music-making with improvising harmonious melodies, as in Part 1A, where I'll briefly describe this set-of-paragraphs (from "make your own music" to here) and will link to it. ]]


enjoy pre-composed, enjoy 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}   /   perspectives:  We can view improvising as real-time composing, and composing as slow-motion improvising with a preserving of the musical results.


Part 3 – Music Education


I will use Reality Checks to improve my

understanding of learning & teaching by...

learning from students:  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 instruction will provide many benefits.  But I don't yet have enough experience to provide logical evidence-based justification for these claims.  Or even to know if they're correct.  Currently I just don't know enough about the learning process (by students) and guiding-of-process (by teachers) when using a colorized keyboard.  Therefore I now (in late September) want to begin investing more time in doing 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 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.

teaching students:  During these experiments I also will be doing Quality Checks to evaluate-and-modify different strategies for guiding the process of discovery learning by people who are playing with a colorized keyboard.


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/or regular non-colorized, individually and in groups — and how to creatively combine different teaching approaches 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 ways) compared with teachers who have more experience and more knowledge.  But despite justifiable reasons for humility (compared with expert teachers) I'm confident about having some useful ideas to share with other teachers.


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

What?   By working cooperatively with others, I want to help more people — especially K-12 students and seniors, the young and 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.  Although I'll be emphasizing the benefits of using a colorized keyboard to make music, this method of teaching (and improvising) should be combined with other methods, in a creative blend that's better than any single method by itself.


Teaching with a colorized keyboard offers important benefits but so do other methods.  Therefore, by combining methods we can design instruction that's more effective.  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 teaching methods

Although I'm biased – yes, I enthusiastically like my ideas, 🙂 – in this section I'm trying to be objective in evaluating its pros & cons, its benefits (claimed by me) & disadvantages (acknowledged by me).  I think many of the disadvantages are only potential (not actual) because they can be minimized if my methods are effectively combined with other methods.  But I want to hear what you (and others) think, so I can get your perspective on the pros & cons, so I can learn.


I'll begin by acknowledging...

two practical challenges:  Teachers (and their school, facility, or center) must consider...   1) the COSTS (in money & time) of buying keyboards and colorizing them;   2) the limited TIME that's available, to prepare for instruction and then teach in the classroom.   /   And there are...

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.   /   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 it be colorized?   {colorizing with electrical tape makes the process much quicker-and-easier but paper labels offer some benefits.}     { The two-step process of colorizing a keyboard is getting it and colorizing it. }


And I'll continue with claims about four benefits of using colorized keyboards to help students improve their playing of music and their knowledge of music:

Students will be able to play harmonious music in chords (and melodies) 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 skills will improve quickly and they can use their time more efficiently (a major life-benefit) because they can focus on playing well in two keys — those with colorized chord-notes, C Major and A Minor — instead of “diluting the effects of their practicing time” by spreading it over 24 keys.  But even though they're “playing in 1 key (major or minor)” they can “hear in 12 keys” by using the automatic transposing of the electronic keyboard.

They will improve their cognitive knowledge of music theory and their functional knowledge of music theory – their skills in using knowledge to make music – by combining different kinds of interactive experiences (visual, mental-physical, aural) during their playing of music and thinking about music.


I'm confident that these three beneficial results will happen.  But I think there are justifiable questions to consider (re: pros & cons) – that will be examined in the rest of this section – when we're evaluating a fourth claim:

Students will improve their keyboard skills in some ways by using a colorized keyboard, and in other ways with other methods.  Here are some ideas about this.

When we're evaluating the effects of different methods, an important “human variable” is the fact that musicians playing a keyboard can have two kinds of goals:  A) some musicians want mainly to make melodies (similar to using a trumpet or tuba, flute or saxophone);   B) some musicians want also to do traditional two-hand playing, typically playing chords (with left hand) plus melodies (with right hand).   /   Basically, I think a colorized keyboard is useful for improving "in some ways" (for an A-person), and other methods are better for improving "in other ways" (for a B-person).

How do I use a keyboard?  I play melodies and chords (but not both-at-once) while looking at the keys.  And I'm satisfied with this.  I'm an "A" who wants "mainly to make melodies."  But I have awesome respect for traditional keyboard players, because they're using 10 fingers for two independent musical purposes (playing chords, playing melodies) without looking at the keys or their fingers;  and if they “read music” they're reading many symbols simultaneously, while they're doing the “10 fingers, two purposes” playing, without looking.  Wow.  Contrast this complexity with the simplicity of playing a wind instrument (like my trombone) one note at a time, and reading one note at a time.     { my history of having fun with music }

IF students are using a keyboard "mainly [or only] to make melodies" in the context of general music education, this decreases the importance of the following comments about the pros & cons of colorizing, and we can focus on the two benefits of immediate success in making melodies followed by improving cognitive-and-functional knowledge.  But there is more to consider when instead of just "general music education" an additional goal is to help students become proficient with "traditional two-hand playing."  For improving traditional keyboard skills, we must consider these factors:

