Beginners Blues Piano: Non-Theory Lesson #4

Blues Piano Lesson For BeginnersOur Blues Piano Journey Continues

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.

This four-measure phrase really invites this temporary interruption. It really keeps the momentum going. Please take this opportunity to listen once again to Oscar Peterson and Count Basie playing the blues and you will notice that they are indeed playing that F13 in measure #2 also!

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…Blues Piano Improvisation

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Beginners Blues Piano: Non-Theory Lesson #3

Blues Piano Lesson For BeginnersIf 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.

 

Beginners Blues Piano: Non-Theory Lesson #2

Let’s Do Some Name Calling

Blues Piano Lesson For BeginnersYou are reading  this because use either you “stumbled” on this page OR you have taken yourself through Part 1 of this lesson. Welcome!

Okay, you have that left hand playing those chord voicings shared earlier. In addition, you have become somewhat comfortable with playing them in the sequence suggested:

  1. Position #1
  2. Position #2
  3. Position #1
  4. Position #3
  5. Position #2
  6. Position #1

Instead of referring to these structures as “Positions,” let’s be a little more specific by calling them what they actually are. Again, “why’s” of all this can be cleared up at another time. you are even welcome to email me if you would like an explanation.

Again, we’re not getting hung up with the theory behind this. All you need to do is associate the symbol with the position. In a similar way, if you know a person by their name like “John Smith,” you recognize that individual by what he looks like and you call him by name. You can treat these chord voicings in the same manner.

Position #1 is a chord voicing for a C9 chord voicing :

C9

C9 chord voicing

 

 

 

Position #2 is a chord voicing for an F13 chord voicing:

F13 chord voicing

 

 

 

Position #3 is a chord voicing for a G13 chord voicing:

G13 chord voicing

Take a few moments to play each of these voicings. As you play each one, call “him” by his name: C9 (say “C nine”), F13 (say “F thirteen”), G13 (say “G thirteen”).

You are doing Awwwwwesome!

Welcome To The World Of Chord Progressions

Next, simply play these chord voicings in the order suggested earlier:

  1. C9
  2. F13
  3. C9
  4. G13
  5. F13
  6. C9

Here’s a brief clip of my demonstrating them, referring to them by their corresponding names:

There is a good reason why you have been asked to play these three chord voicings in that certain order. When we progress from one chord to another, we call that a chord progression (makes sense, right?). That’s not a theoretical term you need to be concerned with memorizing because you’re going to hear it so often during your musical journey, it will be a household word with you!

Okay, so when you played those three chord voicings in that order (1 through 6), you played a specific chord progression.

The Way A Pro Sees It

Let’s look at it in a different kind of visual way:

|| C9 | C9 | C9 | C9|

| F13 | F13 | C9 | C9 |

| G13 | F13 | C9 | C9 ||

Let’s slow down and take another look at the above illustration…

Have we changed the order at all? Not at all. However, we are showing each of these chord voicing symbols more than once before we progress to the next chord.

Let’s have you do something. Put this illustration up on your piano or keyboard stand and play each chord every time you see it. Let’s do this a very special way. Since music is divided into beats (like a minute is divided into seconds), let play and hold each chord every time we see it for FOUR counts (as you say “1-2-3-4”).

Let me show you this once in the following video clip. Then it’s your turn:

Notice that we play with a steady count in groups of four (“1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4 | etc.)

So, each chord in between those lines (“bar lines”) is played for 4 beats. Each of these groups of 4 beats is called a measure.

How many measures do we have total in our little song above?

Did you say 12?

If so, you are right!

You’re Playing The 12 Bar Blues!

What you are playing is commonly referred to by professional musicians as the 12 Bar Blues! The word “bar” is often used in place of the word “measure.

Having gotten this far, you’ve done better than superb. Reward yourself!

Have fun playing the 12 Bar Blues chord progression so that you are comfortable keeping a steady pulse or beat as you change chords. Play it slowwwwwly and steadily.

We’ll continue this journey in an upcoming post… (I’m honored that you’ve followed me to this point:))

 

Beginners Blues Piano: Non-Theory Lesson #1

Let’s Do, Not Think

Blues Piano Lesson For BeginnersAre 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:

C7

F7

G7

That’s it!

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 thumb of your left hand on the keys you see highlighted, okay?

