I want to put it on the table right away so there is no misunderstanding. It is not my intention to minimize the benefits of reading music. The ability to read music opens you to an entire world of wonderful possibilities.
That said, let’s be real. Based on my over four decades of teaching people, I know for a fact that there are lots of people out there who never even gave themselves permission to enjoy themselves tickling those ivories because they saw “the need to read” as an obstacle to overcome. They let that stop them from having fun getting involved with what could be an absolutely terrific, fulfilling hobby. I also think it’s accurate to say that most of these people are not aware that some of the most outstanding musicians of our time never learned to read music.
When an adult with absolutely no experience enters my studio, getting them to learn how to read music is the least of my concerns for the time being. The main goal is to get that individual to express himself or herself in a musical way as soon as reasonably possible. Most of the time, within about 20 minutes, these people become intrigued by the possibilities in front of them.
Expressing Yourself Is Natural
Remember this: you expressed yourself verbally before you could read or write your language. When you were hungry, you learned quickly how to cry for food. When you were thirsty, your instincts made it easy to get your message across.
Making music can be the same way… and it ought to be.
A most delightful way to enjoy quick results at the piano or keyboard is to explore your harmonic possibilities. Harmony can be simply defined as two or more notes played together that sound good. A chord can be easily defined as harmony that consists of three or more notes played together that sound good.
So, friend, if you want to start enjoying yourself at the piano without knowing how to read a note of music, start having fun learning chords. Chords are where it’s at!
A Quick Way To Have Fun With Chords At The Piano
I put together a very informal, easy-to-understand video and guidebook that makes learning your basic chords so easy, it’s almost funny. It doesn’t require shipping. As with everything in our online store, you can gain instant access to it. It’s called Piano Chords 101 and you can click here to start having fun with playing chords right away. Yes, I mean within minutes, not hours.
You see, there is something about even just playing chords on the piano that is satisfying. I believe that we were put on this planet to live in harmony. So it makes sense that producing harmony is a very natural, rewarding experience.
Sure, once you learn those chords, you’ll soon be in touch with creative things you can do with them. Actually, that video described above will get you started playing chords in a creative way. There is no time like the present to begin making music… let that time be now.
If you have followed this mini-series in sequence, you used Lessons #1 and #2 to become acquainted with three specific chord structures referred to as voicings. You are playing these voicings with your left hand.
In addition, you are playing these blues piano chord voicings in the context of a very specific chord progression. This chord progression consists of 12 measures. Throughout time, this 12-measure chord progression has been commonly referred to as the basic 12-bar blues form.
The terms we have assigned to the various elements of the blues might be called a kind of “theory” in itself. However, we haven’t really talked about any particular aspect of music theory that you need to make an effort to remember. The real value is in the doing rather than remembering. From the beginning, it has been our intention to focus on getting you in the act of playing without getting bombarded with theoretical stuff to remember.
You Are Playing “Pro” Chord Voicings
In Lesson #3, we took a good look and listen to how these chord voicings are used in actual playing situations. These two “musical giants” made terrific music as they engaged in a wonderful dual performance of the blues. A key point here is that much of what each performer was playing with the fingers of his left hand is exactly what we have been focusing on.
These three voicings that you have been familiarizing yourself with are often referred to as “stock” voicings, meaning they are commonly used by the pros time and time again. Like stock, they are always available to be “pulled off the shelf” when needed. In other words, you will use these voicings so many times that you’ll be able to immediately play them without thinking about them!
Repetition Breeds Familiarity
Yes, again, you want to be able to play them without thinking about them. This is a good reason that we have not been in any great hurry to go beyond getting quite used to having fun with playing these three left-hand voicings again and again. In addition, playing them in the context of the 12-bar blues will also become second nature to you.
It will serve you well to embrace the truth that it’s not how much you know but what you do with what you know that leads to wonderful results.
A Tiny Little Adjustment
We are still going to take things slowly at this point. However, we can “get our feet wet” with taking things one step further. I would like you to consider exercising that imagination of yours.
You see, rather than dictate what your next steps are (as in telling you what to play), I would like you to make some fun choices of your own. It’s really very important that you don’t judge your performance at all. Just allow yourself to explore, okay?