     developing skill with “no look” playing:  Traditional two-hand playing is mainly spatial-and-blind, is done without major visual cues. (some cues are available with peripheral vision, but they're minor)   By contrast, playing with a colorized keyboard is very visual.  But a student can develop skills that are both visual and spatial, if they sometimes play a keyboard-with-colorizing (using visual cues to improve cognitive-and-functional knowledge of music theory), and sometimes play a keyboard-without-colors;  with this alternating, visual-and-physical memories will be connected with spatial-and-physical memories, so students will develop their abilities to play well with colors and also to play well without colors.  Basically, I'm suggesting that instead of imagining it's “visual versus spatial” we can think “visual plus spatial,” if we use strategies (like alternating with colors and without colors) to develop visual-plus-spatial, to gain benefits from both.   /   A related question — if you usually play with a colorized keyboard, when it isn't available is this a major problem? — is discussed in the Big Page where my responses are similar, and include this option:  IF a student is using a colorized keyboard "mainly [or only] only to make melodies," they can decide to always play with colors because they don't need the “no look” playing of traditional keyboardists.    { Yes, this can be a wise choice for many musicians, it can be an effective use of the time they're able to invest in music, and willing to invest.  Just because a keyboard CAN be used for no-look playing with two hands, this doesn't mean it SHOULD be used in this way by all musicians.
     developing effective technique:  In traditional playing it's important to play mostly-spatially AND with effective technique, especially with arms-hands-fingers, but also with eyes and with other parts of the body.  {in many ways this is “proper technique” but due to variations – among players, and playing styles – it's better to call it “effective technique” that works well for a particular player and style.}   In this page I don't say anything about techniques now, but later (after learning more) I probably will add some basic ideas about it.  For now, I'll just suggest that a student should learn effective techniques from a teacher — maybe online with pages & videos, but ideally in-person so a teacher can demonstrate techniques, then observe the student and provide useful feedback — and practice these techniques.
     playing in many keys:  One major benefit of a colorized keyboard is the life-value of using time efficiently by focusing on 2 keys instead of 24 keys.  But for various reasons, most skilled musicians want to play well in many keys, not just 2.  An electronic keyboard lets a person “play in two keys” yet “hear in 24 keys” by using the transposing feature.  But for wind instruments this feature isn't available;  and although a guitar player can use a capo, this is limited;  by contrast, a keyboard has unlimited transposing, into all keys.   /   For skilled musicians, one benefit of “playing in many keys” is being able to make fast transitions from one key to another during a song.  Although this can be done with a keyboard's transposing, usually (unless it has a feature it should have but most don't) it's tough to change keys quickly.



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 or themself.

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)

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 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 Big 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

If you never play a colorized keyboard, can it help you understand music and make music?   The Big Page answers Yes and Yes – "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]."

My Big 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.

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 Chords• In this page the diagrams also will help you learn-and-play, no matter what instrument(s) you play.*   But there is a difference.  Here I'm strongly recommending that you {and others} do play a colorized keyboard, because you'll get valuable benefits.  This playing-with-colors experience will help you {or them} learn music theory, 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.


* You can begin using colors by playing the red notes on a keyboard you have colorized (how?) or by finding these notes on an un-colorized keyboard, or translating the keyboard notes into the notes of another instrument (saxophone, guitar,...).


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, 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 – by September 27, I'll describe the "and more" with some details. ]]


learning by discovery + explanation:

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

"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 Part 1B] and from my explanations [also in Part 1B].  How much of each?  You can choose. .....  [ This is followed by descriptions of how you can choose. ]"

"improving by reviewing and 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. ]"


two ways to teach:  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.

two ways to communicate:  Both ways to teach – by explaining and by guiding of discoveries – can be done by communicating with writing (as in this web-page) or in person.

your 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, during late-September, 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. ]]



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 & cartillage, 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

(as in Part 1A but now with more Music Theory)

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 the most important concept;  the central principle of music theory is the fact that "when you play single [red] notes in a series (to form a melody) and/or play multiple [red] notes at the same time (to form a chord) — you are playing 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) 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)."   /   Also, when you're "improvising melodies that are guided by chord progressions" — using the main chords (red,blue,green) that are "the solid foundation of Western Music" — this "is the most common melody-making method, is the favorite of most musicians."

Here, Part 1B explains the logic of colors (red, blue, green) — it's the logical patterns that form the structure of music — by using the language of music theory, showing connections between knowing theory and making music. 

Basically, Part 1A helps a person play musical patterns, and Part 1B helps them understand musical patterns.  But there are overlaps, and – less simplistically – playing & understanding occur in both 1A and 1B, with productive interactions (between playing & understanding) that lead to...


improving Functional Knowledge:

Teaching with a colorized keyboard helps a student improve their functional knowledge of theory, their practical “working knowledge” of using theory to make music.  How does this happen, and Why?  It's due to...

combining interactive experiences:  When a student is using a keyboard to learn music theory (in Parts 1A & 1B) this occurs in the practical context of using music theory for solving problems, for “making things better” by inventing music that is better, is more interesting & enjoyable.  They are “experiencing theory” in many inter-connected ways;  they're seeing the notes (of the main chords - red,blue,green) and making musical decisions (about the notes they are playing) and hearing the results (in the chords and/or melodies they are playing, or others are playing) of the harmonious interactions that occur when chord-notes are played simultaneously (in chords) and/or sequentially (in melodies).  All of these experiences — visual,* mental/physical, and aural (while they are seeing, deciding/playing, and hearing) — combine to form a robust functional knowledge of music theory that is a strong foundation for the growth of their knowing-and-playing in the future.   /   * The value of colorizing for producing vivid visual experiences (and thus visual memories) is enhanced by the simple linearity of a keyboard with note-pitches continually increasing when moving rightward.

combining interactive memories:  It's useful to view the improving of functional knowledge as a process that occurs when different kinds of interactive experiences (visual, mental-physical, aural) produce different kinds of interactive memories.  The colors (red blue green) help a student learn the musical patterns of music theory, and remember these logical patterns in their visual memory 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.


options:  You can learn more about the logic-and-language of music by playing only The Red Notes or you can first try a different way of “playing with colors” when you...


• play only The 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.


keyboard with black & white notes (without red, blue, green)One way to explore is commonly used – in fact, you probably have been doing it already – because it's musically useful, and is simple.  To do it, first notice that this keyboard's left-half has 5 black notes (arbitrarily labeled V-W-X-Y-Z) that form a pattern, and in the right-half this pattern repeats, except its V-W-X-Y-Z are in a higher octave.  Then choose one kind of black note – like all of the notes I've labeled "W" – to be the home note(s) that you will “musically emphasize.”

How can you musically emphasize?  Perhaps by starting on a W and occasionally returning to it (or to another W), doing whatever you want — moving leftward & rightward, playing all consecutive black notes or skipping some — and ending on any of the W's that are in your home-note(s) group.

