Classical Improv

Classical Improv

(or Partimento)

Workshops & Lessons

Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven are well know to have been improvisors in addition to being composers. 

Perhaps less well know is that improvisation was an integral part of of any keyboard musicians education. It wasn’t through divine inspiration, personal dedication, or luck that musicians of that era were improvisors. Teachers had tools and techniques to teach improvisation. 

Bach – and many composers – intended their pieces to educate both the fingers and the mind. They intended their pieces to be played and performed and also taken apart and studied so the student could learn to improvise and compose.

What were the tools to learn to improvise?

Playing and Performing

Playing and performing great repertoire from a variety of composers.

Analyzing – trying to understand the elements of a piece of music – becomes easier when the patterns learned from improvising begin to reveal themselves in every single piece.


The Rule of the Octave




     and more.

These are patterns that can be found throughout classical music. 

Musical patterns need to be understood and engaged with four ways:

  • intellectually – what is the chord, notes, inversion, roman numeral, tonic/dominant?
  • at the keyboard – what is the shape in their hand, the voicing on the keyboard?
  • aurally – what does it sound like, what else does it sound similar to?
  • by writing – how do you write the sound down?
When a student understands these patterns deeply they become extremely powerful musical tools to understand repertoire, to improvise, and to compose their own music. 
Schubert is a music theory and musicology prof and McGill University. This paper is geared toward undergraduate music study, but the ideas are immensely consequential to all music study.

4 Session Workshop

Group sessions and individual sessions available.

See below for more info

What would be the minimum age and skill level for student? Minimum age level?

  • RCM Grade 4 and up
  • Adults and kids age 10 and up

What would be the concepts students would learn in the class? 

  • Learn to improvise with  the Rule of the Octave (tonic-dominant progressions) and simple cadences (half cadences, final cadences)
  • Learn to improvise antecedent-consequent phrases
  • Learn to improvise in the form of a minuet

Why would students want to take the course? 

  • curiosity about how to make their own music,
  • trying a new aspect of the art form,
  • opening up possibilities to improvise and compose their own music

Why teachers should want their students to take the course:

  • improves aural skills,
  • make abstract theory click,
  • challenge students, 
  • improve memory work

How would it improve their playing and learning?

  • students gain freedom, their playing sounds more spontaneous,
  • they have a better grasp of how the music they are playing works,
  • they would be able to spot patterns that occur in music in all kinds of repertoire
  • have fun making music!

Who is the potential audience?

  • adults and kids age 10 and up
  • intermediate + piano students who have played some repertoire from the baroque, classical or romantic eras.
  • piano teachers who are looking for professional development (send me an message)

Workshops & Lessons

Learning music from a variety of composers is very important for many reasons.

In the video below I play excerpts from four pieces that all have sections that use the Rule of the Octave. 

Follow along at home with the scores by clicking here.

Note: In putting this together I thought I should give some examples of how composers used the patterns I have been talking about. I mentioned four composers at the top of the page Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, so I grabbed a score from each of them and found these examples on the first page I looked at: the Rule of the Octave is EVERYWHERE!

In the next video I take a piece a student might be working on and show how a student might build an improvisation. The steps I go through here might take a year or two in real life.

Follow along at home with the score here.

Links to other sources old and new