We will get to that in a few moments. Below, I have provided a short keyboard animation. The animation demonstrates my playing of this 12-bar blues form utilizing the three blues chord voicings that we have been playing with my left hand. While I am doing this, I am also playing a right-hand improvisation.
For the first few times viewing and listening to this, place your focus again on what is being played with the left hand. Of course, the three lowest keys being played are these voicings. See them and hear them in the context of the 12-bar blues form.
I would like to point out one tiny little difference in this 12-bar blues chord progression that I am playing. As you watch and listen, do you notice that I interrupted the first four measures of the C9 chord by playing the F13 once in measure #2?
Compare this with the 12-bar blues form we played in Lesson #2:
|| C9 | F13 | C9 | C9|
| F13 | F13 | C9 | C9 |
| G13 | F13 | C9 | C9 ||
This isn’t anything intimidating at all since we are not playing anything new. We are just inserting the F13 that we already know in measure two to replace the C9.
What do we accomplish by doing this?
Up to now, as you played through the first four measures of the blues form, perhaps you have already felt as though playing that C9 chord voicing for four measures in a row seemed a little more repetitious than you would have liked.
If so, your feelings have been shared with many blues professionals throughout the decades.
You’ll hear this particular version of 12-bar blues form played often as you listen to more and more blues players. Is this always the case? No. It’s a choice and dependent on the choice of the composer or performer.
The Right-Hand Dance
Okay, let’s get back to your having fun with making some choices. I want you to approach this with an accepting attitude. Make it fun…
Let’s take a look at what’s going on with that right hand in the video animation above. You’ve noticed that, as the left hand plays those voicings you have familiarized yourself with, the right hand is playing something a little “bluesy.”
Go ahead and take specific notice to just a tiny segment of that… any little part of it. Just choose a few notes that appeal to you… maybe two, three, or four. While at your piano or keyboard, play those few notes with your right hand as you play through the 12-bar blues chord progression. Even as you change the voicings with your left hand, it’s okay to keep playing those few notes with your right.
Take your time with this. Remember, having fun applying yourself to what’s being described is where the value exists for you.
What are you noticing? There is no wrong answer to this. Your perception is correct and just fine. Just play and listen. The idea is to play, listen, and have fun with this. Perhaps you are noticing that when you play the right-hand notes while changing chord voicings with the left hand, you experience something quite interesting. You are putting yourself in touch with some different sound textures. This is a significant part of playing the blues!
Keep playing. Don’t think. Just do.
The video above is actually the beginning excerpt of a special half-hour session that I created. If you would like to experience the entire video, you can gain instant access to it by visiting here. I think you’ll experience something positive as you follow along with it.
Keep on playing through the 12-bar blues form with those left-hand voicings as you allow your right hand to explore a little. Don’t judge. Just play… listen… smile… play… listen… smile… enjoy… soak it up… love it… appreciate every sound that your fingertips produce. You’re doing great!
As you continue, you will be inspired to make some different choices for those right-hand fingers to play. Follow through as we have described. Enjoy the choices you make. Make some more! You are beginning to improvise!
If you have taken yourself through lessons #1 and 2 of this little series, you are playing the 12 Bar Blues progression with your left hand much like a pro player might approach it. By the way, if you ever hear anyone use the term “12 Bar Blues Form,” that person is referring to this progression that you now know how to play. This 12 measure progression is the basic 12 measure blues form played again and again by so many of the greats.
I would like to devote this particular message to encouraging you to appreciate what you have accomplished up to this point. Please practice playing those chord voicings with your left hand as you become more and more confident with doing do.
In the meantime, I feel that it might serve you well to listen to two master pianists playing the blues. I’m referring to the excellence of Oscar Peterson and Count Basie as they both play a fantastic rendition of blues piano that anyone can look up to..
As a matter of fact, this video footage shows, when the camera was at just the right angle, that some of the chord voicings that each of them is playing with his left hand coincide with the exact same chord voicings that you using at this point:
You’ll notice that both Oscar and The Count are enjoying themselves tremendously as they exchange looks of mutual appreciation. You’ll benefit by allowing some of that to “rub off” on you… learn to fully appreciate yourself and your musical journey!
