Improvising A Piece Entirely With Melody-Keys

This is my favorite thing to do with the KeyMusician Keyboard. In doing so, my improvisation can sound like an entire string orchestra, or a massive pipe-organ, complete with pedal-keyboard. And this is just me (one person) improvising a tune.

Using this technique, I can take advantage of lush orchestral sounds, like “Layers … Piano & Strings 1” on DimensionPro, and the melody doesn't get muddled, because I don't have to use the sustain key to enable me to reach very high and very low notes at the same time.

The way I do this, is playing triads (3-note chords) with my left-hand, while I improvise very low melody notes with the thumb of my right hand (on the bottom two rows), at the same time as melody-notes (on the top two rows) with the other fingers of my right hand.

Improvising this way is very effective for the listener, since most people can easily make out the highest and lowest parts, but have difficulty making out the inner voices.

So I improvise the highest and lowest parts with my right-hand, with my left-hand playing chords (the inner voices). And with the KeyMusician Keyboard, you can reach all of the notes you want to keep playing simultaneously (using both hands), and there is no need to use the sustain-pedal no enable skipping to notes you can't reach (as you would have to do on a MIDI keyboard).

You can try-out this technique using an ordinary typing-keyboard if you leave-out the right-hand thumb-notes. But to really do it well, you need to use either a gamer's keyboard (with 'anti-ghosting' capabilities), or by using two keyboards (one for each hand). You can also make this work on an ordinary keyboard by substituting 2-note chords instead of 3-note chords).

I use a gamer's keyboard (a Microsoft Sidewinder X4), which allows me to press (and transmit to the computer) up to 18 keys simultaneously (which is more keys than I have fingers for), over a USB interface.

For more information on this type of keyboard, click the following link:

Keyboards Allowing More Simultaneous Key-Presses

Before going out and buying a new keyboard, keep in mind that you can do nearly the same thing using an additional USB keyboard (one for each hand). You could also use one hand on a USB keyboard, and one hand on your lap-top keyboard to do this. Used USB keyboards can be found (at a very low cost) in thrift-stores.

A Video Example

Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, we'll start with a video example of this improvisation technique, which yields a beautiful, unique sound.

Watch the video, taking note of the following details:

1. Chords, played with the left hand, are higher-up, in the middle-range, where they sound better.

2. The bass-line is played with the thumb of the right hand.

3. The melody is played with the other fingers of the right hand, way up high.

4. Layered voices (such as piano/strings), or orchestral sounds allow the use of those ethereal high notes.

5. The sustain-pedal control (which would blur-together melody notes) is not needed, since all the notes are within easy, simultaneous reach.

6. Notice how simple and easy it is to play, even after changing to a key-signature having 4 sharps.

6. Using a gamers' keyboard with anti-ghosting, you can play an independent note simultaneously with each finger - notice the 10-note chord at the end.

Watch the video by clicking the link below:

KMK Advanced Demo

Now that you've seen the example, let's dig into the details of how to do it.

Playing The Chords

One technique that makes improvising a piece easier, is predictable harmonies. So for this type of improvisation, I generally use sequences of ascending (going up one note at a time) chords, and similar descending chords. These chords are usually triads (3-note chords).

I also use two 'inversions' of an ordinary chord triad. An 'inversion' is where you use the same notes, but those three notes are in different order (with respect to top, middle, and bottom).

Here are the chords (triads) I usually start with (shown as key-presses on a keyboard). I usually start (and end) with the triad labeled “1”. Notice that the chords go up one note at a time:

Triad 0

Triad 1 – usual start/end

Triad 2

Triad 3

Triad 4

Triad 5

Triad 6

Triad 7

Triad 8

Triad 9

Usually, when I get to Triad 8, I start descending (going down). In going down, I may continue going down until Triad 0, and then start up again – possibly using a different type of triad. I often reverse directions before reaching Triad 8.

Note: If you're using an ordinary keyboard (not using a gamer's keyboard), you'll probably need to substitute the following for Triad 8, or the chord won't play:

Triad 8-alternate

Here is the next set of chords (triads). Notice in these triads, there are two notes between the bottom-two notes:

Triad 0-B

Triad 1-B – Usual Start/End

Triad 2-B

Triad 3-B

Triad 4-B

Triad 5-B

Triad 6-B

Triad 7-B

Triad 8-B

Usually, when I get to Triad 8-B, I start descending (going down). In going down, I may continue going down until Triad 0, and then start up again – possibly using a different type of triad. I often reverse directions before reaching Triad 8-B.