After awhile, shift to another "kind of black note" (to X, Y, Z, or V) and use it as your home-note(s).  Continue shifting, and listen to the different sounds of the music you make when you use each of the five notes as a home note.  Each of these five ways-to-play is a different pentatonic scale, with each having five notes. {penta means five}   Are there any scales that you think sound especially interesting and pleasing, thus more musically valuable?    { two scales that musicians think are especially valuable }    {singular-yet-plural:  Yes, my mixing of these – as in "home-note(s)" and in other ways – is grammatically illogical, but is musically logical. }    { more about home notes and pentatonics scales }

simplified comparisons:  You also can "listen to the different sounds" by using simplified melodies with less musical complexity, by comparing the five easily-repeatable scales* – each with consecutive notes, starting on a different home note – being played upward (it's 123451 with "1" being either V,W,X,Y, or Z) or downward (154321) or both (12345154321 or 15432123451) as described here.    {scale is a term with two meanings}



• play only The Red Notes:

Part 1A describes playing only red and continuing on to playing mainly red + mainly blue + mainly green, doing creative experiments "with a variety of harmonies, melodies, and rhythms;  have fun exploring the possibilities, listen and learn."  So you can get better learning and teaching, "I'm recommending that you (and others) play a colorized keyboard" because this will help you use harmony to make melodies with minimal theory (in 1A), or (here in 1B) with more theory so you'll know that in the language of music the harmonious chords produced from (red notes, blue notes, green notes) are called the chords of (C Major, F Major, G Major)."


keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 Chordstwo ways to learn:  You can learn from your discoveries and my explanationsBoth ways to learn can be satisfying & effective, but if you want to do more self-discovering , you should do this now — by discovering the logical patterns (in the red-blue-green) that are the foundation of music theory — before you read the explanations below, and 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?  identical in all ways?



The following sections explain how you can use chord progressions — that combine simultaneous harmony (in chords) with sequential harmony (in melodies) — to make harmonious music in ways that are beautifully interesting.  And also to learn music theoryIt will be an outline of basic music theory, with less detail (but more overall clarity) than in the corresponding parts of my BIG Page about Improvising Music by using Creativity plus Music Theory where (by clicking a green-shaded link) you can learn more deeply.


the benefits of logically organizing Music Theory

a change of teaching strategy:  In July 2023, I decided to radically revise the next part of Part 1B — 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?  Previously the 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, so you can learn more easily.     { analogy – This way of learning music theory is like learning how to juggle by doing easy steps instead of tough leaps. }

the benefits of logically organized knowledge:  Our modern system of Music Theory is beautifully elegant.  Although 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 — it's also simple in important ways, 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 – 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}    I think this analogy will help you appreciate...

the benefits of logically organizing Music Theory:  Let's continue with other analogies.  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 want to improve, your patience will be rewarded with more music-knowing and better music-making.

a TMI-option:  While you're reading this long section, if you're ever feeling “this is too much info, it's more than I want to know,” you can skip ahead to Making Melodies by Using a Chord Progression with minimal theory, or even no theory 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 MIiB (More Information is Better) because you're wanting to learn more.  But I think you'll find it fascinating NOW, if you begin learning music theory with...



the Key of C Major:

This is an important part of Part 1B.  When you understand C Major, you'll know the essence of Music Theory, and knowing Theory will help you make Music.     { If you haven't done this already, I encourage you to read the benefits of logically organizing Music Theory. }

forming Red Chords:  When you study the first diagram below and focus on the notes labeled C1 (that have a bottom-row red bar), 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 with spatial relationships on the keyboard, by visualizing with your eyes and knowing with your muscle memory.   /   By experimenting with chords you'll hear the many different chords (135, 351, 513, 1351, 1513,...) that can be played using the Red-Chord Notes, to produce C Chords.     {or by using Blue-Chord Notes, or Green-Chord Notes}     {a viewing tip:  Of course, it will be easier to see-and-understand these 3 diagrams if you view them on the large-screen monitor of a computer, not a small-screen smartphone.}

top row:  is notes (1 3 5) in C-Chords,
middle:  notes (CDEFGAB) in C-Scale,
 bar-rows:  red notes in C-Chords.
  scales using black &
top row:  is notes (1 3 5) in F-Chords,
middle:  notes (FGABbCDE) in F-Scale,
 bar-rows:  blue notes in F-Chords.
  scales using black &
top row:  is notes (1 3 5) in G-Chords,
middle:  notes (GABCDEF#) in G-Scale,
 bar-rows:  green notes in G-Chords.

  scales using black &

playing mainly-red melodies:  In this diagram some scale-notes (2,4,6,7) are gray, to highlight the other notes (1,3,5) that usually are featured while harmonious melodies are being improvised.  But all notes – both scale notes (white) and non-scale notes (black)can be useful for making melodies that are musically interesting-and-enjoyable when you add variety by playing mainly red instead of only red.  And when you're playing mainly blue or mainly green.   /   How?  By creatively using non-chord passing notes (both white and black) you can move between chord notes that are target notes passing from one chord note (i.e. target note) to another – smoothly and musically.  When you “experiment, listen and learn” you will improve your ability to play passing notes that “fit well” when moving between the target notes – and that “fit well” when you're changing from one chord to another chord during a chord progression – so you'll be improvising music that sounds good.  And you can “play musical games” with strategies that help you explore possibilities, in many ways that include these two:

• mix chord-melodies with scale-melodies:  One way to explore musical possibilities is to play a chord-melody (with only red) for awhile, then for awhile play a scale-melody that's a mini-scale (i.e. a partial scale) by playing all consecutive white notes while moving from one red note to another red note.  How?  There are MANY ways, including (12321 or 32123), or (34543 or 54345), or (5678765 or 8765678), or (123454321 or 543212345) or ... ;  of course, you can “break the symmetry” with (123454345 or 543212321), or (1234543 or 5432123) or ... ;  or with scale-runs that are “directional” upward (12345) or downward (54321) instead of “symmetric” with up-then-down or down-then-up.  In these examples, notice that red notes are featured;  they are target notes, are used for beginning and ending a mini-scale, or as a turning point between upward & downward.  Another way to make a melody "mainly red" (with red being featured) is with rhythm;  I describe the mixing as “chord-melody for awhile” then “scale-melody for awhile” then “chord-melody for awhile” and so on, with vague “for awhile” timings.  But in order to make music that's more enjoyable-and-interesting, you'll develop musical intuitions for converting vague “for awhile timings” into precise “for awhile timings” so your melodies-and-rhythms will more effectively cooperate, will help your improvising be more smooth and musical.

