Jazz Piano Chords: Upper Structure Triads

Jazz-Piano-ChordsOur journey with jazz piano chords continues as we take a look at upper structure triads. There are several of these and, here, will take a look at one.

First, what is an upper structure triad? Well, as the name implies, a triad is certainly involved. “Upper” refers to where we play the triad in a given chord structure – yes, at the top. When we think in terms of upper structures, we are more easily able to visualize jazz piano chords of certain qualities. Lets see why…

The chord we will be using is a dominant 7th chord that has a b9 and 13 added for color. A basic C7 chord is spelled as follows:

C  E  G  Bb

The two most important notes of this chord (outside of the root, which is sometimes played by the bass player) are the 3 and 7 of the chord, so let’s begin with those:

Jazz-Piano-ChordsWe mentioned that the b9 and 13 will be added. Although we can identify the b9 as the Db and the 13 as the A with some thought, playing this chord becomes “easy as pie” when we think in terms of a triad. Think “A major” and play it over that 3 and 7, which looks like this:

Jazz-Piano-Chords

Play this chord voicing and listen. Notice that the A Major triad, which is our “upper structure” (at the top) includes the A, which is the 13, and the C# (or Db), which is the b9, of C7.

So, if we are playing a dominant 7th chord, we can play the major triad whose root starts on the 6th in relation to the chord we are playing. In other words, we wanted a C7(b9)(13) chord, so we started with the 3 and 7 at the bottom and played the triad whose root is A (6 away from C).

You’ll notice that the A Major triad also contains the E, which is the 3 of the chord. You could, of course, eliminate it if you choose.

After you have played this chord voicing as illustrated above, have some fun playing that upper structure (the triad) in its different positions. We used the root position already. Play it with the 1st inversion of A Major and then with the 2nd inversion of A Major. Listen and compare.

Question: What inversion of A Major would you want to harmonize a melody note of E? Of C#? Of A? Since each inversion of the upper structure triad results in a different note at the top, we can change its position to accommodate that melody, which we usually want to be at the top.

Transpose this chord voicing to other keys to boost your confidence. You’re going to learn to love upper structure voicings!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Scales: Minor Pentatonic & The Blues Scale

Piano-ScalesWhen it comes to piano scales for improvisation, the pentatonic is one you will want to have fun with in all keys. Now, we already acknowledged the major pentatonic scale. Let’s look at it here, specifically the C pentatonic scale:

C  D  E  G  A  C

As we have mentioned before, the major pentatonic scale consists of the 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the major scale. It cannot be overemphasized that learning this and other scales in the other keys will certainly be conducive to massive confidence.

Now that we have looked at the major pentatonic scale, we will use it as a foundation for playing the minor pentatonic scale. Just like the major scale has a relative minor scale, the minor pentatonic scale has a relative minor pentatonic scale.

If we begin the C major pentatonic scale on the A instead of the C and end it on an A, we have:

A  C  D  E  G  A

There we have it! Yes, this is the A minor pentatonic scale. It’s one of those piano scales you’ll want to master. So, the formula is as follows: begin any major pentatonic scale on the 6th degree and end it on the same degree an octave higher and the result is the relative pentatonic scale.

We also have already spent some time acknowledging the blues scale. Well, let’s use this minor pentatonic scale as a foundation for playing a blues scale beginning on the same note. Maybe you have already noticed that the only difference between the minor pentatonic and the blues scale is one note.

Again, here is the A minor pentatonic scale:

A  C  D  E  G  A

Now, let’s simply add an Eb (or a flat 5) to this and here is the result:

A  C  D  Eb  E  G  A

Yes, here we have the A blues scale!

So, there you have it! To arrive at any blues scale, simply play the minor pentatonic scale that begins on the same note and then add the b5, and you’ve got it!

It really helps when you can make associations like this when comparing scales. Let’s face it… we only have 12 different pitches. So, inevitably, there will be many similarities between the various scales that we will learn. Whenever the opportunity arises for us to associate one scale to another, this makes it easier for us to see a new scale for what it really is.

