Options for Improvising

Herb Henke (1931-2015) inspired many of today’s Dalcroze educators. Here, he guides us in improvisation by suggesting simple but profound changes to a piece of music.

After playing the piece as written, try the following versions:

  1. Add three flats (b-flat, e-flat, a-flat) to the key signature. The indicated b-naturals, however, should be retained.
  2. Create a “lazy” waltz meter by playing just the first three notes of each measure in the bass line. Try playing some of the right-hand chords on the “and” of beat one or even on the second beat instead of the first.
  3. Change the bass line to all quarter notes. Instead of sounding the right-hand chords, play the chord tones individually in whatever order and rhythm you like. As you become more comfortable with this, add passing notes between the chord tones.
  4. Try playing in 6/8 meter. The bass can be alternating quarter and eighth notes with rhythmic variations as you go along. Another option is to play two out of the four bass notes in each measure as dotted quarters, improvising individual tones of the right hand chords in a 6/8 rhythm. Finally, try switching from 6/8 to 3/4 in an alternating measure pattern while keeping the underlying eighth note constant.
  5. In the bass, play an open 5th on the downbeat of each measure (e.g., measure 1 will be c and g, measure 2 will be f and c, etc.). After sounding the chords in the treble clef, feel free to add some melodic tones in an easy rhythm. These single tones are most easily played with the third, fourth, and fifth fingers of the right hand.

All of the above options can be done in both keys. The more you experiment with new rhythms and melodies, the easier it will be to get pleasing results. This piece is based on the circle of fifths. For other harmonic options, use chord progressions from folk and pop songs. Good luck!


Members of the Dalcroze Society of America can can read the full article online, which was originally published in the Spring 2009 issue of The American Dalcroze Journal, Vol. 35 No. 3.

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About Herb Henke

Herbert Henke (1931-2015) was Emeritus Professor of Eurhythmics and Music Education at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. He held voice and music education degrees from Oberlin and the doctorate from the Univ. of Southern California. His License in Dalcroze Eurhythmics is from Carnegie-Mellon Univ. In 2006 he was awarded the Diplome Superieur Honoris Causa by the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze.

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