• use black notes to make “chromatic” scale-melodies:  How?  Here are a few examples, among the MANY that are possible.  You can play 1-2-b3-3 (where "b3" is a flatted-third, is the black note below 3, is the note between 2 and 3);  or 3-4-b5-5, or 5-6-b7-8 (or 8-b7-6-5 that I think is more musical), or 5-6-b7-7-8, plus many other combinations.

Later I describe music-making modes when I'm “thinking classical” or “thinking blues,” and in these two modes each of the two scale-strategies can be useful.  How?  I've noticed that it's useful to "mix scale-melodies with chord-melodies" while thinking classical, and to "use black notes to make chromatic scale-melodies" while thinking blues.

Of course, all of these ways to play mainly red also are useful when, during a chord progression, you sometimes are playing mainly blue and mainly green.


forming Red Chords:  As described earlier, 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.     { but C-Chords include 135 and also 351, 513,... with 1,3,5 arranged in different orders;  and also chords with more than 3 notes, like 1351 with 1 being an octave above 1, or 1513, ... }

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,...}


flats and sharps – Part 1:  The center diagram shows that in the Key of F, the F-Scale has Bb (it's B-flat, is “flatter” than B) instead of B, because this change is necessary to produce a correct-sounding Major Scale, as explained here.  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.   /   Similarly, in the Key of G the Major Scale must have F# (it's F-flat, is "sharper" than F).  But if you play a G-Melody (in the Key of G, or during a G-Chord) and use F instead of F#, this usually will sound less strange (compared with the strangeness of playing B instead of Bb in an F-Melody);  and in some musical situations, you may think the F sounds better than F#.     { flats and sharps - Part 2 }

Earlier I ask “are the 3 note-patterns (for red notes, blue notes, green notes) similar?  are they identical in all ways?”  Yes, they are similar.  No, they're not identical.  When comparing the patterns of a C-Chord and F-Chord, the most important difference is that (as described above) in a C-Chord the 3rd (E) is followed by a white note (F) that's the 4th of a C-Scale, and a C-Melody (played during a C-Chord) often uses F as a passing tone;  but in an F-Chord the 3rd (A) is followed by a black note (Bb) that's the 4th of an F-Scale, so musicians typically use Bb (not B) as a passing tone when they're playing an F-Melody during an F-Chord.


Below are two kinds of diagrams:  the three color-isolations (with red OR blue OR green) used above are followed by a diagram with all colors (red-AND-blue-AND-green) that accurately shows the major color-bars in the way you actually see them on a colorized keyboard.

top row:  is notes (1 3 5) in C-Chords,
middle:  notes (CDEFGAB) in C-Scale,
 bar-rows:  red notes in C-Chords.
  scales using black &
top row:  is notes (1 3 5) in F-Chords,
middle:  notes (FGABbCDE) in F-Scale,
 bar-rows:  blue notes in F-Chords.
  scales using black &
top row:  is notes (1 3 5) in G-Chords,
middle:  notes (GABCDEF#) in G-Scale,
 bar-rows:  green notes in G-Chords.
  scales using black &
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

The upper diagrams (each with an isolated color, red or blue or green) show how we form chords from the 1-3-5 Notes in a Scale of C or F or G.

The lower diagram shows these Chords (the C,F,G that are 1,4,5 and I,IV,V) in the musical context of a C-Scale in the Key of C, by shifting the focus from Chord Notes (1,3,5) to Chords (I,IV,V).

1-3-5 versus I-IV-V:  In music theory these two sets-of-numbers are often used, but in different ways.  How?  Above, you've seen that each chord (C,F,G) is formed from three notes (the 1st, 3rd, 5th) of the corresponding Scale (C,F,G), so Chords are formed by using 1-3-5 Notes.  Below you'll see how music is played by using I-IV-V Chords.  Basically, 1-3-5 are Notes in a Chord, while I-IV-V are Chords of a Key.


terms for Notes and Chords:  We name each Chord by its 1-Note, which is called its root note.  Our chord-naming can be done in three ways — you see these in the top row (1,4,5), middle row (C,F,G), lowest row (I,IV,V) — but only two ways are commonly used by musicians.  When we think-play-describe-discuss chords, we often use their letter-names (C,F,G) and Roman Numerals (I,IV,V), and occasionally Regular Numbers (1,4,5).*  Instead 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 capitalizing for Major Chords (I, IV, V) but uncapitalized for minor chords (ii, iii, vi), as explained later.  We use these numbers because they help us think about music, make music, and discuss music.   /   * For convenience – because Regular Numbers are more familiar than Roman Numerals, in everyday life – sometimes a musician will say "1" (or 4,5) instead of "I" (or IV,V) if the context makes it clear that they're talking about Chords, not Notes.

key-specific terms and key-general terms:  When we name Chords by letters (like C,F,G) this is correct only for the Key of C, so these are key-specific terms for Chords.  But the Roman Numerals of Chords (I,IV,V) can be used correctly for any key, for all keys, so they are key-general terms.   /   For example, by comparing isolation-diagrams with only-red (for the Key of C) and only-green (for Key of G) you can see why “C,F,G” and “I,IV,V” are correct for Chords in the Key of C,  but “G,C,D” (not “C,F,G”) and “I,IV,V” are correct in the Key of G.    { more about why “I,IV,V” is always correct, for any key. }


using Chords to make music

In any key, the main Major Chords (I,IV,V) are “musically special” due to musical patterns (as in the Circle of Fifths) that are used in most of the music we enjoy, for physical-physiological reasons and artistic reasons.  These chords (I,IV,V) are the foundation of most music we hear so they're used in my keyboard colorizing.

different functions of chords:  In the Key of C, all of the main Major Chords (C,F,G) are identical in their construction (because each is formed using 1-3-5 Notes) but they are not identical in their function within the Key of C, because the Chords (C,F,G) have different musical functions when they're used in a Chord Progression.