Again, you are highly encouraged to learn these scales in a number of different keys, as you confidence will absolutely soar as a result of doing so. As you become more and more technically in command of those keys, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Cocktail Piano Chords: Open Position Triads

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsWhen it comes to cocktail piano chords that you’ll use often, this one must be mentioned. It is one of the easiest to understand. That said, if your left hand is not used to playing 10th intervals, it may take a little getting used to. However, any effort put into this is well worth it.

We will use a simple triad (three-note chord) for this. Specifically, the chord here is C Major. In the first measure below, you will see this chord in its basic root position:

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsIn the second measure above, you will see that we are playing the C and G of this chord one octave lower. The E is played where it was originally on the piano keyboard (it’s just written in bass clef to be consistent with the lower two chord tones and to put everything in the context of the left hand). So, you see, we have taken the middle note (in this case, the E) and moved it an octave higher. This is often referred to as “opening up the chord.” The distance now between the C and E is  now a 10th interval instead of a 3rd interval.

Okay, now we will play these chord tones one at a time, as in the third measure. We are starting on the low C, proceeding to G (playing these as eighth notes), and then finally arriving at the E just above middle C, which can be held for the duration of the measure. Typically, the left hand fingers used are the pinky, index finger, and thumb, respectively. Now, if you have small hands, do not be concerned because you do not need to leave your pinky on the lowest note (the root) as you proceed to the other chord tones. The pedal will do the work of sustaining these, resulting in a very nice effect.

This is a left hand pattern that you will want to not only familiarize yourself with but it’s one of those cocktail piano chords (played a note at a time) that you will use again and again, so put some time into this one. Of course, you will want to become comfortable with playing this with the other triads as well.

I would like you to see this left hand accompaniment technique demonstrated. If you will simply visit here, you will see a video excerpt from the first in my Cocktail Piano 1-2-3 series. Right at the very beginning of that video, you will notice this left hand accompaniment being played using the C Major chord just as we have mentioned here. You will notice that it is being played in conjunction with a “root-chord” accompaniment, which results in some nice variety!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

 

Play Cocktail Piano From Scratch

Play-Cocktail-PianoTime and time again, I have received emails from members of Piano Amore (www.PianoAmore.net) asking how someone at a beginner level can learn how to play cocktail piano from scratch, while having very little or no experience at all. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate those emails because when I read them, the enthusiasm of the person writing is always quite evident. So, if you’re one of those people who inquired, let me thank you because it’s people like you who inspire me to create ways of helping cocktail piano enthusiasts in any way I can.

Okay, so when I receive an email like that, it immediately causes me to reflect on a video session that I created (as a result of similar emails, of course!) that acknowledges what I feel to be of utmost importance to the person who aspires to play cocktail piano and doesn’t have a lot of tools to begin with. The name of that session is entitled How To Play Standard Songs With Confidence #1 and I would like to encourage you to take advantage of that one because, in that session, I demonstrate what I feel should be your primary focus.

One of the points we acknowledge in that video session is the importance of learning the melody of the song you are playing. I don’t just mean play through it once. Rather, I mean learn it so well that there’s no question about how to play it confidently from your perspective. You see, once you know that melody so well (yes, like the back of your hand), less attention is needed on it and this gives you the freedom you need to focus on beautifying that melody with a harmonic approach. In simple terms, when you right hand is “feeling confident,” your left hand can get the attention it deserves and you can learn to accompany that melody with some simple yet very effective techniques… yes, even to the point where the person in the next room over notices : )

Also, I would like to mention that my series entitled 1-2-3 Cocktail Piano makes a wonderful compliment to your experience with that session mentioned above. Actually, if you really want to begin having some fun with the basics of cocktail piano and are willing to take things a step at a time while having something “on the shelf” for your future investigation, you can take advantage  of both How To Play Standard Songs With Confidence #1 and 1-2-3 Cocktail Piano #1 and, in addition, you’ll get two very popular editions of my Sneak Peeks series in my Cocktail Piano Starter Pack (you’ll also get my online program that focuses on an easy approach to playing those 7th chords). By the way, all of these sessions are available via instant download online so you can begin right away.

