Tag Archives: cocktail piano techniques

Cocktail Piano Chords: 9th Voicing

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsDuring one of lessons that focused on cocktail piano chords, we introduced the 1-7-3-5 chord voicing. We arrived at this voicing by simply starting out with a 7th chord in its basic root position like this:

Cmaj7 = C  E  G  B

and then taking the two middle chord tones (the 3 and 5) and moving them an octave higher, resulting in this voicing:

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsThis is one of those cocktail piano chords that sounds great when climbing up the diatonic scale, as it sounds great over all the chord qualities, including but not limited to minor 7ths, dominant 7ths, diminished 7ths, and half-diminished chords.

Now, let’s take this jazz piano chord voicing a step further by adding the 9 at the top. Here is what this looks like when we apply it to the same chord (the Cmaj7):Cocktail-Piano-ChordsAs the chord symbol states, we are now playing a 9th chord, specifically Cmaj9.

If you are playing a song that calls for a Cmaj7 chord and the melody happens to be the 9, how appropriate! However, take notice of the space between the 5 and 9 of this chord voicing. There are three notes being skipped (the 6, 7, and 1). When using this chord voicing, you have a nice compliment to any melody note that happens to be one of these tones as well.

Consider this: we have only applied this 1-7-3-5-9 chord voicing to a Major 7th chord. In addition to playing this voicing for the eleven other Major 7th chords, you will find great pleasure and satisfaction in applying this voicing formula to other chord qualities.

This chord voicing works great when you are accompanying a singer or instrumentalist, too, so you’ll want to keep this one at the top of that “piano playing toolbox” of yours for sure.

It’s interesting, too, that simply playing this voicing over a few chords really projects nicely when you are wanting to compliment a quiet ambience. Consider “rolling” them as well (playing the voicing one note at a time from bottom to top and/or top to bottom).

We acknowledge this chord voicing in ProProach as a beginning to a journey that’s full of musical goodies. We explore lots of interesting chord structures in that popular chord voicing program that is being enjoyed worldwide. A great feature of that program is that, once you get a handle on a particular chord voicing, you are shown how to actually apply it in your favorite tunes, which is really conducive to confidence!

Remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

 

 

Cocktail Piano Chords: Parallel Chord Voicings

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsThe cocktail piano chords being presented here, when used sparingly and in the right places, really serve as a tasteful addition to your “piano playing toolbox” if you haven’t been using them already.

Specifically, we are referring to the concept of parallelism. Let’s take a look at the beginning of a well known melody for our purpose. Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon is a great example to illustrate this cocktail piano technique. In the key of C, the first measure of this melody (into the second measure) proceeds down five notes of the C Major scale. When a melody moves in a stepwise fashion like this, it’s a terrific opportunity to utilize this strategy, though it is not limited to such scenarios.

We are maintaining the melody notes as the top notes of the chord voicings we are playing. For now, look at the first melody note C. You’ll notice that the note being played below that C is an Ab, which is a Major 3rd below that melody note. Building downwards, we have and Eb, which is a perfect 4th below that… then a Bb, which is another perfect 4th below that… and we do that one more time with an F, which is a perfect 4th below that.

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsOkay, as we proceed with the melody, notice that we utilize the same exact construction below each melody note. So, again, from top to bottom, it’s:

Major 3rd

Perfect 4th

Perfect 4th

Perfect 4th

Listen to the result here!

One common way to play these voicings is to use the right hand for the top three voices and the left hand for the bottom two.

We are leaving the harmony normally used for this segment of the song. Normally, an Amin7 is played. However, using concept of parallelism is a nice way to put a “twist” on a tune. When used briefly and then followed by proceeding with the standard chord progression, the contrast achieved is nothing less than amazing!

Parallelism can be used with many different chord structures than what we see here. The fourths really are especially effective when played in this manner.

You are highly encourage to choose segments of your favorite songs and incorporate parallelism into your playing. When preceded and followed by your usual way of playing through the tune, this technique really creates a nice element of “surprise” in your music.

The more you apply parallelism, the more you are likely to fall in love with it. As you explore your potential with this one, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

12 Bar Blues Piano

12-Bar-Blues-PianoAs a cocktail piano player, you’ve just got to have a bit of a handle on playing some 12 bar blues piano. It’s a nice way to interrupt your routine with some tasteful variation. In addition, as you become more and more acquainted with playing blues piano, you’re sure to use some of that “bluesy” playing in your favorite standard songs, too.

Okay, let’s get started. If you’re going to play 12 bar blues piano, then you will, of course, want to get a handle on the basic form of the blues.

Here is the basic 12 bar blues form:

/  C7  /  C7  /  C7  /  C7  /

/  F7  /  F7  /  C7  /  C7  /

/  G7  /  F7  /  C7  /  C7  /

Above, we are illustrating the blues form in the key of C. However, you’ll want to get to know it in other keys as well. Okay, so let’s take a look at what we have there…

You’ll notice that we have three dominant 7th chords. They are:

C7, F7, and G7

This chord progression is commonly referred to as the I, IV, V progression since, based on the C Major scale, the C is the I, the F is the IV, and the G is the V. For other keys, use the same approach to coming up with the correct chords.