different functions as home-notes:  When playing in the Key of C, every C is a special note — in the I-IV-V diagram this is symbolized by a white bar inside its red bar — and typically the C's are used as home-notes (1-notes) that are “musically emphasized” when playing melodies in the Key of C.  Typically the C-Notes are used as permanent home-notes throughout a song, but F-Notes or G-Notes are used only as temporary home-notes during the time that an F-Chord or G-Chord is being played.   /   Earlier I describe the benefits of "specializing in C [Major]" and I used to claim that "doing this well requires that you also develop skill in F (to make melodies during an F-Chord) and G (to make melodies during a G-Chord), plus C Minor (to play melodies with a ‘blues sound’)."  But now I think it isn't very useful to "develop skill in F... and G" because this would require skills with Bb-Chords (for Key of F) and with D-Chords (for Key of G) but these skills aren't necessary for playing in C Major.  Instead a player only needs skill in making melodies with F-Chords and G-Chords, in one context, while playing in the Key of C.   /   But I do think a full mastery of C Major "requires that you also develop skill in... C Minor (to play melodies with a ‘blues sound’)" and also to contrast the differing “sounds & feelings” of C Major and C Minor.  But "require" might be too strong, because even if you don't “play in C Minor” you can develop skill with “blues sounds” by playing chromatic scale-melodies with black notes and by and blues notes.


Part 1A has more about playing the red-blue-green of C Major.


some useful concepts-and-terms

Before we move on to Minor and Minor-within-Major, here are definitions for some useful words (and concepts) in the language of music.


intervals of semitones & tones:  A semitone is the interval between any two adjacent notes, whether the two notes are white-white, white-black, or black-white.  If the interval is two semitones, it's one tone.

flats and sharps – Part 2:  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 flats and sharps, Part 1 – even though Bb is the same note as A#, and F# is Gb.


scales and scales:  Yes, this term has two meanings.  It's either a group of 7 scale-notes (e.g. C,D,E,F,G,A,B) that can be played in any way, or playing all of the 7 scale-notes in consecutive sequence without skipping any, typically beginning on a home-note (it's called the root note) and ending on a home-note, e.g. in C Major by ascending (C D E F G A B C) and/or descending (C B A G F E D C).     {making melodies by mixing scales with chord-arpeggios}   {more about the two meanings}


scales and octaves:  If you “play a scale” with only the 7 scale-notes (1 2 3 4 5 6 7;  C D E F G A B, in C Major) it will sound strangely unfinished, because it “feels more natural” to end with C, as in (2 3 4 5 6 7 1) where 1 is an octave above 1.   /   more:  A section about octaves includes a musical example showing that although "we think octave-notes sound very similar, essentially the same," their same-ness occurs only when we hear them as two isolated notes.  When instead we hear these octave-notes (an octave apart) in the musical context of other notes, they can produce very different sounds-and-feelings.   /   Due to the same-ness, it's useful to think about a home-note(s) – and to describe musically emphasizing it (or them) – in ways that are singular-yet-plural, which is grammatically illogical but is musically logical.


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) fast.


the key of A Minor:

Compared with C Major, in A Minor all patterns are the same (well, 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.  You can see the details for A Minor — how its main chords (A Minor, D Minor, E Minor) aka (Am, Dm, Em) or (i, iv, v) are formed from "every other white note," as with C Major — in the big page.     { similarities & differences between Major Chords (I,IV,V) and Minor Chords (i,iv,v) }

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

 terms:  Earlier I refer to "the Key of C, aka the Key of C Major."  Because a Key has a Scale and Chords, this also means "the Key of C {with the Scale of C, and Chords of C} is aka the Key of C Major {with the Scale of C Major, and Chords of C Major}."  Why?  There isn't any logical reason.  Instead the "aka" is just a simplifying assumption, used for linguistic convenience.  Technically, a Key of C could be either the Key of C Major or the Key of C Minor, so it's more correct to say the key is "C Major," not "C".  But it's easier to say "C" so in most situations people simply assume that "C" means "C Major," whether "C" refers to a key, scale, or chord.  Therefore "C" and "C Major" usually have the same meaning, are used interchangeably as synonyms.



Major plus Minor

keyboard with color coding to show the notes of 3 ChordsIn each kind of key, we can make music that is wonderfuly 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.  Each mode of music is wonderful, is an essential part of totally appreciating music, when they're separate.  And they can be very good together, with Major-AND-Minor, when we...


play Minor-within-Major in two ways, by using Minor Notes within a Major Chord  and  using Minor Chords within a Major Key.


1) using Minor Notes within a Major Chord:

During a Major Chord, you can play Minor Notes 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 and enjoy it, 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, and for Notes of Minor Chords.  How?  Three ways to use Major and/or Minor – two are above, and one is below – are to...

use Major Chords – (C, F, G), aka (I, IV, V) – and Notes of Major Chords, in the Key of C Major. 

use Minor Chords – (Am, Dm, Em), aka (i, iv, v) – and Notes of Minor Chords, in the Key of A Minor.     { terms:  we call A Minor the relative minor of C Major — because the two keys are related, with both using the same set of scale notes (F,G,A,B,C,D,E) — and C Major is the relative major of A Minor. }


use Major Chords (C, F, G) plus Minor Chords (Am, Dm, Em) and Chord-Notes of Major & Minor, while playing in the Key of C Major.  In this context the Dm is labeled ii because D is the 2nd note in the Scale of C Major;  for the same reason, in this “major context” the minor Em now is called iii, and Am is vi.

Below are two ways to visualize Minor Chords within a Major Key, in 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 is used (it's the vi in a 50s Progression or I-V-vi-IV, and in a Jazz Progression it's ii) or two are used (they're vi and iii in a Pachelbel's Canon Progression).



Using Harmony to Make Melodies with

Harmony Changes in a Chord Progression:

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 (due to the harmony changes during a progression), and are enjoyable (due to the harmonious melodies when melody-making is guided by harmony).  This music is popular because people enjoy hearing two kinds of harmony, when it's either only-simultaneous OR is only-sequential.  But when playing melodies that “fit well” with a chord progression, we enjoy harmonies that are simultaneous-AND-sequential, with Harmonious Chords AND Harmonious Melodies.  When a group is playing there are many kinds of harmonious interactions, of Chords with Chords, and Chords with Melodies, and Melodies with Melodies.