As you consider getting started with those cocktail piano learning tools, pick a favorite song of yours today and take a close look at that melody and being playing it. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 as to how confident you are feeling with it. You want it to be a 10! So, really get involved in learning and enjoying that melody. The first video session above will inspire you to do this. Okay, as your journey along this exciting avenue begins, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Cocktail Piano Chords: The Drop 3 Voicing

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsThe drop 3 voicing is one of those piano chords that can be endlessly explored… and well worth the time and effort, too! Adding this concept to your cocktail piano playing will most surely add more interest to those standard songs.

The drop 3 voicing can be applied to any four-note chord structure. It is most tasteful in solo playing so, as a cocktail pianist, this is one you will capitalize on. Let’s see how this voicing can easily be approached. For our example below, we will use a basic Fmaj7 chord in root position to start with:Cocktail-Piano-ChordsOkay, now take a look at the 3rd note from the top. In this case, we are referring to the A in this chord. To create the drop 3 chord voicing, we will simply take this A out of this original position and move it down one octave, the result being this:

Cocktail-Piano-Chords

Be sure to play the original Fmaj7 formation above and then follow it with this drop 3 voicing and listen closely. What an amazing difference can be made by making a slight variation like this! I think you will agree that your repertoire of cocktail piano chords must include the use of this very popular voicing among the pros.

Naturally, this chord voicing is not limited to solo playing, as it is quite effect when comping for another soloist as well. As a cocktail pianist playing solo, however, you will really have a fun time applying this drop 3 in so many of your ballads.

How about choosing a favorite standard song right now and putting this voicing to use? Let’s consider the very beginning of Arlen and Harburg’s Over The Rainbow in Eb, in which the first chord might be played as an Eb6. The first melody note is an Eb. Therefore, the right hand might play both the melody and the chord using the 1st inversion of this chord (playing this inversion keeps the melody at the top):

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsOkay, let’s turn this into a drop 3. Again, we will take that 3rd note from the top (in this case, the Bb) and move it one octave below:

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsAgain, compare the original structure with this drop 3 voicing. Learn to really appreciate the differences in sound achieved by even little variations like this. You’ve got a whole world of sound to explore!

Okay, we just applied this to one melody note. You are highly encouraged to go through an entire tune and use the drop 3 often, even more than you are likely to normally use it in performance. By doing this, you’ll eventually learn to play it on command. Have tons of fun with the drop 3  voicing!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Scales: The Dorian Mode

Piano-ScalesOf the many piano scales that you will want to familiarize yourself with is the Dorian mode. Let’s take a look at this special scale, which you will find yourself using frequently while improvising on piano.

First, to easily understand the construction of the Dorian mode, we will begin by taking a look at the major scale. Specifically, we will spell out the C Major scale here:

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

What scale do we arrive at if we start this C Major scale on the second degree which, in this case, is D… and if we end the scale with D as well?

Here it is:

D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D

Wahlah! There we have the Dorian mode. Specifically, we have D Dorian mode.

The Dorian scale (or mode) is a minor scale. As we look at the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of this scale, we have:

D  F  A  C

Yes, the Dmin7 chord!

Play a Dmin7 chord with your left hand while playing the D Dorian scale with your right and listen closely. Do you hear how well this scale sounds when played with this chord?

This is one of those piano scales you will want to learn in the other keys, too. To do this, play any major scale that you are familiar with and then start that scale on the 2nd degree of that scale and play up to the same pitch name as we did above. So, as another example, if you start with the G Major scale:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  G

and then start this scale on the A and end on A, we arrive at:

A  B  C  D  E  F#  G  A

Yes! That’s the A Dorian scale!

We mentioned that this scale is also referred to as a “mode” and we are going to get into further explanation of modes and we’ll also be looking at more of them. However, now that we know this scale sounds so good with the min7 chord, have some fun with playing some patterns. using it.

For example, play an Amin7 chord with your left hand and, with your right hand, play a pattern starting on the first note (A) like this:

A  B  C,  B  C  D,  C  D  E… and continue. Listen to this!

