Two summers ago I was beyond fortunate to attend the 88 Creative Keys Camp ( in Denver, CO where I studied under the tutelage of keyboard pedagogy masters Bradley Sowash ( and Leila Viss ( These two are pioneering the way for piano teachers to embrace improvisation and creativity in a new era of piano lesson instruction. I left this camp empowered to touch on aspects of improvisation and creative freedom at the keyboard in every lesson I gave to my students. Growing up I had always wanted to sit down and play by ear, but I was never taught this in my lessons and didn’t know where to begin on my own. I now prioritize the balance of eye playing and ear playing instruction equally for my students to progress as well-rounded musicians and players.

In July 2015 I attended the National Keyboard Pedagogy Conference (NCKP) outside of Chicago where I had the pleasure of sitting in on Forrest Kinney’s sessions (  Forrest is another pedagog paving the way in improvisation and arranging. In this first video, Marin and I used an example out of Forrest’s Pattern Play Book 1 improvising in the Eb Blues. Marin starts out only using the right hand on the blues scale while I handle the chords and bass line. Leila and Bradley had introduced me to the app iRealPro where I found the backing track arrangement to Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” a 12-bar blues tune with the typical I-IV-V progression.  Originally in the key of E, we transposed it to the key of Eb with the tap of a button in the app.

Later in Marin’s lesson we approached the song with her playing the bass line along with chords in the right hand. Marin has been studying chords in lessons for the past couple years, so handling this was not a stretch for her in the lesson. Many students will take some time to bring in the ease of chord voicing. In the middle of this video Marin runs the Eb blues scale up and down in the right hand while coordinating with the bass line. We start this process to ease her into improvising while continuing the bass line.

Marin’s assignment for the next week was to come back with the ability to hold down the left hand bass line while improvising in the right which she handles quite well. In time these activities become more and more a part of student’s playing. Since starting improvisation lessons, Marin has composed multiple pieces on her own and thoroughly enjoys sitting down at the piano with creative freedom. My joy as an instructor is in bringing these skills to my students in their formative years when playing off the page can become just as normal as playing by reading notes.

Bradley and Leila hold camps for students and teachers in improvisation and creativity annually. I cannot stress the gratitude that I hold for these two as they started me down this path as an instructor, and now I can’t get enough of it! Leila is also the author of The iPad Piano Studio which is an outstanding resource for teachers wanting to advance lessons by using the latest technology. They are both a wealth of information, and I highly suggest researching all of their creative avenues, especially if you are a music instructor. If you don’t know where to start, check out and for some great teaching motivation and creative ideas.

At AJ’s Music Factory we take pride in allowing our students to be engulfed in the enjoyment of music and will continue to research ways to make lessons relevant in a quickly ever-changing world.

Vocal students at AJ’s Music Factory cover many topics in lessons: proper vocal technique, multiple genres, personal interpretation of music, vocal improvisation, technicalities of using a microphone, stage performance and confidence, etc. Last month our top focus was harmonizing and blending, two of the most important assets to being an accomplished vocalist. Throughout a series of lessons students interchanged harmony parts to allow their ears and eyes to learn different parts of the worship song, “Holy Spirit” from Francesca Battistelli‘s album If We’re Honest. As they came together and settled into their given parts the focus shifted to blending. “You know your part inside out. Now, listen to each other. Are you louder than the other? Where is the melody? Are you all in tune to each other?” These young ladies worked hard to create a beautiful blend, and they graciously helped to lead worship at Family of Christ Lutheran with the church band backing them last week (Double bonus: creating the next generation of worship leaders!).

Harmonizing and blending takes time. We work diligently to not only learn harmonies, but to be able to “hear the harmony” by ear without having to look at notes to help us. One way to start progressing in this area as a vocalist is to try singing harmonies with your favorite current songs on the radio.

Have a favorite song, but you don’t know where to start with harmony singing? We are here to help you! Excelling as a singer is a great joy, and we are grateful to help you on your vocal journey.