How?  Although complex changes-of-harmony are possible, and are used by musicians, you can do complex improvising that is guided by simple harmonies, with chord progressions produced by using only the three main chords of C Major:  (C, F, G) aka (I, IV, V) or, using my color-terms, (red, blue, green).

Why?  These chords (I, IV, V) 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.  These three chords can be alternated to form a simple structure of harmony that allows complex improvising of melodies.  And we can use other chords to form progressions that are more complex.


using popular Chord Progressions:

Although you can improvise by using a chord progression invented by yourself, it's more common to use a chord progression invented by others.  We'll examine two popular Chord Progressions, 12-Bar Blues and (briefly here, in detail later) a 50s Progression.

Why is the “50s Progression” popular?  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 its chords (and thus in its chord changes), as explained in the 1B-Appendix.Musicians almost always use a Chord Progression (CP) because a CP helps people produce music that is interesting and enjoyable.  This 50s Progression (and variations that also use minor chords within a major key) is used in some songs, and other CP's also are commonly used.

hearing and playing:  You can use videos in YouTube {some links & tips} for 12-Bar Blues and 50s Progressions and other chord progressions, so you can hear the CP's and play along.


Below are four simple chord progressions.

For any progression – for these and others – you can adjust the rate of chord changing, to make it faster or slower, by playing each chord for 4 beats (1 bar) or 8 beats (2 bars), and by making the tempo (in beats/minute) faster or slower.

red-blue-green-red (it's I-IV-V-I) is a 4-chord progression with 3 different chords.  It's “musically conclusive” because it ends with the I-chord of V-I.  You can use it 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 parts produce interesting variety, and also because its “conclusive conclusion” will be more dramatically satisfying when it's preceded by a 4-chord sequence that is “non-conclusive” because it ends with green-V or blue-IV (instead of red-I) as in...

red-blue-red-greenred-blue-green-red  (it's I-IV-I-VI-IV-V-I) or in

red-blue-green-blue, red-blue-green-red  (i.e. I-IV-V-IV, I-IV-V-I).

red-green-blue-green, red-blue-green-red  (i.e. I-V-IV-V, I-IV-V-I).

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

practicing all changes:  Together, some combinations of 8-chord progressions — like I-IV-I-VI-IV-V-I and I-IV-V-IVI-IV-V-I — are useful because when you play one of them for awhile, and then the other, you'll be practicing all 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 wider variety:  Although I say "all possible chord-changes" many other changes are possible, when other chords (not just basic I-IV-V chords) are used.  This page emphasizes ways to make music by using basic chord-notes (1,3,5) 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.  And they can improvise melodies where the focus is chord-notes and/or scale-notes and/or a melody, in three strategies for improvising.     { four ways to improvise 


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."  A first step in making it a useful structure is understanding the chord progression.  You can do this by reading and hearing.

How?  You can hear some examples of 12 Bar Blues, with youtube videos and in other ways.  Listen (and maybe play along) so you can learn.  I've begun finding videos with 12-Bar Blues so you can hear the CP and play along.

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 or, more generally, 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.

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 by comparing what you're hearing (in the music) with what you're seeing (in the chart).  Usually 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 progression (CC) from the beginning (CCCC) of the next 12-bar progression, so instead of CCCCCC it's CGCCCC.  But this is “until the song ends” when the final 12-Bar CP typically ends with CC (instead of CG) because this produces “a satisfying final conclusion” by finishing on the CC that is the home-chord in the Key of C Major.     { more about turnarounds }    { And musicians often use 7th Chords – especially G7, but usually also C7 and F7 – in a Blues Progression. }


What?  You also 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 ), by replacing each major chord ( I, IV, V ) with a minor chord ( i, iv, v ).



passing notes (to move between chord notes)

Earlier I say "all notes – the scale notes (white) and non-scale notes (black) – can be useful for making melodies that are musically interesting-and-enjoyable when you add variety by playing mainly red [or mainly blue or mainly green] instead of only red."

How?  With creative uses of non-chord passing notes (aka passing tones) you can move between chord notes (from one to another) smoothly and musically.  When you're playing along, you'll “experiment, listen and learn” so you can improve your ability to play notes that “fit” with the chord progression — especially during each chord change, when you're moving from one chord to another — to make music that sounds good, is interesting-and-enjoyable.  At first you may find the “fittings” easier if you play only the note-colors that match the chord being played;  during the 4 measures of CCCC play only the notes 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 during each chord.  And you will develop intuitive skills for merging 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.   { terms: When they're creatively used in this way, the non-chord notes are called passing notes [or passing tones], and the chord-notes are target notes. }   For example, during a C Chord you play mostly chord-notes (red C,E,G) but also some non-red white notes (blue or green) that are in the Scale of C, and some non-red black notes that are not in the Scale of C.  During all chords (C,F,G and others) these passing notes (both white & black) produce melodic variety that make your melodies more pleasantly interesting, more fun-to-hear for you and others.


How?  Here are two ways that I use non-chord notes as passing notes while thinking and playing — and maybe while using strategies of "mixing scale-melodies with chord-melodies" or "using black notes to make chromatic scale-melodies" — to improvise melodies during 12-Bar Blues, or another Chord 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.   /   When making “blues melodies” a common strategy is to creatively use “blues notes,” especially minor notes (they're black notes from the scales of C Minor, F Minor, G Minor) while playing the major chords (C Major, F Major, G Major) of 12-Bar Blues, in a major key (C Major).  This is playing Minor-within-Major, and the diagram shows (with large ovals, medium ovals, small squares) three kinds of black notes that are “blue notes”.  In the key of C Major, for the main chords (C,F,G - I,IV,V) each large oval is a flatted 3rd (it's in the Minor Scale of C, F, or G);  each small square is a flatted 7th (also in the Minor Scale);  and a small oval is a flatted 5th (that isn't in the Minor Scale, it's a tritone relative to C).  Some musicians find it useful to think about playing a blues scale with 6 or 7 notes that include some of the “special flatted-notes” you see below.  Musicians who play blues commonly use Chords-Based Improvising (combining chord-melodies with scale-melodies) as described in this page, and also Scales-Based Improvising.     {some examples of passing notes used for blues melodies}

the black keys show three kinds of blues-notes that often are used for playing bluesy melodies during a chord progression of 12-Bar Blues

Of course, you can mix these two modes-of-playing, so you're mixing time-periods (that can be short or long) of “thinking classical” and “thinking blues” in ways that add variety, that expand the range of possibilities you're exploring.  And...