Okay, now go find a favorite standard song that you are learning to improvise on and, when you have a minor 7 chord, consider improvising an idea over that chord. In other words, use what you are learning. It is in the  where the “gold” exists!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Cocktail Piano Chords: Inversions

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsAn exploration of cocktail piano chords really ought to include an eventual thorough understanding of chord inversions. Mastery of your inversions is most certainly conducive to increased confidence when it comes to adding some style to those favorite songs of yours.

Whether your focus on chords up to this point has been on only triads or you also have a handle on some of those 7th chords, the basic concept is the same. In addition, even when playing just triads, a familiarity with the inversions can really make those songs have more flair. This adds a whole new dimension to your collection of cocktail piano chords since you are making more out of even those simple ones that you already know.

You are highly encouraged to learn the chords you are already feeling confident with in their different inversions, using both hands. For now, let’s concentrate on the value of learning them with your right hand.

We will use the C Major triad as we use a few illustrations from the popular Right Hand Chord Piano Made Easy program which, by the way, is a great method to ease your way into this right hand chord piano approach (sometimes referred to as chord melody)…

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsCocktail-Piano-ChordsCocktail-Piano-Chords

Notice that each position of the C Major chord has a different note on the top (furthest to the right). If we agree that each of these notes can be melody notes in a given song, then we can easily see how playing these chord positions with the right hand takes care of two roles: 1) The melody  2) The chords

Playing both the melody and chords with the right hand frees up your left hand to have its own role, such as playing the roots in the bass area to add more substance to your playing. This really adds more dimension to your piano playing for sure!

For starters, look for melody notes in a favorite tune of yours and see where the corresponding chords contain those melody notes. For example, if your melody is A and the chord is F Major, ask yourself “what inversion of the F Major chord keeps the A on top? That is the inversion to play.

This is just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to this right hand chord piano concept and there is more to say. You are encouraged to consider taking advantage of the program mentioned above. It uses only basic triads so all beginners can benefit from it but, once you understand and get used to implementing the technique, then you’ll feel more confident when it comes to applying it to 7th chords as well. Whatever level your are at, this is a technique you want to have fun exploring!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Tips: Building A Vocabulary

Piano-Improvisation-TipsOne of the most valuable piano improvisation tips one can learn to implement is that of overusing a concept to the point of it becoming part of one’s nature. Perhaps we can more easily understand this if we equate this to the language that we speak, since music is a language in itself. When we learned to say a certain word like, “Wow!” we found many places within our conversations to implement it to the point of it becoming natural to do.

When learning a new improvisation idea, make it a habit to incorporate that idea into many areas of a song wherever possible. Yes, it might sound a bit monotonous to begin with but practicing and performing can be thought of as two separate activities. Incorporating a musical idea into a song over and over leads to confidence in using it on command. Do this with several improvisational ideas and your confidence with improvisation, in general, will definitely soar.

For example, let’s say that you are playing with a small improvisation pattern like this:

Piano-Improvisation-Tips

The notes in this particular pattern can be played with many chord situations. Look for areas in your song that might have a chord progression that goes something like this:

Cmaj7  Dmin7  /  Cmaj7  Dmin7  /

or

Cmaj7  Dmin7  /  Cmaj7  Dmin7  /

or

Amin7  Bdim7(b5)  /  Cmaj7  Dmin7  /

Even if you can find a succession of chords in which the pattern does not sound absolutely great to you, consider modifying the pattern a tiny bit so that it fits well, like changing a couple of notes in the pattern. Also, consider using a portion of the pattern like one measure of it or half a measure’s worth. One of the best piano improvisation tips you can learn to put into practice is adapting an idea to a given situation as we are mentioning here.

The more you apply yourself in this regard, the more equipped you will be when it comes to improvising. Use the new idea that you are learning in a number of different songs as well. Overusing an improvisation technique, strategy, or concept is a bit like swinging a bat with a weight on it several times. Then, when performance time comes, you feel “lighter” and more confident when it comes to actually implementing the ideas you have learned and repeatedly put to practice. In short your confidence when it comes to improvising increases tremendously.

Suggestion: Pick one idea today, like a piano fill that you would like to get better at using in your songs whenever you become inspired to. Find as many possible places that you can use it in a favorite song of yours. Yes, even modify it a bit to adapt to certain situations.

