Chord Melody: A Key Strategy Of Cocktail Pianists

Cocktail Piano Lessons - Chord MelodyWe’re going to take a look at a technique commonly referred to as chord melody. To put it simply, both the melody and the chords that accompany it are played with the right hand. I often refer to this as right hand chord piano.

In another lesson, we took a look at the first few measures of Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are as we explored that 1-7-3 piano chord voicing. This time, I would like to acknowledge those individuals who have been asking about ways to make that melody sound a bit “thicker.”

One very effective way to achieve more tasteful density in that melody is by using this “chord melody” concept. In this lesson, we will be playing the 7th chords, but if you feel more comfortable with just triads for now, that’s just fine! Simply play FminBbminEbmaj, and Abmaj rather than Fmin7,Bbmin7Eb7, and Abmaj7

Let’s take a look at those first four measures again…


Cocktail Piano Lessons - Chord Melody

For starters, I would like to say that if you have not incorporated the “chord melody” (or “right hand chord piano”) concept into your playing, you are in for some surprising results as your playing matures. You see, it’s an approach that you will refer to time and time again. As a matter of fact, combining this strategy others learned in ProProach will result in your adding a whole lot of interesting dimension to your playing. But don’t take my word for it… experience this for yourself!

Okay, this whole idea of chord melody has some people baffled but it certainly doesn’t have to be this way. Since I’ve been in tune with this concern, I actually created a program so that anyone, including the earliest beginner, could confidently be introduced to playing in this fashion. The program simply illustrates using three chords – Cmaj, Fmaj, and Gmaj.

You see, once you get the hang of that technique itself, playing those more complex chords later becomes a piece of cake as you progress. But never be in a hurry… always enjoy the current level you are at. As I say inProProach over and over again, “Appreciate where you’re at, and build upon that.”

I’ll simply illustrate the technique being applied to this song here in notation fashion:

Let’s Apply Chord Melody To This Segment

Cocktail Piano Lessons - Right Hand Chords

Notice in this above example that the melody note is a member of each
of the chords. This is not always the case. Right Hand Chord Piano Made Easy actually provides you with a step-by-step process when it comes to determining which chord positions to use in a given situation. Once you get a handle on it, it’s a breeze. But the learning process itself is a fun adventure and, again, not one to be rushed. It’s just one new discovery after another. So, as I always like to emphasize, enjoy the entire journey!

Go ahead and play that above example and hear it for yourself! Of course, the above example contains all 7th chords. Again, you can play the simple triads. To do this, leave out the: Eb in measure #1, the Ab in measure #2, the Db in measure #3 and the G in measure #4. Still, the musical effect is very, very nice. Actually, I would like to share with you a tiny example of Right Hand Chord Piano Made Easy in which this chord melody technique is used with only triads being played by the right hand as applied to a tiny segment of Lennon-McCartney’s Hey Jude:


(excerpt from Right Hand Chord Piano Made Easy online tutorial)


Master Your Chord Inversions

A key to mastering the chord melody technique is familiarizing yourself with chord inversions to the point where you don’t even have to think of which one to use in a given situation. This will eventually happen quite naturally but, again, simple have fun with the process of locating the correct inversion for the melody of the moment, listening, and appreciating the results you are getting. The program actually helps with this. It even includes a pretty nifty little exercise that expedites this familiarization a bit. I think you’ll have fun with it.

In our excerpt above, the inversions being used are as follows:

Fmin7 = 2nd inversion
Bbmin7 = 2nd inversion
Eb7 = 2nd inversion
Abmaj7 = 2nd inversion

Special Note: Have you noticed that what you are playing in this above example and what you played in the last lesson are very similar? Well, almost… each melody note that is being harmonized has two more tones in it than in the previous lesson, in which we only played the 3 and 7 of each chord with the right hand. Now you have two options! Experiment with playing and listening to each and determine which you prefer. Do that and you’re thinking like a professional piano stylist!

You’ve probably noticed that all those chords that we played are in 2nd inversion! Now that’s pretty consistent, wouldn’t you say? Of course, this changes depending on the melody note of the song… and that’s really the key to know which inversion is being used. Our melody note being harmonized in each of these measures is the 3rd of the chord. So, if you have the 3rd of the chord in the melody, that serves as a pretty good alert that the 2nd inversion will work for you. You’ll get better and better (and quicker) at this!

This provides us with one way to approach playing these four measures. But imagine if you had numerous ways to play the same four measures… wow, the possibilities! ProProach will lead to your having confidence with finding those possibilities. In short, that program serves as a life-long foundation for much future learning. It’s like a perfect start toward playing piano chords and voicings in a creative fashion. (even if you’re not a serious player, just copying and playing some of the chord sounds that you’ll be exposed to in the videos will serve as eye-opening, “aha!” moments for you)

Use What You Learn Again & Again!

I would like to encourage you at this time to put this little lesson to use with a song that you are familiar with. Start with one or two measures and take it from there. Apply this chord melody technique by playing those chord tones below the melody notes as we have done above. I’ll mention again that, as you gain experience with this, you won’t even have to think about inversions.You’ll simply know them and apply them without much thought at all.

So often, a person will encounter a lesson that he or she reads through yet doesn’t make the most of it by applying the concepts. Please don’t let that be you. By all means, explore your inner, creative musical potential. You have lots of it, you know!