While you're thinking either “classical” or “blues” 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.  During your improvising — especially while you're “thinking popular” but also with another style-goal (“classical” or “blues” or “  ?  ”) or you're using another type of strategy to stimulate creativity — you may find (as I have) that slow experimenting often is productive.  Playing slowly can help you break out of familiar habit-ruts, because you have more time to intentionally try unfamiliar sequences-of-notes, so you're using the notes in new ways, and this makes it more likely that you'll discover new ways to make music.     { learning more by playing slow and fast, while thinking and not-thinking, seeking new adventures }


listening and playing along: 

Below are 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 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.

Before the links to videos, here are some video-features you can adjust.  You can...   change the speed:  a specific tempo isn't necessary because YouTube lets you change speeds (click "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.   /    But you can change the key.  How?  All of my links are to backing tracks in the Key of C (because that's best for my red-blue-green colorizing) but you can use a video that isn't in-C by adjusting, by having your keyboard automatically transpose;  e.g. if the video is "in key of E" just continue pressing transpose 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?  Keyboard-transposing is especially useful when you want to jam with someone who plays an instrument that (unlike an electronic keyboard) cannot auto-transpose;  with my trombone other keys (especially F, Bb) are easier & I can play better;  guitar players usually prefer non-C keys like G, D, A, or E, and other instruments also have their favorites.   /   change the length:  If you want to practice over-and-over with a certain video, to "loop it" just put your mouse over the video and right-click, then click "Loop" so it's checked.

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 this modified turnaround (CCCCFFCCGFCG) or is 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 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.

50s Progression:  [[ 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 ---


other common progressions:  [later these will be found and linked-to]

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 50s Progressions and other chord progressions, so you can hear the CP's and play along. ]] 

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


APPENDIX for Part 1B

Most of these sections originally were in 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, out of the main flow, so 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.


two pentatonic scales:  Earlier I describe pentatonic scales and ask "are there any that you think sound especially interesting and pleasing, thus more musically valuable?"  Although all five scales can be useful, the two that usually are considered most musically valuable are Minor Pentatonic and Major Pentatonic — in the keys of E-Flat Minor Pentatonic and G-Flat Major Pentatonic — using the set of "minor" home-notes, or the "MAJOR" set of home-notes:

2 pentatonic scales (minor and MAJOR) among the 5 possible black-note scales

During improvising that is unstructured, one way to be more creatively free — trying to play without structure, by ignoring chords and pre-existing melodies — is to freely experiment with pentatonic scales.  Although it can be useful to play pentatonics in C Major, it's easier to be unstructured when you play only black notes due to the visual simplicity (leading to mental simplicity and freedom) because all notes that are black – no more, no less – are in the scale, so it's easy to intuitively know all notes that ARE in the scale (they're black) and ARE NOT in the scale (they're white), and you can focus your full attention on using the black notes to creatively make music.   /   If you want to preserve an improvised melody that uses only black notes (typically it's in the key of E-flat Minor Pentatonic or G-flat Major Pentatonic) you can transpose this melody into a white-note key (A Minor or C Major) and use it during another kind of music-making strategy.


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 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 doesn't share any notes with any of the other chords, although its root note (G) is closely related to the root note (C) of C Major, because these notes have the most harmonious ratio (3:2) of pitch frequencies.  For various reasons, this V-chord produces “musical tension” that is 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,... }


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).  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 only 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}

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.


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


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.


a story:  The sneaky dog ate my lunch.     { it's "a story" – instead of “the story” – because other stories are possible. }



four ways to improvise music:

UYou can improvise freely with Unstructured Improvisation by “just putting notes together” in any way you want.  In an effort to be “more free” so whatever you invent will be “more new” you can try to ignore chords and pre-existing melodies.

VMYou can improvise a Variation Melody by modifying the notes of a pre-existing Melody, as described earlier.  This is a common way to improvise a new Melody.

CPMYou can improvise a Harmonious Chord-Progression Melody when you know each chord that's being played (i.e. whether it's made from red notes, blue notes, green notes, and/or other notes) and you sequentially play its chord-notes along with some non-chord notes.  You are using the structure of a pre-existing Chord Progression, using its structure as a framework to guide you in sequentialy playing chord-notes (plus non-chord notes) to improvise a Melody that is based on the Chord Progression.

CPYou can improvise a Harmonious Chord Progression by simultaneously playing chord-notes, and occasionally changing the chord.  For example, Part 1A encourages you to improvise a Harmonious Chord Progression by alternating time-periods of Chords that have only red notes (played simultaneously) and only blue notes and only green notes, by "changing the chord-color whenever you want, to whatever new chord-color you want" so – with your choices of whenever and whatever – you are improvising Chord Progressions.  Or you can begin with an old CP, and change it into a new CP.    {more about CP}

You also can do musical improvisation in other ways that move beyond basic chord-notes (1,3,5) in the main major chords (I,IV,V) and melodies using chord-notes.


Now each description above is expanded, especially for the “harmonious improvising” of CPM and CP.

update:  The rest of this Appendix – with expanded descriptions – has been moved into a separate page.



DIY – how to colorize a keyboard

iou – Soon I'll write a brief introductory overview for my page about how to colorize a keyboard that includes wanting to find a “budget keyboard” (or motivating a company to make it) with two features that — due to the pleasant harmony produced by mathematically-logical just tuning and the pleasant artistry allowed by musically-logical key changes — would be musically valuable.   /   Or maybe these features (one or both) can be done using MIDI.  This weekend, September 29-30, I'll ask in forums, to learn about possibilities for doing them with MIDI.