Yes, each of these accomplished pianists are putting their right hand fingers to great melodic and improvisationand use, too. You’ll be doing that also. However, let this be a time to enhance your appreciation of blues music. Really put yourself “in synch” with the feel of it. Notice how both Oscar Peterson and Count Basie “soak up” every beat as they live in the moment.
How you feel about yourself and what you play is far more important than how many notes you play. Please remember that. Learn to apply this truth during your early stages of playing. In short, make it a habit of feeling good about yourself.
As you watch this performance over and over again, see if you can pinpoint when the chord voicings that you are playing are exactly what either Oscar or The Count is playing.
We will be having some fun with that right hand, too. Just remember the priority: feel your music and appreciate YOU.
Are you a piano beginner who likes the blues? Listening to blues music is undoubtedly a wonderful thing. Actually playing blues music is even more fun!
If you have little or no experience at those keys, my guess is that your reaction to just the idea of playing the blues is one of doubt. Am I right? Sometimes I’m wrong.
Well, okay, whether you believe you’re capable of it or not, suspend those doubts for just a little while and grab hold of these simple concepts.
There are three basic chords to the blues and they are all 7th chords. If we’re playing a C Blues, then those chords are:
Alright, I admit it. That was theory. So you don’t have to pay attention to it right now.
Again, my intention here isn’t to get you to understand what you will be doing… just to DO IT! There’s plenty of time for you to learn about the “why’s” but the fun of it all is in the playing of it. Remember, you were able to speak before you could spell any of those words. You just know how to produce the sounds and you did it (from “goo-goo-gaa-gaa” to “I’m hungry!”)
Let’s Play Some Chord Voicings
So that’s what we’re doing here. The chords mentioned above don’t sound all that fantastic if played in a very basic so, as a beginner, you’re being introduced to the “pro” way of playing them. These are called “chord voicings” but don’t concern yourself with that now. JUST DO.
Simply look at the three images below and place the pinkie,index finger, and thumbof your left hand on the keys you see highlighted, okay?
All you need to do is get used to playing those three structures with your left hand. Play Position #1, then Position #2, then Position #3.
Once you are comfortable with this, practice these 3 chord structures in this order:
Play Position #1
Play Position #2
Play Position #1 again
Play Position #3
Play Position #2
Play Position #1 again
Do this over and over again. Just get used to doing this. That’s all you need to be getting out of this lesson. Copy what you see in those illustrations by playing them on your piano or keyboard. Here’s a quick flick of my playing them. In this video, I mention the names of the keys but that’s not important to you right now if you don’t know them (no theory necessary, remember?):
When you are comfortable playing these structures, you have already accomplished a lot! So, A +++++ to you.
I’m wondering if what you’re hearing is familiar to you. Is it? Would you do me a favor? Please use the information on the contact page to email me your experience with this. I want your input. Are you having a challenge with these positions? Did it come easy for you? Are you feeling comfortable playing them in the order shown above? When you email me, please include “Blues Piano Lesson” in the subject area.
I’m interested in knowing so do connect with me. The next part of this non-theory blues piano lesson will follow.
It’s fun to decorate melodies and it’s awesome to listen to a skillful artist embellish a melody that really makes it shine. That said, like any concept that is related to “musical flamboyance,” it tends to be overused by the amateur player.
That’s actually a good thing during the developmental stages, as I’m an encourager of overusing a new technique or strategy so that it eventually becomes a natural part of the player’s repertoire. However, these endeavors are hopefully refined as the play matures to reflect his or her understanding that those piano fills are intended to serve as a compliment, not the main course.
Tools Designed To Help
It still will serve the aspiring artist well to keep the purpose in mind during these growing stages. Of course, a person has to start somewhere.
That’s the purpose of the improvisational learning tools available at Piano Amore. At this point, I would like to provide an excerpt of EZ Fills & Improv below. This video session focuses on a simple concept that consists of two basic improvisation strategies.
