What exactly are cocktail piano chords? Well, as we have acknowledged, cocktail piano in itself is a way of playing. Therefore, whatever chords you decide to play can be considered to be “cocktail piano chords.” Of course, when the phrase is used, it is often referring to chords or voicings that are especially tasteful from the perspective of a certain individual. Playing a simple C Major triad (C-E-G) can be considered quite appropriate when played in a context that calls for simplicity.
For fun, let’s consider opening up that triad. Start with playing the chord in its most basic form in root position beginning on the C one octave below middle C on the piano keyboard:
C E G
Next, take that E out of the middle and, instead, play it one octave higher. Thus, the order of the chord tones from left to right is:
C G E
Now we are playing a C Major chord in open position. Doing just that much creates a nice alternative to the more basic way of playing it. So, let’s say you’re playing that C and G with the left hand and the E with your right hand thumb. You now have four fingers of the right hand that can enjoy the freedom of playing the melody as long as it’s higher than that E.
The topic of cocktail piano chords, of course, goes way beyond the scope of what we are talking about here but it can rather helpful and encouraging to the beginning cocktail pianist to know that making even the slightest of adjustments to basic chords can be conducive to some creating some nice flavor.
Go ahead and do the same with the inversions of that C Major chord by opening them up as well. This chord played in 1st inversion is arranged like this:
E G C
Take that G out and replace it with the G one octave higher and listen to the result:
E C G
Again the lower two chord tones can be played with the left hand and the G can be played with the right thumb while the other fingers of that hand can accommodate the melody.
The C Major in 2nd inversion is arranged like this:
G C E
Do the same and listen to the texture of this open voicing.
So, you see, it takes very little effort to make what you already know sound like something quite different. We’ll talk more about cocktail piano chords as we progress. Right now, I would like to invite you to begin with a few chords that you already know and begin opening them up. Learn to listen and really appreciate the many different chord sounds that you are capable of. As you do so, remember…
PLAY WITH PASSION!