Tag Archives: cocktail piano techniques

Creating A Walking Bass Line On Piano (Beginners)

Playing A Walking Bass Line On PianoWhen you know how to play a walking bass line on piano at any given time, you are in possession of a shining tool that you are sure to keep at the very top of that piano playing toolbox of yours. Unfortunately, far too many pianists never attempt them and only marvel at the ability of other pianists who have a handle on this very useful cocktail piano playing technique.

Walking a bass line on piano can be accomplished on many levels. There are certainly concepts that are more advanced than others. But you have to start somewhere! Great news follows: you see, it’s not necessary to have those more advanced skills under your fingertips in order to put your playing across in a very professional way. Remember this: It’s not necessarily WHAT you know but how you use what you know.

Are you familiar with playing simple triads on the piano, for example? That in its own right lends itself to your creating effective bass lines for a beginner. Playing a basic triad in an arpeggiated manner works marvelously well.

A main point that I would like to get across here is that you want to connect yourself with a musical idea that allows you to play with some momentum without distraction. In other words, if you have your left hand fingering a C Major triad in the bass area, it’s just a matter of playing those keys as quarter notes, one at a time. You are not distracted by the act of having to look for them. Once you get your momentum going with a simple technique such as this one, it becomes easier to graduate to turning that idea into a more interesting line. Master what comes easy to you. Then more creativity can blossom from there.

(excerpt from this very popular online video session)

When you consider what a bass player will often resort to while walking, it makes sense that focusing on those chord tones is conducive to nice lines developing. A professional bass player, although capable of playing more complex lines, will often gravitate back to these chord tones, often using the  1 and 5 of the chord (for C Major: C>>G>>C, etc).

If you are familiar with 7th chords, then you can feel free to play those 7th chords as arpeggios as well, trading off between them and just the triads.

As you begin to feel confident with playing these “broken” chords, you’ll want to insert “neighbor” tones in between them to make your lines more interesting.

A key point worth mentioning is that, however you play those walking bass lines on piano, keep it in perspective. Remember the role of those lines. They are serving as support and accompaniment to a melody or improvisation which takes priority. So, focus on maintaining a balance with your volume. That left side of the piano will naturally resound more intensely, so play with sensitivity by playing those walking bass lines on the softer side. Their importance will stand on their own without being accentuated with extra volume.

There is much more that can be said of playing walking bass lines on piano but this short lesson is intended to serve as a beginning from which you can spring from.

Enjoy the walk!

Piano Improvisation: Melodic Embellishment

Piano improvisation - embellish melodyMelodic embellishment is the one aspect of piano improvisation that lends itself to your sounding “pro” very quickly, considering how little effort is needed on your part. What you do need is to resolve to have some fun with a few very easy concepts. Impressive results tend to manifest faster than you might expect.

There are many aspects of piano improvisation that can serve as great approaches to effectively embellishing a melody. There is one technique that I particularly like for beginners that is conducive to great sounding melodic embellishments. What is it? Well, it involves the use of the blues scale. It should be pointed out and emphasized here that knowing the blues scale as most people do is one thing. However, using it to create tasteful piano fills is another.

There is the common tendency for beginning piano improvisers to overuse the blues scale and thus sound rather “robotic.” But this will improve with experience and maturity. In addition, this “learning curve” can be reduced dramatically when utilizing the blues scale in a fashion that is proven to be effective right from the beginning. This is a topic that is a favorite of mine so I actually created a video session dedicated to helping learning improvisers and piano stylists to get a handle on this special, easy-to-grasp improvising technique. The title of the session can be rather deceiving since it can lead one to believe that it is dedicated to learning blues piano exclusively. This is far from the truth. The video session actually shows example of how you can tastefully utilize the blues scale to create some very interesting piano embellishments when playing standard songs.

The name of the session is 5 Blues Piano Licks You Just Gotta Know and it can be accessed online instantly. It’s rather amazing how just using a simple strategy in such a subtle way can really make you come across as a player who “stands above the crowd.” The reason is simple: when you play something that sounds as if it was produced in an effortless fashion, the listener picks up on that.

Try A Little Piano Improvisation

Here is a little piano improvisation experiment you can have fun with. You are highly encouraged to take a standard song that you are confident when it comes to playing it. Now, locate the end of a phrase that is inactive. Specifically, I am referring to an area in the melody that includes a note with a duration of at least 3 beats (dotted half note or more). Next, play that entire melodic phrase and, right after you’ve played that note, instead of holding it to its fullest extent (3 beats or more), play a couple of notes from that melody in an effort to “echo” a portion of what’s been played.