You will notice that the examples, with the purpose of illustrating the concepts in an amplified way, do in fact “overuse” the techniques. As you utilize these strategies more and more, I have faith that your tastefulness as an artist will lead you to use such piano fills in an economical manner, as per your own unique style.
This simple piano fill concept demonstrated employs the use of chords tones and half steps. This demonstration pretty much makes the strategy clear without needing embellishment here.
Creating Longer Improvisations
I would like to restate a point that is mentioned in the above clip. Although this approach is intended for creating tasteful fills, it’s quite impressive how “stringing” a number of these shorter musical ideas together can really serve you well for inventing more elaborate improvisational lines. This is something you will have a lot of fun with.
You might begin by “sprinkling” your favorite standard songs with embellishments that you create using this approach. This will really provide you with the opportunity to enjoy immediate results for your efforts. As you become more and more confident with this concept, you’ll become inspired to invent those longer improv lines, as they will indeed have their place.
I Would Like To Help
I truly appreciate your taking the time to be here at the site and investigate what is here. I consider that a privilege. Along with that, I invite you to send me any questions or feedback regarding anything you see since your goals serve as my true inspiration.
I was sitting in harmony class during my second semester at Berklee in Boston when the teacher was entertaining a conversation on improvisation. This was a time for me – and at least most of the other students in the class – when the concept of improvisation seemed mystifying.
I had been exposed to some jazz lessons back home, so I was exposed to scales, patterns, and other improvisation strategies. However, I was not at any point where it had come together for me. Also, I had familiarized myself with publications covering the topic of improvisation which also placed emphasis on chord arpeggios, scales, and patterns.
I Had My Doubts
So, by this time, I was pretty well convinced that it was going to take in-depth study and application of these technical concepts if I was going to become any kind of player worth talking about. Discipline was not my forte. It seemed like I had been “plopped” into this field of music for which I had some decent ability yet was lost in the dust with this whole improv thing that I felt I needed to get a better handle on.
This conversation between George (the teacher) and a couple of students was brief, maybe a minute long. But it had enough impact on me to change the direction of my walk along this magical road of improvisation.
I had seen George perform at the local Eliot Lounge with another teacher, performing bebop tunes. I’ll just say that his improvisational abilities were impressive enough to blow me away. That resulted in what he said in that brief conversation to carrying even more weight.
In his own words, he informed the class that he didn’t learn to improvise by practicing scales (while sweating chord-scale relationships), arpeggios, patterns, and the like. Instead, he had learned by learning the melody of a tune very well and then simply learned to play around it.
Somewhere along my journey, I had previously heard of that. But the way this guy explained it so very simply, along with the fact that he was an improvisational monster from my perspective, solidified it for me. Wow! Although I don’t want to sound cliche-ish, I truly felt like this huge weight was taken off my shoulders!
As I look back to that day in class, it just might have been the 60 seconds of my time at Berklee that held the most value for me. As time progressed, this approach to improvisation made more and more sense. In addition, when coaching my private students who aspire to improvise, it has literally been responsible for more confidence and efficiency when it comes to helping them.
Instant And Coherent Improvisations
None of what I am saying here is meant to be construed to mean that I don’t place value on improvisation at a deeper level, learning and applying chord-scale relationships, arpeggios, patterns, and other techniques. However, this simple approach to improvisation leads to INSTANT RESULTS. It really does.
Furthermore – and this is so very significant – by using this simple procedure of playing around the melody, your respect for that melody is maintained at a very high level. I’m not personally able to name any prominent improvisational giants who wouldn’t say that’s a good thing.
As one who has little or no improvisation experience, are you sensing a ray of hope or excitement?
You have reason to.
Along with any future current or future improvisational efforts you make, if you incorporate this approach on a regular basis, your improvisations will have coherency. That is a quality that is lacking on behalf of so many improvisers, even some who have years of experience.
The Melody Is Your Guide
So, how do you go about it? It’s really quite simple. Learn the melody of that tune so well. Then, little by little, play around that melody by approaching certain melody notes by half steps, whole steps, etc. The point here is that you want to learn to embellish the melody rather than eliminating it or overtaking it. With practice, this becomes such a natural experience for you that you’ll even have the confidence with leaving the melody and returning to it in a tasteful fashion. During the entire time, you remain gravitated to the melody, which makes for a coherent solo.
