Pentatonic Scale Improvisation

The pentatonic scale is a great place to start improvising on the piano. My students first introduction to improvisation is the pentatonic scale in F# major, which consists of only black keys.

So you can play any black key at all, in any way you wish!

Pentatonic improvisation

Pentatonic scale improvisation for beginners

I think improvisation is very liberating and also can go a huge way to improving a student’s sense of musicality. In fact after introducing this improvisation technique to an adult student of mine today she actually said she was “on a high!” – it doesn’t get much better than that for me as a teacher!

Getting Started

As a starting point, try playing two notes simultaneously in the left hand, repeating the same two notes throughout and coming in every 4 beats.

Then try this the other way around, with the right hand sustaining two notes for 4 beats, and the left hand doing the improvisation.

If you’re having trouble keeping steady beats, try using a metronome to accompany you for a while.


Just have fun with it! Don’t worry about playing wrong notes or it sounding bad, power on through and enjoy being freed from the confines of sheet music.

Also check out the fantastic ted talk below about the pentatonic scale, really can’t recommend this one enough! Makes me smile every time!

If you want to know more about how and why you should teach improvising to piano students – read my post on The Big Secret of Teaching Improvisation.

2 thoughts on “Pentatonic Scale Improvisation”

    This was awesome Nicola! I’m one of those piano teachers who doesn’t have a master’s degree or even a bachelor’s degree in music! I have a minor in music… and have played piano since I was 5, with the traditional approach. I began teaching when I was 16, and have pretty much taught ever since. (my first exposure to you was an interview that you had filmed at some type of music festival where you were discussing those of us who often feel that we “aren’t good enough” because we didn’t have the “correct” education — I’ve been following you since then!)
    I’ve now joined the Inner Circle, I use the Wunderkeys curriculum, and get many resources from TeachPianoToday, and am “educating” myself online. This post has Bobby McFerrin clip was just what I needed on the pentatonic scale! I’ve loved all the chord approach for adult students, the 4 chord composing from Tim, and also your information on it, and the Improvising that I’m absorbing from all of you! I also participated in your most recent 5DPP – and am still processing it! Thank you for sharing your experience and resources with those of us who are a little behind the times =)

    • Hey Tonya, how lovely to hear! Especially that that video resonated with you. I totally get the feeling like you’re missing something, but it sounds like you’re doing a great job of continuing your education. πŸ™‚


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