I have been playing the piano for 2 years now and I can play some of my favorite pieces through sheet music and a lot of time. I have also been singing in a band for quite some years and want to incorporate the piano into some songs.

What could be a good practice routine for practicing piano improvisation/jamming? We're in a band with a guitarist/bass player/drummer and myself as a singer.

I can play and identify major/minor scales, but not instantly. I practice for 2 hours a day.

I was thinking about 20 minutes of practicing scales, 20 minutes of practicing chords and chord progressions and then spend the remaining time playing along with random snippets of music. Would this be the most effective way of increasing this skill?

Also if it's of any help I'm a quite an experienced guitar and bass player myself and have been writing songs and producing music for a couple of years now so I have a good idea of how I need to compliment other instruments and take the lead myself.

  • This may be helpful if not exactly the same question: http://music.stackexchange.com/q/1266/28
    – user28
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 16:24
  • Thanks for your reply Matthew. However I'm looking to put together the most effective routine specifically for the piano in a 2 hour time-frame. Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 22:16
  • Jim, couple of questions before I write an answer. First, what type of band? What type of music does the band play? Second, do you mean piano or keyboard? Not just for practice, but when playing with the band. Piano is one sound, keyboard/synth offers different sounds/patches and can influence the style of play and thus how you might practice.
    – Huntrods
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 4:13
  • It's a style that kind of leans towards Coldplay only with a more experimental edge (longer songs, different structures). And I mean piano, it is played on a MIDI keyboard though. Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 11:35

5 Answers 5


You've set yourself a schedule, and that's fine. It's now a question of what you do in that time, and what skills you need to develop.

You're likely to need a backing track. There are lots of options -- have a friend accompany you, play over a CD, record yourself, use a loop pedal, computer software, etc.

Alternatively, since you're on piano you can provide your own backing with your left hand. If you do this, introduce a metronome at some point.

A few disciplines you could follow:

Practice playing tunes you know, by ear

Start with simple tunes like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and move on to more complicated ones. You're judging yourself on how accurately you play the tune, and how seldom you hesitate. You could start by doing this unaccompanied (so you can pause to find a note), then move on to a metronome (so if you mess up, you can resume on any beat), then move on to a full accompaniment.

If you find that you're playing from memory, move on to a different tune.

Practice embellishing tunes you know, by ear

As above, but vary the rhythm, add embellishments and fills - jazz, man! What you've learned playing by ear, will help you here.

Practice full improvisation

Play whatever you like, over a set chord progression.

In all of those cases, it can be helpful to sing or hum the improvised melody as you play it. This forces you to differentiate between playing the note you intended to play, and merely playing a note that sounds OK.

Also, practice in as many keys as you can. You should aim to be able to play a melody by ear, starting on any note. However, since you're in a band with a guitarist and bassist, it wouldn't do any harm to give extra attention to the keys guitarists tend to prefer -- E, A, D, G, C; Em, Dm, Am -- go by what keys the songs in your band's repertoire use.

  • Thanks for this. I find that although I can figure out how to play a piece or how to play what I hear in my head, I have never really practiced doing so with a steady beat/metronome. Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 9:36


I play a different style, but I think the principles are the same no matter what. Practice is great, and I commend practicing scales and chords. That is your good personal practice.

But for improv with a group, the best practice is to play with the band. If you don't have chord charts for the songs you play, then make some. Start with 4 or 8 note chord "pads" (this is why I love the synth sounds - they don't decay like a piano patch). After a while, you will get really good at this, and ... bored. Great! Now start start experimenting with 'fill notes' and such between the chords. Scales are great here, as is knowledge of stuff like "circle of 5ths" and other methods to bridge between primary chords. Keep playing and messing about at this point, because this is where you are really developing building blocks for improv.

If you can't do this with the band, then either a) play along with coldplay songs, or b) record your band at a gig or practice and play along with that.

That should get you going.


  • Thanks for this, I should look into the circle of fifths more as I've been quietly avoiding it for a while Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 9:39

This may not be hugely applicable as it's somewhat hard to find (I also hesitate to recommend a video game that doesn't actually involve teaching theory), but I find that Rock Band 3 with the keyboard attachment has some good exercises for improvisation. It's heavily based around scales and chords.

You're still reading notes, sort of, but as it's not actually sheet music, I find that it encourages thinking differently. Also, you're reacting to the notes in a very limited time frame, a bit like sight reading.

Of course, the default keyboard has a limited range (I think it's four octaves?), but as I recall there was an interesting variety of styles.

  • 1
    There is also a software called Reaper including a plugin called "NinJam" that allows you to jam online with people. It works pretty well and at least you don't stick to the genre of music you are used to playing.
    – esmitex
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 13:00

Your keyboard practice routine needs to:

1). improve your finger ability in both hands - 20%. - drills involving scales and arpeggios up and down in both hands

2) improve your ability to locate harmonies (chords) - 40% - learning shell chords in the left hand - learning common chord voicings for your kind of music in both hands

3) improve your ability to create bass lines in the left hand -20% - outline the root progression - appropriate walking bass for different styles of music

4) improve your ability to ability to create lines in the right hand - 20% - improvised melodies - licks


  • I wouldn't say abandon sheet music, but it definitely shouldn't be the majority of your practice period.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 22:57

In my opinion, practicing seventh chords within 12 major (Ionian) scales are more effective in learning scales than playing scales with a single note; Practice your scales with a seventh chord in root position (the root starting on Do) for every Major key. That will get you to be able to "See" or "Feel" each key. It will also help your ear, as many jazz and pop progressions have predominantly movement in fourths and/or in the chromatic scale.

  • Hi Brian - I'm not sure this answers the question which is about practice for improvisation with a band.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 14:22

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