As I mentioned, my excitement for this approach began a long time ago. The two reasons for this:
It’s simple – anyone can do it
It’s tasteful – ultimately, your solos sound more professional
Would you like to explore this improvisational concept a little further? I created a video/guidebook combo that you can gain instant access to. The nice thing about this is that you don’t have a lot to watch or read. Watch the short video a few times, read through the brief guidebook, and let your imagination take you to places you haven’t yet visited!
Below is the first couple of minutes of the video session showing the concept being employed along with a few introductory words from me:
In this session, we’ll be using this short excerpt of Georgia On My Mind:
Just for this post, I thought I would also create a short impromptu video showing an example of how this easy improvisational strategy can be applied to another popular standard:
As you engage in this fun adventure, may I offer you a suggestion that, if followed, will lead you to a much more satisfactory experience? Here it is:
Learn to enjoy the process rather than being anxious for the perfect result.
Please read that again and really absorb its message. Trust me, if you are a beginning improviser, I can relate to your mindset… the passion… the desire to “get good” at this stuff… please remember this: you are getting involved in a creative field. Along with that, where creativity is to thrive, anxiety must not arrive.
Don’t be in a hurry to “be a master.” If you want to be an instant master at something, then master this attitude, go to your instrument with joy and enthusiasm while playing with these concepts, let your imagination run wild, and…
So many people who arrive at this site have some curiosity about playing piano yet have absolutely no experience whatsoever. If that’s you, let me tell you that you are here for a reason! If you’ve never played piano before or your experience has been somewhat limited to tickling a few notes, then stay with me.
Things are about to change for you beginning today. I put together a video lesson for you that will have you playing the piano and creating some pretty fantastic sounds immediately.
Are you with me?
This is going to be easy. Most people who sit down with a piano teacher for the first time don’t get exposed to this kind of a lesson right away (if ever). You see, when it comes to keeping your motivation up for learning, you’ve got to experience some results. Does this make sense? I mean, really, you want some kind of return for your investment of time and money.
Just A Buck!
Okay, as far as your monetary investment, the price of this lesson has been reduced significantly. Your cost… how does $1 sound? That’s all you’ll invest in this video session. It comes to you as an .mp4 file so that you can either watch it online or download it to your device like an iPad or anything you like.
Now, as far as your investment in time is concerned, this won’t take much. Just have some curiosity, a desire to have some fun, maintain a sense of humor, and this will be fun for you. You’ll do this on your own time at your own pace. The thing to understand here is this: with what you learn in these 20 minutes, you’ll have enough to start having fun and sounding good!
You see, this has to work for you. Why? Because, you’ll be sounding good quickly… plain and simple. The reason is that you’ll be applying all the elements of music to that piano or keyboard of yours instantly. You don’t need to be playing familiar songs on the piano to sound great. As a matter of fact, the strategy you’ll be learning here will equip you to create some improvisations of your own that let others in the room know that you can play! Before the twenty-minute session is over, you’ll be employing melodic sounds using harmony and rhythm. When you combine those three elements in a way that makes sense, it’s a guaranteed win.
You Don’t Need To Know How To Read Music
You won’t know how to read a note of music for this. You don’t even have to know the names of the keys on the piano (we’ll mention one). Are you starting to see that this just might be the start you need? Believe me… you have what it takes.
A Super Start For You
It’s my hope that your experience with this video session will supply you with enough “spark” to want to continue your journey. Also, if this is your very first piano lesson, you’ll be playing chords on the piano from the start. Did you know that many experienced players often don’t even get this kind of training? It’s true. I’ve had classically trained pianists come to my studio with an excess of 10 years of lessons who wished they had previously learned about chords and how to use them. It’s all in who you connect with. They got some excellent lessons but not the creative kind that provided them with the confidence to express themselves freely.
Here’s the beginning few moments of the video:
Okay, this is about YOU. So, let’s begin, shall we? Just visit here so we can get started on our journey. Follow along at your own pace, pausing the video as you please. Watch… watch again… you’re about to see how easy this really is. Grab a favorite beverage, relax, and get ready to be playing piano in way less than twenty minutes. Enjoy!