Position #1

C9 chord voicing

Position #2

F13 chord voicing

Position #3

G13 chord voicing

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:

  1. Play Position #1
  2. Play Position #2
  3. Play Position #1 again
  4. Play Position #3
  5. Play Position #2
  6. 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.

Have fun!

 

Piano Fill-osophy

Piano Fills: Their Purpose

Creating Piano FillsIt’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.

Diatonic Chords: Your Key To Musical Understanding

Chord Progressions And How They Work

Instant Results = Enthusiasm

Contrary to what is normally introduced to a new student during a first piano lesson, my choice is to immediately expose that individual to the diatonic chord system. Why? Because once understood even to a small degree, anyone can sound good at the piano almost immediately.

I will generally introduce that person to the basic triads (three-note chords) in the key of C Major. Following that, we look at these same chords arranged in fifth intervals. Once a student’s two hands can somewhat comfortably play these chords around the diatonic circle of fifths, he or she experiences a sort of mystified delight that says, “Wow, I didn’t know I could be doing this so quickly!” It’s no surprise that this new student’s curiosity is aroused and he or she has a genuine desire to explore further.

It’s A Natural Musical Law

Gravity is a basic law that we all have to live by. If you hold a ball in mid-air and let go, the ball must fall downward. It’s a natural force. In a somewhat similar way, music has a “gravitational force.” I’m referring to the natural progression of chords that is most pleasing to the ear. Although there are many directions a chord can move, the strongest root motion that exists in music is “down a fifth.” As an example, a C Major chord is likely to be followed by an F chord of some kind more than any other chord (Going downward, C B A G F is a fifth since five letters are included). Is this always the case? Of course not. However, it is the strongest and most natural tendency.

Playing With Gravity

One of the most interesting harmonic characteristics of music is how a composer or improviser will play games with this “law of musical gravity” by defying it and returning to it. For example, that same C Major chord can move upward to a D minor chord… or to an E minor chord… or any other chord. So, this “musical gravity” is played with (or somewhat defied) but it usually gets revisited. Just take a look at a number of songs in any collection that you might have and look at the last two chords of the song. A good percentage of the time, you will find the second to the last chord of the song progressing down a fifth interval to the final chord of the song (which is usually the chord assuming the same name of the key the song is in). For example, if the song is in the key of C Major, the last two chords are often a G chord or some kind followed by a C chord.

Diatonic Chords

Let’s take a look at the key of C Major. Our scale consists of:

C D E F G A B C

If we assign each of these letters as being a “root” of a chord (or name of a chord), we will have a C chord, D chord, E chord, F chord, G chord, A chord, and a B chord.

We can easily build a chord on each of these roots by simply playing the root and two more tones that are each a third away from the previous letter. In simple terms, if you play C, then skip D and play E, then skip F and play G, you are playing C, E, G which is a C major chord. In effect, you are starting with the name of the chord and then playing “every other letter.”

If we took this a step further, we could add the B to the chord, creating a Cmaj7 chord (C, E, G, B).

We won’t get into all the theory here, but we could apply this same system to all the other notes in our C Major scale:

C E G B

D F A C

E G B D

F A C E

G B D F

A C E G

B D F A

All these chords are in the key or C Major because they are derived from the scale of C Major and ONLY notes from the C Major scale have been used… that’s what we mean by diatonic. 

You will note that the roots of the above chords simply follow the order of the letter of the scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B).

Let’s Put Them In A Circle of 5ths

However, if we start with the C chord and “move down a fifth,” we arrive at an F (like we did earlier). Taking it further, that F moves down a fifth to a B… then we move to E… etc.

Then this order of our new arrangement would look like this:

C E G B

F A C E

B D F A

E G B D

A C E G

D F A C

G B D F

Yes, we are playing the same chords but each chord “moves down a fifth” to the next.

Let’s illustrate this arrangement in the form of a circle:

Diatonic Circle Of Fifths

[You will often see this diatonic circle of fifths presented going in a counterclockwise direction instead. However, the root motion is still “down five.”]

You will notice that Roman numerals are used in the illustration to designate a chord built on the first letter of the scale (I), fourth letter of the scale (IV), etc. It is common for Roman numerals to be used when discussing chord functionality in music.