Don’t be concerned with your choices. Don’t overthink this. Rather, adopt a very accepting attitude of yourself and your efforts. This is key. You see, when you are confident, your audience knows it. So practice confidence when you are playing alone. You’ll find that, before long, this confidence becomes transferred when you are actually playing for others!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

 

Cocktail Piano Chords: Opening Up Those Triads

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsWhen it comes to playing cocktail piano chords that are the among the easiest to play while being extremely effective, what we’ll be looking at here will rate high on the list. If you know how to play some simple triads (three-note chords), this will come easy to you. In addition, you’ll discover for yourself that, even if you don’t have a specific tune in mind, you can compliment a nice ambience with these cocktail piano chords when played subtlety and legato.

Again, we’re using simple triads here. For our example, we will look at the C Major triad in Root Position, 1st Inversion, and 2nd Inversion  in their closed postions:

Cocktail-Piano-Chords

By simply opening up these triads and playing them in their open positions, we arrive at some very nice textures. When supported with the use of the sustain pedal, sometimes played as we see below and other times played in a arpeggiated fashion, you can easily grab a listener’s ear with very sparse playing…

Cocktail-Piano-Chords

If the concept of “opening” a chord is new to you, we are simply taking the middle chord tone of each position in our first illustration above and playing it one octave higher. Yes, two hands will be used, and this particular example that we just illustrated can be easily fingered with the right hand by simply fingering a Cmaj in 1st inversion (while allowing the left hand to take care of everything else). Doing so places your right hand fingers within easy grasp of E, G and C as they are played subsequently, as shown above.

Once you are comfortable with playing our example above in open positions, consider playing through a chord progression using these open positions. Doing so will accomplish at least two things: 1) Your confidence with playing triads in open positions will rise tremendously; 2) You’ll be playing something that sounds quite nice when taking those open positions through, say, a I – vii – ii – V chord progression like Cmaj – Amin – Dmin – Gmaj.

Please consider putting the above suggestion to use in addition to understanding it intellectually. Actually take yourself through the three positions over each chord in that chord progressions. You’ll automatically have, at your fingertips, twelve interesting chord textures you can feel good about adding to that “piano playing toolbox” of yours.

Next, take yourself through an entire favorite song of yours and simply play the chords in their open position inversions as if you were accompanying yourself while singing the melody. Experiment with different inversions as you play through the chord changes of the song again and again. Watch your confidence with playing cocktail piano chords grow!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Cocktail Piano Chords: Open Voicing and Then Some…

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsOur focus on cocktail piano chords has included some attention on open chord voicings. As a review, let’s consider one way we can open up a chord like a Major 7th. We’ll use Fmaj7 for our example. This chord, in its most basic form (root position) is spelled like this:

F  A  C  E
1  3  5  7

This chord is considered to be in “closed” position since the chord tones are as close to each other as they can possibly be. In other words, there are no chord tones between the F and A, the A and C, or the C an E.

Well, we can open this chord by playing a 1-5-7-3 voicing, which looks like this:

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsPlay this chord voicing as it illustrated above and listen. Just the way it is here, we have one of the most popular cocktail piano chords played by the pros. You’ll notice that the chord has all four of the basic chord tones, so it is complete as it is. That said, let’s make it a little “fuller” by doubling the root and playing it in between the 3 and 7. We will leave the 1 and 5 “open”. Our result looks like this:

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsPlay this new chord voicing as we have illustrated it and listen. Then compare the one preceding it by playing them both back and forth. It’s interesting how making one simple modification can change the texture of the voicing we are playing.

How could we use this? Well, to illustrate, we will use an excerpt from the very popular Pro Piano Chord Bytes (a 24 week online subscription that can change the way you think about playing chords). Let’s say that we are playing the beginning of Hoagy Carmichael’s and Mitchell Parish’s Stardust. If you look at the melody, you’ll notice that it is the 6th of the chord. Well, a very tasteful way of filling this up would be to use the Major 7th voicing that we just took a look at. The entire voicing may be played below that melody note.

Here is the excerpt from Pro Piano Chord Bytes that illustrates doing exactly that:

Cocktail-Piano-Chords

Play this chord voicing in the context of this melody and notice the richness that results!

You are highly encouraged to transpose this voicing into other keys. Doing so will have you feeling so much more confident when you’re looking to get a nice full sound on those major chords. Of course, you will gain more value by actually incorporating the voicing in favorite standard songs of yours!

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

12 Bar Blues Piano: Easy Left Hand Technique

12-Bar-Blues-PianoWe have already touched upon playing 12 bar blues piano as we focused on scale options for improvising. Here, we will acknowledge an easy way to accompany your right hand lines.

