The cocktail piano chords being presented here, when used sparingly and in the right places, really serve as a tasteful addition to your “piano playing toolbox” if you haven’t been using them already.
Specifically, we are referring to the concept of parallelism. Let’s take a look at the beginning of a well known melody for our purpose. Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon is a great example to illustrate this cocktail piano technique. In the key of C, the first measure of this melody (into the second measure) proceeds down five notes of the C Major scale. When a melody moves in a stepwise fashion like this, it’s a terrific opportunity to utilize this strategy, though it is not limited to such scenarios.
We are maintaining the melody notes as the top notes of the chord voicings we are playing. For now, look at the first melody note C. You’ll notice that the note being played below that C is an Ab, which is a Major 3rd below that melody note. Building downwards, we have and Eb, which is a perfect 4th below that… then a Bb, which is another perfect 4th below that… and we do that one more time with an F, which is a perfect 4th below that.
Okay, as we proceed with the melody, notice that we utilize the same exact construction below each melody note. So, again, from top to bottom, it’s:
Listen to the result here!
One common way to play these voicings is to use the right hand for the top three voices and the left hand for the bottom two.
We are leaving the harmony normally used for this segment of the song. Normally, an Amin7 is played. However, using concept of parallelism is a nice way to put a “twist” on a tune. When used briefly and then followed by proceeding with the standard chord progression, the contrast achieved is nothing less than amazing!
Parallelism can be used with many different chord structures than what we see here. The fourths really are especially effective when played in this manner.
You are highly encourage to choose segments of your favorite songs and incorporate parallelism into your playing. When preceded and followed by your usual way of playing through the tune, this technique really creates a nice element of “surprise” in your music.
The more you apply parallelism, the more you are likely to fall in love with it. As you explore your potential with this one, remember…
PLAY WITH PASSION!