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.
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.
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:
[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!
Gain Instant Access To:
Chord Progressions & How They Work Video Session
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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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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:
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:
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.
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!
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…
In one form or another, a common question I’ve been asked by many pianists who aspire to become comfortable with playing from lead sheets has been, “What do I do with that left hand?”
Many of these people know how to play the chords that are asked for in the music but feel limited with their capacity to make them sound like anything to talk about. In other words, they might be able to comfortably play a chord like Gmaj7 in its basic form as shown here:
but when it comes to actually incorporating that chord into a ballad, they feel at a loss for ideas. Does that sound familiar?
The Mistake Most Piano Beginners Make
Okay, let me say it straight:
Most people who find themselves in this situation are overthinking about what they should be doing.
You see, it’s really easy to be dazzled by the many chords and jazz piano voicings that the pros play when performing these standard songs. It’s quite another to feel overwhelmed by thinking that you need to know them all in order to sound “pro.”
I’m all for expanding your chord voicing repertoire. actually, I created a 25-lesson program devoted to that. After all, the more colors an artist has on his or her palette, the more choices there are with painting a picture. However, on that same note (!), I will say that a truly creative artist would be able to paint a beautiful masterpiece with just three basic colors like red, blue, and green.
The Real Key To Sounding “Pro”
It’s not WHAT colors you use but HOW you use them. This applies equally to the harmonic colors of music. Please don’t forget this. It is so crucial to the development of your musical artistry.
It’s not uncommon for an individual to approach me for lessons in my studio who has a handle on playing those basic chords and is eager to expand on his/her chord voicing and improvisation skills. However, that person has not displayed any competency with using the tools they know in an artistic manner. The most important point I strive to help this person understand is that the ability to play artistically starts right from the beginning.
You don’t have to wait until you know a massive vocabulary in order to sound articulate, do you? Of course not. Well, the same is true when it comes to performing music. You don’t have to wait until you know a massive chord or voicing vocabulary in order to sound artistic.
Remember: “artistic” does not necessarily mean “fancy.”
You can take that to the bank. If you want to sound “pro,” then practice sounding “pro” with what you already know. I have so much to say about this to my private students. I don’t think a day goes by in the studio when this matter isn’t brought to someone’s attention. I’ll very likely be talking more about it in upcoming writings here, too.
For now, remember, it’s not WHAT you say but HOW you say it.
Consider the other aspects of performing besides fancy chords that come into play when putting a song across: dynamics (volume contrasts), piano keyboard range used, and more.
A Simple “Pro” Left Hand Technique You’ll Want To Own
In this video below, which is just the first few minutes of a one-hour session I created called Sneak Peeks 2, four basic chords are being used: Gmaj7, G#dim7, Amin7, and D7. Since this is the very beginning of the video lesson, you may want to skip right to 1:30 on the counter when we actually start this demonstration:
You’ll notice that the left hand is alternating between playing the “shell,” which is the 1 and 7 of the chord, and playing the full chord. You see, this might be equated to an artist lightly stroking the brush on the canvas with a blue and then stroking a little more heavily with brush for different textural effects.
For your reference, here is the lead sheet excerpt Ted Koehler’s and Harold Arlen’s Stormy Weather being used for this demonstration:
Use It To The Point Of Mastery
This simple technique can be applied to virtually any ballad that you know or will learn. Remember to keep the melody in the spotlight and allow those left- hand bass notes and chords (and shells) to just be there without much emphasis. If you remain sensitive to this concept in your playing, you can perform any ballad in a way that really displays to the listener that you are an artist at those keys… because you are!
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!
A Piano Practicing Technique That Works 100% Of The Time
This piano practice technique really will get those fingers to “think twice” before giving you a hard time again!
You know when those times arise – even though you know what fingerings you’re using for that little music segment you happen to be working on are the right ones – what seems to happen is that they just don’t happen to find their right place in a timely manner.
In other words, it just doesn’t “flow.” That fourth finger…or that thumb…etc. just isn’t getting to that key quickly enough.
Why? In many cases, if you slowly observe what’s going on with those finger movements of yours, you’ll find that the finger (or thumb) is not prepared early enough.