A keyboard should offer two options for tuning, letting a user choose between even-tempered tuning (this is practical in a wide variety of musical situations, so it's typically the only option when playing an electronic keyboard) and just tuning (this is practical when playing in C Major & A Minor, either solo or with other instruments that can play just tuning)* so we can hear harmonies that are more harmonious – that are not designed to be intentionally out-of-tune.     {* Some of the instruments that can play with just tuning are voices, violins, steel guitars, and trombones, plus a few electronic keyboards.  Also, expert players can skillfully adjust the tones of their instrument, as in a famous clarinet glissando or with a saxophone or trumpet or guitar. }

A keyboard should offer two options for transposing, with quick-to-use buttons that let you numerically change the key by going up-or-down 1 semitone (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 “–” button;  or go up 7 semitones (from C to G) to “add a sharp” with a “+” button.  This extra option-for-transposing would be musically useful in many situations, as when you are quickly shifting to a related key, or you're “finding the key” when you don't know it and are playing by ear using a practical key-finding strategy.   /   [[ iou – For "key-finding strategy" there is no link now, but soon in my Big Page I'll describe a useful key-finding strategy, e.g. if you're “playing in C” and you notice that you must play B-flat (instead of B) and play E-flat (instead of E) you know that you should “add two flats” by pressing the “–” button twice, so you're moving from C (with no flats) to F (with 1 flat), and then from F to B-flat (with 2 flats).  Or if you must use F-sharp (instead of F) and also C-sharp and G-sharp, you “add 3 sharps” by pushing “+” 3 times, changing the key from C to G, then G to D, then D to A (with 3 sharps).  This is especially useful if, for example, you first recognize F# and C# so you press “+” twice, but then you find that you still must use F# (when “playing in C”) so you think “oops, I need one more sharp” and you push “+” one more time;  this is easy.  But it's more difficult with only a numerically-changing button;  for the two changes (from 0 sharps to 2 sharps, then to 3 sharps) you first must press the “+” button twice, moving you from C to D so the screen reads “+2”;  later for the second change, you must know that you'll go from D (2 sharps) to A (3 sharps) so you press “+” 7 more times, until the screen reads “+9”;  this overall process is more complex, less intuitive, less quick. ]]


scientific research (about the effects of music)

iou – Soon, hopefully by mid-October, here I'll write a summary to describe some of the abundant scientific research about music.  I'll also make a separate page with more details, plus links to pages & videos with lots of useful information.  Until this section will is more fully developed, here are some preliminary comments:

I've begun searching and there is a LOT of research.  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.

The process of doing-and-interpret scientific research is complex and difficult.  One 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 activites – 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 as a self-selecting group 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.  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.   /   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.

e.g. Synchronous Running with Tempo Music produces physical-emotional-mental-motivational benefits, with improved physical performance, emotional enjoyment, mental attitudes, motivational perseverance.

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


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.

summertime actions:  During the first half of 2023, I did a few actions, but soon will be doing many more.  In late May, I contacted music teachers and principals in three local k-12 districts (Columbus, Westerville, Worthington) about my ideas for Problem-Solving Education and Music-Improvising Education.  Soon I'll begin doing more experiments that produce experiences.*  During August 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.  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 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.  But I think we should use the 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.

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




Why am I enthusiastic about education?  Because the essence of living — the meaningful activities we do in our everyday thinking & learning, and in the teaching (of self & others) that helps all of us learn from our experiences in lifeis education, when it's broadly defined as learning from life-experiences.

With this view of education, every person is an educator-of-self, and (in many situations) an educator-of-others.*  You are a learner (doing internal education) and 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 some teaching, informally.  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 who provide educationally-useful experiences.  We usually do this by just living in ways that make their experiences more personally beneficial, more effective in helping them learn how to fully develop their whole-person potentials.     { also: a broad definition of problem solving 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]," 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 pondMy experiences were enjoyable but shallow — with very little thinking about the music, simply playing whatever was on the sheet music in front of me, with memorizing but no playing-by-ear or improvising — without much understanding.

After moving to Seattle in 1970 for graduate school (Chemistry) at my first UW, I began playing improvised 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) that typically was pre-composed for me in high school.

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 the simple music theory, and I enjoyed the process-and-result when we used this framework.  Even though I didn't understand much about “the theory” (just knew the basics) this was enough.  I recognized that by using music theory we could create interesting music, and it was fun.

During the next few years, in the early-70s while living in Anaheim I explored possibilities for using chord-notes by experimenting when playing trombone, and with 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 creative use of "long sliding" by Urbie Green;*  in a record store his album caught my attention because in 1972 during a two-month road trip I heard him play in a Chicago bar, was amazed at his trombone artistry.     [[ iou – later I'll write a paragraph about the wide variety of “visual representations” I've developed and how these are a specialty of mine;  they include some for keyboards (the red-blue-green & more) plus trombone ]]    [[ * there are under-developed possibilities for trombone “sliding harmonies” that I began thinking about after hearing Urbie Green use notes-between-the-notes in his beautiful “long sliding” (thru an interval of a 4th) – during 0:58-1:07 (and for musical context, 0:38-1:17) – of I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues when he creatively used a special feature of his instrument. ]]

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, at the market and then the workshop in his home (where he and his wife had a back yard ending with the Mackenzie River) some “how to do it” principles.  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 to 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 and (as described by Wikipedia) added "a long flexible plastic tube" so I could "play the keyboard horizontally" while seeing the keys that I had labeled (red blue green) to make my first colorized keyboard.  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.

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 and simplistically) 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 life in many ways, leading to a variety of fascinating adventures (maybe they can be viewed as productive detours on a road less traveled?) 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 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, 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 - later, maybe in September, I'll have a couple of links for times between 2004 and NOW when my Big Page is 48.5 screens, is “a website inside a page”. ]]

In mid-2013 I moved from Madison to our family home in Anaheim CA, to serve as caregiver for parents.  Dad passed away (due to an unexpected complication) in late 2013.  Then until mid-July 2019, Mom was generally healthy, fairly independent.  She 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;  she never 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 was in facilities (medical, nursing care, residential) for the next 4 months, the rest of her life.  She died at 95 after a long-and-good life, with her & Dad (who had died at 92) helping others have good lives.   /   For her final months, 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.  She visited almost every day.  So did we (i.e. me and our dog), and I observed the activities of Sunrise.  Then 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 conversation;  I feel confident about music, but for conversation am justifiably humble so (as explained above) 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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