Take a look at this video. Watch what Mr Michael does with his hands right before he starts playing.
Did you see it? He was deciding where to put his hands. Because he had no idea where on the keyboard he wanted to start playing.
Two weeks before this concert, the director called and asked Mr Michael to perform. A week later, he called again because the programs were going to press and Mr Michael hadn't provided a title. Thinking fast, Mr Michael said, "Uh... snowfall?" The director said, "Great!" and that was the way the piece appeared in the program.
Five minutes before playing, Mr Michael still had no idea what he wanted to play. Snowfall... snowfall... hmm... So Miss Mary leaned over to him and whispered, "Just create a landscape, then cover it with snow."
So that's what he did. And at Cool Conservatory, we can teach you to do the same, starting with your existing skill set and building from there. It's not magic. It just looks like magic.
Improvisation... or, making it up as you go
Reading Chords, Comping, and Jamming
A day will come when you are asked to accompany a singer or other soloist. Or you'll decide to start a band. Or you'll want to earn some money over summer vacation playing keyboard on the street outside the local ice cream parlor.
At this point, chord symbols (or their cousin, the Nashville Number System) generally enter the picture. Unless you and your bandmates are reading from a fully notated score, all the rhythm section instruments -- keyboards, piano, guitar, and bass -- all read from lead sheets. Look to your left. That's a lead sheet.
It contains a melody line (the "lead," hence the name) and chord symbols. Maybe a one-word description of the required style. A keyboardist will generally play the melody and the chords with their right hand, while generating a bass line with their left. A guitarist will play the indicated chords in an appropriate rhythm pattern. A bass player will use the "chord scales" s/he knows will suit the chords.
If you want to accompany ("comp") a soloist, you'll need to follow those chords precisely so you don't throw off the lead. If you're playing with a band ("jamming"), you'll all need to follow the same chords... unless you want to sound like one of those bands who specialize in sounding like they don't know what they're doing. And if you're playing tunes outside the ice cream parlor, and somebody requests "Piano Man," you'll want to be able to whip out your lead sheet and have at it.
Yes, it's both teachable and learnable. At Cool Conservatory, we'll show you how. Again, it's not magic. It just really really looks like magic.