So, how do you find out for sure? So many people overlook this. This is such a valuable concept that I want you to have an automatic tool that’s there for you whenever you need it! Once you have this tool, you need to get it to work for you by regular use of it.
Deal? Okay, let’s take a look…
Have you ever seen a movie in slow motion or in “slow frame” mode? Perhaps you’ve done this while watching a movie on DVD or via a service like Hulu or Netflix. Once you stop the movie, you can advance it one frame at a time. The point here is that you are able to see the scene you are watching one frame at a time. In addition, you are able to “freeze” each frame for as long as you like. You even have the luxury of leaving that scene frozen on the screen long enough to go to the kitchen, get yourself a snack, and come back.
Well, if you have ever done this, you may have noticed that the particular scene that is held on the screen was viewed by you from a different perspective. For example, every element of that particular scene is observable. You are able to view it in much more detail than you would if the movie simply continued at regular speed. If the scene included someone walking from one room of their home to another, you were able to see the colors of the walls… or the molding in the doorway… or the expression on the character’s face… or what the character was wearing… you get the point.
That is the perspective I would like you to take when these piano fingering challenges present themselves. You will gain so much insight from applying this piano technique during your practice sessions, it’s almost uncanny…
If you had the luxury of recording your practice routine with a camcorder or the video feature on your phone, you would be able to play that back and take a look at each tiny segment of movement of your hands and fingers in the same way.
If recording yourself practicing isn’t very convenient, you can still “slow-frame” your act of practicing. How? Play the segment that you are working on as slowwwwwwwwly as possible and watch each and every finger and hand movement.
Play the musical passage as usual, except… slow things down to the point where you can see – really see – where that finger is directly prior to when it should be played. Often, you may find that it’s about two or three keys further away than it has to be (or more)!
This is truly eye-opening!
Somewhere within your effort in playing your example, you’ll usually find that there is some earlier movement or adjustment that you could be utilizing. Sometimes, it’s the hand helping the fingers cross. Other times, it could just be that your fingers need to extend a bit more to be closer to the target note, etc. In other instances, you might that a slight movement or the arm left or right would make a certain finger “stretch” possible.
Let’s Play Detective
In addition, pay attention to where your eyes are focused on during this “fingering stumble.” Notice what you are paying attention to.
The only way you can really fully understand the value of this is to experience it. This technique will become more and more valuable to you as you master its application. Please make it a part of your practice approach and you will discover for yourself that your entire piano playing experience has taken a turn for the better.
What else will happen? You will find that you actually look forward to these challenges. Why? Because every single time one presents itself, you will be in charge of it. Rather than looking it as an obstacle, you will know that it is a “key” waiting for you to grasp which, upon using it, will unlock technical secrets that you otherwise would have missed! You will learn to love being a “detective” as you proceed since you know for a fact that new discoveries are just around the corner!
Actually, when it comes to mastering a particular segment of a song (or an exercise) it’s a way of reducing 3 weeks of practice to couple of hours. Each and every student who earnestly devotes his or her efforts in this way realizes results that are nothing short of fantastic.
This works for any musical segment you are wanting to improve technically. It’s mighty effective for segments of musical pieces, scales, patterns, and more.
When I am conducting my private lessons, I don’t think there is a piano teaching day that goes by without my encouraging a student to utilize this powerful eye-opening practice approach.
If this approach to practicing is new to you, I urge you to have an open mind as you apply it to your own practice sessions. What you will discover is that your alertness to what is really going on with those fingers and hands becomes enhanced the more you make this a habit. Practicing just won’t be the same again!
Take It Further With More Piano Practice Techniques
Have you found this helpful? If so, please allow me to encourage you to explore the resource from which this technique described above comes from. I created 88 Keys To Learning with the intention of helping people like yourself to get the most out of their practice time at the piano.
As many youngsters do, I experienced my emotional ups and downs when it came to practicing at the piano. I was told to go and practice but was never really shown how to view practicing as an art in itself. It really is. I personally feel that practice time ought to be something that everyone looks forward to. Yes, that includes you, the adult learner.
This collection of 88 messages which you can instantly download right now includes everything from encouragement for reflecting and improving one’s attitude about practicing to how to overcome obstacles with more efficiency to very creative ways to break up your practice routine with little “wake-up calls” that can add freshness to anyone’s piano practice routine.
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.