Here is the next set of chords (triads). Notice in these triads, there are two notes between the top-two notes:

Triad 0-C

Triad 1-C

Triad 2-C

Triad 3-C

Triad 4-C

Triad 5-C

Triad 6-C

Triad 7-C

Triad 8-C

Usually, when I get to Triad 8-C, I start descending (going down). In going down, I may continue going down until Triad 0, and then start up again – possibly using a different type of triad. I often reverse directions before reaching Triad 8-C.

There is another set of chords (triads) I use, which are lower versions of part of the first set of chords. Playing these allow me to use melody notes reaching the left end of the row having the Tab-key. You probably need a gamer's keyboard to use them when playing melody at left end of the Tab-key row.

Here are the chords of this set:

Triad 1-D – usual start/end

Triad 2-D

Triad 3-D

Triad 4-D

Although simple ascending, and then descending chords are predictable harmonies, that are easy to play, you can skip around. They are, after all, just chords.

I particularly like alternating between the following two chords:

Chord 1 – Triad 0-B

Chord 2 – Triad 4-D

Playing The Melody

The high melody notes I play with the fingers of my right-hand. I usually choose from the set below. With a gamer's keyboard, I can go higher, and also lower. Beware that some instrument-sounds make no sound on very high notes.

Without a gamer's keyboard, you probably will do better if you only improvise the high part along with the chords.

Keys in the row immediately above (or immediately below) often will not play together on an ordinary keyboard. This can apply to multiple rows immediately above or below as well. You can often get such keys to play together if you let-up one or more notes of the chord you're playing with it.

Melody-keys for high part

The low melody notes I play using the thumb of my right-hand. These notes are like what you play with the pedal-keyboard of a cathedral organ. I usually play them from the notes below, but I can go higher, or lower (where I use a gamer's keyboard):

Melody-keys for low part

In playing the high-part and the low part together, I use a technique that I often use when I play a duet with myself.

Although you could have both the the high-part and the low-part moving independently at the same time, that is difficult to do (unless you move in parallel, such as parallel 3rds or parallel 6ths, which is easy).

Instead, I move (up or down) with either the high-part or the low-part (not both), until I find a note that sounds good to linger-on. Then I move (up or down) with the other part (and I may change the chord at that same time, or before I switch parts).

You will notice in the example pieces, that I almost never move with both parts at the same time. You could do that, but if you don't move in parallel, it is difficult, and prone to mistakes.

Keep in mind, that any piece you come up with, memorizing the keys you press to play it, will have the very same fingering when played in a different key-signature.

Examples Of Pieces Played Using This Technique

This first example can be played with an ordinary keyboard (usually). Keep in mind that ordinary keyboards are different with respect to what notes can be played together. There are a few notes in it where I have to let-up on another note to get the melody-notes to play.

This piece uses the “91-Space Voice” (Choir Pad) sound:

Glowing Memories

This next piece uses the Church Organ sound of the FluidR3_GM soundfont. Playing the notes with my right-hand thumb really is like playing notes using the pedal keyboard. I use a composite-voice, with wordless choir as the background voice. Notice at about 1:50 into the piece, I do an interlude where I play successive chords while holding-out melody notes.

This instrument makes (I think) a pretty impressive organ!

Organ Improvisation

Here is a piece I improvised on a Mac, using the “Grand Piano Choir Pad” voice of an application called “Main Stage”. On this piece, I'm only improvising the high part along with the chords, which are ascending or descending triads. The chord-notes are played quickly, one after the other, similar to strumming the notes of a guitar chord.

Improvisation On Mac - MainStage

In the last example, I am improvising an entire string orchestra using this technique. It's a video of a live performance I did in 2014. Watch my fingers carefully to observe the technique in action.

String Orchestra Improvisation

Give this technique a try. It's amazing what you can come up with.

People find this claim far-fetched, but I believe and assert, that you can always make up a more impressive piece than you can learn from someone else (in the same amount of time).

You don't have to take my word for it. See for yourself.

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