To the beginner with little or no experience or even the classical player whose experience is limited to reading and interpreting the written page, I offer the same suggestions when it comes to being able to play piano creatively.
If you have subscribed to the mindset that playing creatively is reserved for the advanced player, I would like to encourage you to have an open mind about this. I promote creativity right from the start. It’s fun, boosts confidence, and serves as incentive to want to take future steps on your musical journey.
A Most Chordial Visit
Upon entering my piano studio for the first time, a beginner usually learns enough to be able to explore creativity on those keys, at least to a point. I believe – more accurately – I know that a person has the ability to speak music before completely understanding the language.
To help clarify this, let me ask you: At what age did you start expressing yourself verbally? Did you utter your first words after you learned how to read or write the letters of the alphabet?
On the contrary. You were speaking long before you were able to spell those words and phrases that came from your mouth. Before you could read or write, you spoke the language.
To take that a bit further, you had no concern about how to read or write what you were saying. You spoke with confidence. When you were thirsty, you asked for a drink. When you were hungry, you asked to eat. When an adult handed you a phone, you said hello.
In other to do this, you had acquired the ability to use phonetics by hearing them from others and repeating them. By the way, there are people who can play music by ear quite well in this fashion without even knowing how to read or write music. How? The same way we just mentioned. They heard and repeated.
It’s true that knowing how to read a language, whether it’s English, French, Italian, or Music will expand your musical experience. You are encouraged to want to do that. Right now, I’m saying that you can take the first steps of speaking some music before that just like you were speaking your language prior to reading or writing it.
You can think of the “phonetics” that you need to know as the keys on your piano keyboard. Press a key and hear the sound. Go ahead and do that now.
See? You can speak.
Perhaps that was equivalent to “goo-goo” or “gaa-gaa” as a baby but, hey, you have to start somewhere, right?
Once we know that you can press a key, we take things a step further. We ask you to play two keys at the same time… then three.
Now, the good news. You only need to play three keys to play a chord.
See all those white keys on the keyboard? Pick any three that are not exactly each to other, but separated by one key, like this:
You don’t have to be concerned with which particular keys you are playing. Just play three keys… you’re just making sure you’re playing “every other key.”
What fingers do you use? We’ll eventually get to that but simply play them. What you are playing is a chord! You might be playing one of these keys with your left hand and the other two with your right (or vice versa). It’s a chord no matter how you play it.
This can be the beginning of playing music for you if you are a beginner. If you are an experienced player, you likely know this is a chord but we’ll get more creative with chords in subsequent posts.
If you play any two of those notes, you are playing harmony. A chord is harmony that consists of three or more notes.
The next step is to start being comfortable playing these three keys with the fingers of just one hand. It may take some time for this to feel natural but that’s normal. The fingers you would use for either hand would be your thumb, middle, and pinkie.
To make the most of this session of ours, have some fun playing chords on the piano with your left hand and your right hand (not necessarily at the same time), using the fingers mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Remember, you can play any three keys as long as they are separated by a key in between so your chord looks a bit like our image above. Again, you don’t have to be concerned where on the piano you play these. That said, you will notice for yourself that they tend to sound a bit better when you don’t go too far to the left of the keyboard. However, don’t be afraid to play them there, too. It’s all an adventure!
Play a chord… listen…. move your hand and play another chord… listen… repeat… repeat… repeat.
Okay… ready to make more sense of this? Would you like to be playing chords with more confidence within a matter of minutes? Great! Click on the Free Chord Lesson in the menu above to download a free video. You’ll be learning how to play major chords on the piano. As a matter of fact, by the time you finish following the suggestions in that video, you’ll be able to play ALL 12 major triads on the piano with both hands… now that’s AWESOME!
[Sidebar] I realize that each person’s experience is different from another. I’ll ask that you simply bear with me through any of these sessions by understanding that my intention is to assume that the reader may have no experience at all. If you would like clarification of anything you’ve been exposed to hear, why not send me an email? I’ll be happy to try to help.