Saturday, October 3, 2009

The King’s School, Grantham, UK

The King’s School in Grantham can trace its lineage back as far as 1329, making it one of the oldest schools in the UK. Isaac Newton and William Cecil are among the many illustrious old boys. Music thrives at King’s. There are unparalleled opportunities for performance, whether it be as a soloist or as part of a small or large ensemble. Over 200 instrumental lessons take place each week and approximately a third of the school learn to play a musical instrument. There’s a big band and a soul band. Justin Dixon, the head of music, invited me to do a workshop on keyboard improvisation. 26 boys took part and quite a few played for me. Here’s the whole group:

King’s School improvisation workshop

I began by playing a bluesy improvised piece from Jazz Preludes, with track, which went down well. Then I asked the boys to listen to 3 snippets of piano improvisation – from Oscar Peterson, Jamie Cullum and Lyle Mays. This got us into a discussion about what the relationship is between what students play and what they listen to and we also touched on what sort of music they might want to improvise.

Then we were straight into improvisation on Intercity Stomp, using Improvise Microjazz as the source material. Various students helped me and did some good improvising very quickly. Here’s me with 2 students hard at work:

Students improvise with CN

I then moved onto A Day in Majorca and I showed the students how you can build up left hand chords, then a right hand solo, using The Easiest Way To Improvise.

Finally, we went onto American Popular Piano, using Spider Blues from Level 3 and Happy Times from Level 6. There were some quite startling results from the students who played and the rest of the group found it informative and, I think, entertaining.


The participants enjoyed trying some freer improvisation, using grace notes, pedal notes, tremolo and other tasty devices. I hope many of them will go away thinking that they can definitely start to improvise and that they have some tools for that purpose as well.

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