One of my recent assignments was to compose a piano solo. My piano instructor and I were working through a chart by the great Brazilian composer, Guinga, and discussing the importance of melody speaking more powerfully than harmony. He explained that the improviser must play more than "just the changes." The changes need to be communicated through a melody, which is where the real music making happens. So he asked me to compose my solo, instead of improvising it. After taking home the assignment and carefully examining the movement of the harmony, and considering very carefully which notes ultimately were the most crucial in defining the harmony, and working on numerous ideas for over a week, I finally wrote out the entire solo.

This experience has really highlighted the importance of melody during improvisation. I feel as though I am turning a new leaf as a pianist and improviser, as I learn to perform through the chord changes, but speak using melodic lines that contain a solid harmonic structural outline.

I recommend the practice of composing a solo for music that calls for improvisers to play through chord changes. This practice is making myself a better improviser, and though the goal is to become familiar enough with the internal design of a multitude of harmonic progressions so that one is able to spontaneously improvise a fluid musical theme, starting out by composing these solos forces one to consider carefully the musical structures that exist internally in the work.