Colorize Your Playing With Shearing Block Chords

Shearing Block Chords Add Color!As a cocktail pianist, you’ll definitely want to incorporate Shearing block chords into your playing.  They have a way of really enhancing your style. I’d like to explain them here in simple terms.

There are two other lessons here on the site in which we use these first few measures of Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are as a vehicle to illustrate a couple of different ways a cocktail pianist might play or voice chords. One of these lessons focuses on the 1-7-3 chord voicing and the other places an emphasis on the chord melody approach to playing. The basic lead sheet excerpt we used is shown again here:

All The Things You Are - Block Chords

Shearing Block Chords Are An Extension Of
The Chord Melody Technique

Well, we can use that chord melody cocktail piano lesson to help us with this one. The transition from that lesson to this one is a very smooth one since you could think of this tutorial as a simple expansion of that chord melody technique, the result being an effective piano chord technique made famous by piano legend George Shearing. As a matter of fact, this master pianist/composer was so well noted for this piano chord technique that it was named after him.

These block chords are worth getting excited about and serve as an excellent further reason to want to master your chord inversions.

Here is what we came up with in that last lesson for those first four bars:

Shearing Blocks - All The Things You Are

Now, here’s some really great news: having gotten this far, you’re almost there! Here is what we are going to do:

1) Play the example exactly as we have it above

2) Simply duplicate that melody by playing it one octave lower as well

Here is what this looks like:

George Shearing Block Chords

We now have a five-part voicing! How do you play it? Remember, you were already playing those top four voices with your right. All you need to do is simply play the bottom melody note (the one you added) with your left hand. Wahlaa! Easy as pie, right?

You’re now playing one of the most popular piano chord techniques used by the pros over the past several decades! These are Shearing block chords!They are often referred to as “Shearing blocks.”

It’s true… once Shearing made this popular, virtually every pianist wanted to incorporate into his or her style. Now it’s your turn! This piano chord strategy is illustrated further in ProProach along with, of course, a video demonstration.

Playing chords in this fashion, at first, may seem a little challenging… BUT it won’t be long before you’re loving it. This is one pro piano chord technique that you are going to be enthusiastic about playing. Just think of the tunes that you can apply this gem to! There’s no limit:

Misty by Erroll Garner
Over The Rainbow by Arlen & Harburg
When Sunny Gets Blue by Segal & Fisher
Fly Me To The Moon by Bart Howard
Skylark by Carmichael & Mercer

The list goes on and on!

Would you like to watch and hear the master George Shearing himself demonstrate his block chord technique or us? Listen to Mr. Shearing “go to town” with this great chord technique as he plays a signature song of his, Lullaby of Birdland. Listen to  how he “floats like a butterfly” over those keys! By the way, you’ll hear those Shearing block chords by the man himself early in the performance, so watch and listen closely:


Keep in mind that you don’t have to be playing through these block chords fast in order for them to sound sensational. As a matter of fact, I would recommend that you begin applying them on those slow standard songs. Really immerse yourself with these Shearing block chords. You see, as I emphasize in ProProach again and again, when you use a certain technique over and over again (yes, OVERuse it!), you have it at your fingertips whenever you like. You may not want to use a certain piano chord voicing for an entire chorus but when you know it like the back of your hand, you can “stick it in there” anytime you want, even if it’s for a few beats or so.

YOU are the piano stylist and YOU decide! The more of the strategies you become familiar with, even just a little, the more confidence you are going to have. When I think about this, I get excited for you because I know what you have to look forward to!

Whatever you today, incorporate something new into your routine. Learn one new idea… take an idea you’ve learned (such as the Shearing block chords technique) and make it your own by applying it to a song that you really enjoy playing. It doesn’t matter if it’s applying a new chord voicing to one melody note or if it’s learning a new voicing in a different key. The important thing is that you invite what is new to you.