As you become more and more inspired to play creatively, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Jazz Piano Chords: II-V-I Progression

Jazz-Piano-ChordsDuring our last lesson that focused on jazz piano chords, we took a look at a very popular way to voice that II-V chord progression among the pros. It’s interesting to note that this II-V chord progression is the most common chord progression in all of jazz and pop harmony. Well, let’s take a look at an extension of this progression…

The II-V chord progression often resolves to the I chord of the key. Actually, you might even say that these three chords played in succession define the key that you are in. Let’s explore the diatonic 7th chords in the key of C Major:

The II chord is Dmin7

The V chord is G7

The I chord is Cmaj7

This is how we voiced the II-V chord progression in our last lesson:

Jazz-Piano-Chords

Before we resolve this progression to the Imaj7 chord, let’s take a look at the spelling of the Cmaj7 chord in its basic form:

C  E  G  B

In relation to the corresponding C Major scale, these chord tones represent the 1, 3, 5, and 7, respectively.

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  etc…
1  2   3   4  5  6  7   8   9   etc…

Above, we can see that, if we extend the scale beyond an octave and continue building in thirds, we arrive at the 9 (which is the same letter name as the 2):

C  E  G  B  D

Now, remaining consistent with our progression of rootless voicings, we can create a Cmaj9 chord voicing by playing the upper four tones, which are E, G, B, and D. Looking at our illustration below, we can see (and hear) how nicely this progression resolves with smooth voice leading using this voicing:
Jazz-Piano-Chords
Within this II-V-I chord progression, we have three of the most commonly played jazz piano chords or voicings played among the pros. If you make it a point to eventually learn these voicings in all the keys, imagine the confidence you will have gained with three of the most important chord qualities in music!

It would be a good time to browse through some of those favorite standard songs of yours and see how often you see both the II-V and II-V-I chord progressions occur. The very doing of this will increase your awareness of songs are put together since, again, it is the most often used progression that exists, especially in jazz standards.

You are on your way to really enhancing your understanding of music. In addition, as you actually commit to playing these examples in different keys, your cocktail piano playing confidence will soar like it never did before!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

 

 

Jazz Piano Chords: II-V Progression

Jazz-Piano-ChordsAs our fun with jazz piano chords continues, here we will make reference to a previous lesson that focused on turning a minor 7th chord into a minor 9th chord. Specifically, we will use the same Dmin9 chord voicing for our purpose. You will see that lesson here.

From that position, we can easily progress to a V chord, using a very tasteful voicing… and it’s “easy as pie” to achieve this!

Simply play that Dmin9 voicing and then take that 7 of the chord (in this case, the C) and lower it one half step. The resulting voicing combination looks like this:

Jazz-Piano-ChordsThese are two of the most popularly played jazz piano chords of all time. Again, it’s that one little “switch” that turns the Dmin9 into a G13 chord.

Let’s just back up a little and look at a basic G7 chord here:

G  B  D  F

If we relate this chord to its corresponding Mixolydian scale, we see that it consists of the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of this scale:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E
1   2  3   4  5   6  7  8   9……………. 13

Extending the scale beyond an octave shows that the 13 is the same as the 6. When we play dominant 7th chords, we refer to that 6 as the 13. Hence, our symbol for this chord is G13.

What we are playing is a II-V chord progression. This works great as a left hand chord voicing combination when playing with a bass player since he or she will be playing the root of the chord. However, if you are playing cocktail piano, you are performing as a soloist. Often, you will want to compliment these chord voicings by either preceding them or following them with their corresponding roots ( in other words, Root > Voicing > Root > Voicing or Voicing > Root > Voicing Root)

Is it necessary to always accompany these voicings with their corresponding roots? Not really. Actually, often is the case when a jazz pianist, even when playing solo, will simply play the voicings with the left hand while playing the melody or improvising with the right hand. It’s interesting because this actually sounds good when you do so. You see, it’s the nature of that 3 and 7 of each chord that really defines each of them. Adding the roots certainly adds significant “bottom” or substance to these chords.

By all means, explore these two popular jazz piano voicings in other keys. You’re on your way toward chord mastery!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

 

 

 

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