Pattern Play - Teaching Improvisation

For about a year or two, I have been looking for an approach to teaching improvisation, or creative piano playing, that I could incorporate into my current teaching curriculum. I wanted something that would be both easy to understand, but creatively challenging. Something that younger and older students alike could grasp and enjoy.
But having figured out what I know of improvisation by trial and error myself, I just wasn't sure where to begin with students who hadn't yet learned a fully comprehensive music theory including the range of pentatonic and blues scales. I wanted something that would teach these concepts while teaching creative playing.

Then, a few months ago, in reading an archived post on Pianoanne, I learned of a method called Pattern Play by Akiko & Forrest Kinney. It looked like exactly what I'd been hoping to find. I ordered a copy, liked what I saw, and have begun to use it in lessons.

After just a couple lessons, my students are already coming up with original music with ease. Parents are loving hearing what their kids are creating at the piano. And the true brilliance of this book is that the first couple lessons, or patterns, are entirely played on the black keys, and since these create a pentatonic scale for Gb Major, there are literally no sour notes, anyone can play creatively with confidence! You should see the doubtful looks I get when I say "just play what you want to hear, there are no wrong notes," but once they begin the students love it. 

The truly wonderful thing about teaching Improvisation, is that it has been shown to increase musical expression in young students. This is the ability to express ideas or themes through the way music is played, and causing your audience to feel the emotion or impression the piece aims to leave. And not only does this show up in the pieces they improvise, but it also carries over to the repertoire pieces learned from sheet music. No longer are we simply working on playing note and rhythm perfect music, but also capturing and communicating the artistic essence of that music as well. 

I am also very much looking forward to our next Young Composers summer program, because I believe working with this Pattern Play approach will unlock some further creativity and musical insight in the resulting compositions.