Let’s Hear This Diatonic Circle Of 5ths

This short excerpt from Chord Progressions And How They Work demonstrates how this progression of chords sounds so natural. This movement of fifths is quite appealing. Let it also be noted that no song was in mind while playing this. This was just a simple improvisation around the diatonic circle of fifths. That’s one of the terrific things about familiarizing yourself with this circle in the early stages of learning. For one, you are really getting a handle on how music works. Also, you have a guide that you can use to play in a way that sounds terrific instantly!

Undertanding This = Musical Mastery

You see, when you are completely aware of the scale or key that your music is centered on, you are in command, whether that be as an improviser or a composer. Mastering the diatonic circle of 5ths is likely to inspire you to both improvise and compose. We have just taken a look at the key of C Major. However, you will want to eventually explore this circle in all your keys. talk about musical confidence!

Playing Music By Ear

Would you like to master the art of playing by ear? Then you’ve just been handed the ticket! By having your antennae set to hear chords progressing around this circle, you will amaze yourself! Friend, your entire musical world will open wide once you tune into this.

Just a note: if you happen to take advantage of that video session, and your watching and listening leads you to having some questions, I would love to hear from you. I have a deep sense of appreciation for your wanting to really grasp this.

Happy circles!

 

Be Lyrical: The Other Stuff Will Follow

Overly Decorated CakeFocus Less On The Frosting

I’ve become convinced that the majority of those looking to enhance there improvisational skills, styling strategies, and chord techniques often overlook what is really missing in their piano playing. They feel that, once they acquire enough “fancy dance” technology to add to their playing, they will be at a playing level that warrants their own approval and that others will admire.

I don’t see it working this way and, as I’m writing this, an analogy is coming to mind. Imagine a cook who has little experience in baking a cakes placing his or her main focus on the frosting and decorations. If you were in those shoes, you could experiment with all the frosting flavors and colors you want along with adding an array of sprinkles and decorations .  Bottom line: if the cake underneath doesn’t taste good, all those toppings won’t be worth a thing. The cake will still taste lousy.

On the flip side, an awesome tasting cake can stand by itself without even being enhanced with any topping at all. If it tastes great, people will come back for more.

Know Your Musical Priorities

Let’s equate this with the essentials of a good song performance. If the melody, harmony, and rhythm all add up to something that is easy to listen to, you have a good song… even before anything is added to it like phat chord voicings, decorative fills, or anything else.

With that being the case, I still know what it’s like for an aspiring player to want to learn all about those additives without even having reached a point of playing a song fluently and tastefully.

She’s Delicate. Be Nice To Her

Consider the most important element of a tune. It’s your melody. Even as an instrumentalist, your melody is the “voice”of the song. It’s at the forefront of your performance. It needs to be played confidently. The way you phrase that melody can make it or break it. The dynamics of that me!ody are an emotional aspect of that “voice.”

As long as you place your emphasis on the melody in this fashion, the most simple of chord accompanying techniques will serve it well. The fills will mean even more. Everything is done to support that beautiful melody to keep it remaining beautiful.

When learning a new song, look upon the different roles of your playing as you would a band consisting of a small, dainty female singer, a guitarist, drummer, and a bassist. In order for that singer to remain in the spotlight and shine, those other musicians (your bass line, chord playing, etc. ) must maintain respect for that voice. Their job is to support and enhance the integrity of that voice.

Join The Minority

When you think along these lines, then your learning of all those finer details of playing will have a better defined purpose. Your reasons for wanting to learn them becomes more justified. Why? Because, now, you’re a musician in the truest sense of the word.

How Thoughtless Can You Possibly Be?

Create Freely Without Thought

Uphill Battle?

When was the last time you sat at that piano or keyboard of yours without thinking about what you were doing? Do you find that each and every playing session involves striving to achieve something a certain way as your inner critic has his or her way with you?

If so, you’re not alone. It’s a topic that tends to occasionally surface during discussions between almost every student and myself. When it does, the conversation causes me to self-reflect as well.

It strikes me in a rather amazing way that, in an arena that is meant to be creative, most individuals who engage themselves in the study of music can be among the most self  criticizing people on the planet. It’s especially interesting  when you consider that your most creative juices generally flow best when you’re thinking the least.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s value in allowing the left brain to decipher, analyze, experiment, etc. That all goes hand in hand with increasing understanding of theory and honing certain skills to greater levels. We’re not here to question that.

