Create First! - Part 1


Beginning the Adventure

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Hi, I’m Forrest Kinney. I’d like to give you a quick introduction to my approach called Create First - which I’ve also called the Pattern Play approach. It’s an intuitive and enjoyable way to learn to improvise in many different musical styles and also a way to teach others to improvise.

How it Works

In every piece, there is a short accompaniment pattern called a Pattern that you can repeat as many times as you like and vary it as you repeat it. Then there is a contrasting accompaniment called a Vacation. You create accompaniments by moving back and forth between the Pattern and Vacation as many times as you like. Your right hand makes melodies and sounds using a given set of notes or a scale. Every piece is organized in the same way: Pattern, Vacation and the scale you create with.

Each piece has been notated in two different ways: one for Solo playing and the other for Duet playing. The solo version of each piece can be used to improvise by yourself. If you don’t yet read music, you can learn from just the videos that accompany each piece.

If you DO read music, you can work from either the video or the score where each Pattern (marked with P) and Vacation (marked with V) are notated. In the section marked with a C (which stands for Create), you are shown what piano keys to create with, and also shown some ideas to try.

The “Pattern Play” Approach - Solos

Each solo version of the pieces in this series have three sections of music:

Stands for Pattern. This is a short accompaniment that you can repeat as many times as you like.
Stands for Vacation. This is a contrasting accompaniment pattern that you also can repeat.
Stands for Create. This section is filled with suggestions and musical examples to help you create your own melodies and sounds along with the Pattern and Vacation.

First learn the Pattern and Vacation. It’s best if you can play them by memory. Then you are ready to explore the suggestions in the Create section and create your own music.

The Form of the Music

Every repeat sign in this series means: Repeat as many times as a you like. To create longer pieces (improvisations), repeat the Pattern many times and also the Vacation. Then loop back and forth between the Pattern and Vacation as many times as you like.

In general, you can play the Pattern to make an introduction. The first chord of the Pattern usually works for an ending, but each day is different. The best endings are those that you don’t expect!

Sometimes there is more than one Vacation, and these are marked V1, V2, V3. Usually, you can play these in any order you like, such as P V1 P V2 P or P V2 V1 P.

The Next Step

In some pieces, you will see a section near the end marked with this icon. This represents “the next step.” The suggestions in this section are for when you feel ready for a more advanced challenge.

Change the Notes!

With most music books, it is considered wrong to change the notes. With this series, it is the opposite! The notes in this series are supposed to transform into musical tones that keep changing and growing as long as you do!

The Most Important Ingredient

Joy. That’s the essential ingredient in the practice of an art. It’s what keeps your practice alive for a lifetime. So don’t make this into a drill or exercise. Without joy, you won’t get the real gifts.

Final advice: Keep it simple at first, make lots of mistakes (that’s how we learn!), and don’t worry about sounding “good” — that will happen by itself if you keep playing and enjoying over time.

The “Pattern Play” Approach - Duets

Each piece in this series also has a duet version in which two people make up (improvise) as they play. The Bottom person plays an accompaniment that can be varied in endless ways, while the Top person improvises sounds and melodies using a selected group of notes. The Top part in level 1 can usually be played by pianists of nearly all levels, each according to their abilities. Although each piece can be played as a solo, it is best to explore these pieces as duets first.

In the duet versions, the Top person creates sounds and melodies using a suggested groups of notes. The Bottom part in each piece contains the Pattern and Vacation.

The Form of the Music

Every repeat sign in this series means: Repeat as many times as a you like. To create longer pieces (improvisations), the Bottom person repeats the Pattern many times and also the Vacation. Then, the Bottom person can loop back and forth between the Pattern and Vacation many times.


Sometimes the Vacation requires the Top person to play with a different group of notes. The Bottom person may need to signal when he or she is about to play to the Vacation. Try to do this non-verbally as much as possible, suggesting it with the music. Or perhaps signal with a movement of your wrists. Or agree in advance on the form of the piece—for example, you might agree to play the Pattern twice and the Vacation twice, over and over until the end.

For Music Teachers

If you are a music teacher, the best way to help your students learn to improvise is to play duets with them first in every lesson. You can even do this with beginners.

For this, you will want to use the duet version of each piece. The Patterns and Vacations are filled out and written as two-hand accompaniments that create a rich, inviting sound. You first play the Pattern, and invite your student to join you by playing on black keys. Notice how the duet versions are the same pieces as the solo ones, but they are now arranged for two people to play rather than one.

When you feel your student is ready to learn how to play the piece solo, switch places with them on the bench, and then teach your student how to play the Pattern and Vacation with their left hand while you play along with them. The important thing here is that you teach them to play the Pattern and Vacation written in the solo version - not the duet accompaniment you just played - so that your student can later add the right-hand part and be able to play solo at home.

It is best to play along with your students while they are learning the Pattern to help develop their sense of rhythm, and also so that they do not feel self-conscious about learning something new. I encourage piano teachers to watch the duet videos I’ve made that show how I quickly introduce the piece to the student, and then how we play the duet together.

Though the duet versions are primarily for teacher-student duets, they can also be used by two students, or a student and parent, a student and a friend, a student and a complete stranger, and so on. The most important thing in this approach is to learn by playing and exploring, and to not waste a moment worrying about whether you sound good or not. That will take care of itself in time. If you just play a lot and enjoy it, you will soon find that you can confidently improvise music in a number of different styles, and that you know many different scales, intervals, and chords.

With this approach, you don’t just learn to play, you play to learn. I hope you enjoy every moment of it!

Resources and further reading

Click here to view an index of Create First! pieces.

Create First! eBooks

All online content and printable downloads for the pieces in this series are included within an Online Academy subscription. A stand-alone eBook version is also available for purchase if you are not a subscriber and wish to obtain this series. Please click here if you would like to purchase the stand-alone eBook version via our store or click here to find out more about subscription options.

If you are a teacher and would like to use this material with your students then a studio license eBook option for individual teachers with multiple students can be purchased here.

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