The art of playing cocktail piano offers the luxury of having lots of freedom. Not only do you get to play what you play for the most part but you get to choose how to play a given song at any given time. If you’re playing Erroll Garner’s Misty one way tonight, it doesn’t mean you have to play it the same way tomorrow night.
There are many aspects of variation that can be considered, including melodic embellishment, piano fills, improvisation, chord voicings, chord substitution, and more. However, placing a main focus on piano chord mastery will lend itself to more efficient mastery of all of these.
So, yes, you want to learn your chords… and you want to enjoy the process. I say this because, the more you have fun, the more energy and enthusiasm you will have to encourage and implement your creative musical juices at those keys. You want to learn triads (three-note chords), 7th chords, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, inversions, chord voicings, etc. However – and this is important – you do not need to know everything about chords in order to start having fun sounding good relatively quickly. Saying that you do would be like saying that you have to learn all the words in the English dictionary before you can speak. It’s simply not true.
If you are brand new at learning piano chords, that’s just fine! Begin getting acquainted with some of those triads. It may be encouraging for you to know that there are so many songs that can be played with only three of them! Just the same, you’ll want to familiarize yourself more and more with chords as you continue your journey.
I do want to emphasize, too, that you really can sound good knowing just a little at the beginning. That’s one of the great things about learning to play cocktail piano. You can choose relatively easy songs, start applying some easy techniques and strategies, and make that melody sound like a million bucks. Recall when you were very young with a very limited vocabulary. Even being familiar with relatively just a few words, you knew how to express yourself. As you matured, you added more words, more phrases, more ways of articulation, and you became more creative over time when it came to saying what you wanted to say. It’s the same with piano styling.
So, yes, learn some of those triads. Next, you’ll want to become acquainted with forming and playing 7th chords. An understanding of triads makes this much easier. This will all ultimately lead to you wanting to learn some of those very special piano chord sounds that can be achieved with piano chord voicings. Gosh, you’re going to realize so much of your potential if you’ll just hang in there and make a commitment to yourself to enjoy the journey!
PLAY WITH PASSION!
“Play piano chords like the pros do!”