Become Temporarily Disconnected

That said, that self critic is often given license to more than his or her fair share. We get trapped… stuck in our heads. Frustration results and, suddenly, what we’re doing isn’t fun anymore.

If this sounds familiar, to any degree, let it serve as a wake up call. There’s another way. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Stop thinking.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Here’s a suggestion. Just the idea of doing this makes people uncomfortable. But, then again, an idea is a thought which isn’t necessarily your friend. Go to you piano or keyboard (or whatever your instrument), place your hands and fingers on those keys, and allow them to lead. Let them move freely. Don’t make sense of any of it. Don’t force it to conform to what you would ordinarily think sounds good.

Don’t let that self critic get a word in edgewise. 

As a kid, I remember owning and having fun with a finger paint set. Have you had that experience? It was like I could do no wrong… because that’s how it was supposed to be. Maybe you did that with crayons. As I write this, I’m recalling my coloring book days, too, how I used to get angry with myself for going outside the lines. Now, I thrive on it.

Knock! Knock! Sorry, Nobody’s Home…

Try giving yourself this gift of “coloring outside the lines” for 60 to 90 seconds a day or so as you let your fingers tickle those ivories. Yes, forget the melody, forget the chords, forget the scales, forget what you “should” be doing. “Finger paint” on those keys. Be like that toddler sitting at those keys for the first time as you observe what happens. Sure, that critic will knock on your door. Just see that and don’t respond.

You’re Out Of Your Mind

As you engage in this kind of activity, you might feel like you’re going out of your mind… like you’re losing it. That’s the ticket. Great job. Don’t worry. All the logical nonsense will be there when you finish.

Play… feel… play… smile… get lost in the mess and love it for what it is.

How thoughtless of you. Congratulations.

Cocktail Piano: Open Chord Voicing

An Open Chord Voicing You Must Know!

Open Chord VoicingsWe are going to take a look at a chord voicing that you really ought to know if you would like to add some dimension to those standard tunes. Actually, I’ve had my private students apply this particular voicing to every chord in a ballad such as Erroll Garner’s Misty because it sounds great. If you use just this one chord voicing throughout a ballad, you will indeed sound “pro.” If you are a more advanced player, you’ll want to use it in conjunction with others, of course.

Your familiarity with 7th chords is rather essential to take advantage of this. If you are not at that point yet, let this serve as some inspiration to want to get a handle on some of those 7th chords!

Okay, this same formula applies to all your 7th chords, so we’ll use Cmaj7 for our example. Let’s take a look at what a Cmaj7 looks like in its basic root position:

Cmajy Chord In Root Position

This chord is also said to be in closed position since all the chord tones are as close to each other as they can be (we’re about to change that).

This chord certainly sounds nice just as it is. However, as you will notice in the chord video, making one subtle change to this chord can make a world of difference.

One Subtle Change Is All it Takes

If we take the 3rd of the chord (in this case, E) and simply play it one octave higher instead, our result is still Cmaj7, of course. However, we are now playing a Cmaj7 in open position. Yes, we have “opened” the chord up since not every chord tone is as close to each other as possible (the E in between the C and G is no longer being played). Play this chord and listen:

Open Chord Voicing

The sound texture of this new chord structure is much different, yes? By the way, when we rearrange tones of a chord in this fashion, we are “voicing” the chord. The same basic chord is being played but it is restructured a bit. The topic of chord voicings will be acknowledged more and more on this site.

Actual Application

Below you can watch and listen to a  few minutes of a video session that I had fun with as I demonstrated different techniques within the context of Duke Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. You can skip to 2:00 on the counter if you like. If you’re interested in the full session, you can visit here. In this particular excerpt, we are demonstrating the use of this chord voicing described above:

I cannot emphasize enough the value of applying this chord voicing formula (1-5-7-3) to each and every 7th chord you know and using it within the context of your favorite songs. You will reap the benefits for a long time to come!

Piano Improvisation For The Beginner

Easy Way To Learn To Improvise!My 60-Second Eye-Opener

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.

Instant Confidence

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 You Can Learn To Improviseguy 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:

  1. It’s simple – anyone can do it
  2. 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:

Easy Piano Improvisation

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…

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Dave Longo