We are already familiar with the three essential chords in the basic blues which are the I7, IV7, and V7 chords. In the key of C, these are:

C7

F7

G7

Let’s look at these chords spelled out:

C7 = C  E  G  Bb

F7 = F  A  C  Eb

G7 = G  B  D  F

Playing these chords in this fashion is certainly okay. However, we can actually play them in a way that is more conducive to a “bluesy”
kind of sound. Let’s see how this works as we have fun playing 12 bar blues piano in a manner that’s relatively simple and yet sounds good…

Let’s take a look at each of these chords above and, as we do, focus on the 3 and 7 of each of these chords…

For C7, the 3 and 7 are:

E and Bb

For F7, the 3 and 7 are:

A and Eb

For G7, the 3 and 7 are:

B and F

Now, let’s take a closer look at these combinations as they are played below middle C on the piano. Play the E and Bb (for C7) just below middle C (the E is below the Bb). Next, although the 3 and 7 of F7 are A and Eb, respectively, let’s invert those so that the Eb (the 7) is played lower than the A (the 3). Doing this keeps the 3 and 7 of C7 and the 7 and 3 of F7 one half step away from each other. This is smooth voice leading. Next, play the 7 and 3 of G7, respectively, so that they are only one whole step from the 7 and 3 of F7. This all looks like this on the staff:

12-Bar-Blues-Piano

So, you see, all three positions of these combinations are very close to each other. Again, it’s smooth voice leading and it sounds good!

Begin by practicing at a slow tempo through the 12 bar blues form as you move from one chord to another, playing only the 3 and 7 of each chord. Not only does this sound good but it’s also a great way to practice because your focus can be placed more on that right hand as you have fun creating some improvisations. The left hand is playing with minimal effort yet what it is playing is quite effective.

So, by playing less, we actually  attain more of the kind of sound we want with that left hand. The chord voicings are thin and tasteful. Once you gain confidence with playing these combinations for the I, IV, and V in the key or C, have fun exploring them in other keys as you make playing the blues a part of your daily routine!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Jazz Piano Chords: 13th Voicing

Jazz-Piano-ChordsHere we will illustrate one of the most popular jazz piano chords of all time from the perspective of the pros. Yes, it’s another one of those “stock” voicings that you just have to be familiar with. Also, you’ll want to learn this one in all the keys. Not only will you want to but you’ll find it to be one of the easiest jazz piano voicings to execute as well

Specifically, we will be playing a voicing for the dominant 7th chord. Let’s use the G dominant 7th chord for our example. The symbol you’ll see in sheet music and fake books for this chord is G7. Here is the spelling of the G7 chord in its most basic root position chord:

G  B  D  F

Relating this to a corresponding scale (the mixolydian scale), we see that the chord consists of the 1, 3, 5, and 7:

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

We are illustrating the scale in two octaves so that it becomes evident that, when we continue building in 3rd intervals above the 7th, we eventually come to that E, which would be designated as the 13th degree. You’ll also notice that the 13 and 6 are the same pitch name. When we are referring to dominant chords and use the 6th, we opt to call it the 13th.

So, let’s take a look at this voicing. Again, when it comes to jazz piano chords, you’ll want to use this one over and over again…

Jazz-Piano-ChordsFrom bottom to top, we have F, B, E. In terms of scale degrees, these are the 7, 3, 13. Play this voicing and listen! Then play the G7 in its basic form above. Go back and forth and compare the sounds of the two. You’re likely to notice that the G13 voicing is quite contemporary in nature. This is due to the fact that it includes a tritone (F to B), a perfect fourth interval (B to E), and a Major 7th interval (F to E). So, there’s quite a bit of dissonance within this chord voicing! (Note that we do not use the 5 in this voicing)

Again this is a popular one among the pros. When a G7 is called for in a tune, a jazz pianist will often consider this G13 voicing as an option as long as the melody warrants. If the melody was an Eb, for example, that would generally be considered to be too clashing with that E. So, instead of playing the E in the voicing, you could, of course, change it to an Eb, giving you a G7b13 voicing!

You are highly encouraged to look for dominant 7th chords in your music and consider trying this voicing. Transpose it in the other keys so that you will have it readily available whenever you want it.

Remember, this is a rootless voicing. The G is not in the voicing above. When playing with a bass player, this works out great for a couple of reasons: 1) The bass player will play the root of the chord, which makes for a nice “sharing” of the chord with the piano player, where each is taking a different role; 2) the bass player and the piano player are not coinciding on the same note, which eliminates the possibility of obvious intonation problems.

Of course, if you are playing as a soloist, you can play that G in the bass before or after playing the chord to give it more substance! Experiment with this.

Okay, have at it! Play this voicing using the 7-3-13 formula on all those roots to satisfy all the keys. As you gain more and more mastery with this voicing, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com