You’ll want to be able to play through the 12 bar blues at a nice slow tempo using some nice sounding blues piano chord voicings for these chords. Sure, you can use the basic form of these chords for now but you’ll soon want to know some great sounding voicings because, after a while, those straight 7th chords can sound a bit plain.

For now, go ahead and play through this chord progression with those chords using the left hand as you keep a nice slow, steady tempo. Once you are feeling comfortable doing this, let’s have some fun with that right hand as you start implementing the blues scale.

Now, an interesting thing about the blues scale is that, even though there is a corresponding blues scale for each root, when you are in the key of C, the C Blues scale works over the entire form.

Here is the C Blues scale:

C  Eb  F  Gb  G  Bb  C

Although you will feel compelled to play up and down that scale for a while, which you are encouraged to do, make it a point to stay musical with your ideas by using only bits and pieces of the blues scale and playing them in a rhythmical fashion. Start with just two notes, playing them back and forth. Then add another… then another… etc. Whatever you play, listen to your results and appreciate each step of the way.

Here is a nice application of some nice blues piano improvisation ideas and voicings by two jazz piano icons who have made their mark in the worlds of piano and jazz (They are playing the blues in the key of C… see if you can pick out those blues scale notes!):

As you have fun with the blues, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Jazz Piano Chords: The Drop 2 Voicing

Jazz-Piano-ChordsYour investigation of jazz piano chords would be well served by gaining a familiarity of drop 2 voicings. It’s one effective way to take what you already know to more creative levels for sure.  As a cocktail piano player, you’ll absolutely learn to love this approach to voicing chords on the piano. Simply playing a couple of drop 2 voicings in succession results in your sounding like you know what you are doing at those keys.

So what are they? The concept is simple to grasp. Now, although this is true, the implementation of these jazz piano chords can be taken to many levels with regular practice of them in various musical contexts. Okay, we call them “drop 2” because: 1) The focus is on the second chord from the top of a given chord structure (second from the right on the piano keyboard) 2) That note is simply dropped to become the lowest member of the chord voicing. Let’s see how this looks when we apply it to a basic chord that you are already likely to be familiar with, the Major 7th chord…

Specifically, we have the Amaj7 chord here in its basic root position:

A  C#  E  G#

Play this chord formation with the right hand beginning with the A above middle C. Okay, next, see that E, which is the second chord tone from the top? Instead of playing it there, play it one octave lower with the left hand. Therefore, the order of our chord tones is as follows:

E  A  C#  G#

Play this chord voicing and listen!

Now, play the original Amaj7 above… then play this drop 2 voicing again. Go back and forth. It won’t take long for you to appreciate the difference!

When it comes to your adding more and more jazz piano chords to your “piano playing toolbox,” the drop 2 voicing approach will open all kinds of doors for you, as you can apply this to any chord structure!

Let’s do one more here before you go on your own to explore the endless possibilities:

Here is a Gmin7 chord in second inversion (yes, you can apply this to all the positions!):

D  F  G  Bb

Play this Gmin7 chord with the right hand beginning with the D just above middle C. Then drop the second chord tone from the top to the bottom, which gives you this:

G  D  F  Bb

You are playing the G with your left hand. Of course, you can split the voicing between the hands so that each is playing two chord tones if you like.

Apply the drop 2 voicing to all the inversions of a 7th chord as you ascend and descend and listen to what you get! As you take your cocktail piano playing to many different heights with this one, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Chord Progressions: This One’s Easy And Fun

Piano-Chord-ProgressionsAs you have fun with different piano chord progressions, one that is easy and yet conducive to achieving some interesting sounds on those keys is shown here:

I-II-III-II-I

We are looking at the first three diatonic chords of a key. Let’s use the key of C Major for our purposes here. In this case, we will be playing:

Cmaj7 – Dmin7 – Emin7 – Dmin7 – Cmaj7

So, we are climbing up to that III chord and back down to the I chord in a stepwise fashion. Now, this is one of those piano chord progressions that you can have a lot of fun improvising with. Actually, if you’re sitting in the corner of a restaurant or club with the lights dim and want to compliment the ambience with something delicate and tasteful, you can really make this sound like something.

The chords in their basic root positions are:

Cmaj7 = C  E  G  B

Dmin7 = D  F A  C

Emin7 = E  G  B  D

However, let’s apply that 1-7-3-5 piano chord voicing to this progression. So, what we will be playing is as follows:

(The Root and 7 of each of these chords are played with the left hand and the 3 and 5 are played with the right hand. Begin with the C below middle C as the first root and simply climb up in steps)

C  B  – E  G  (Cmaj7)

D  C – F  A   (Dmin7)

E  D – E  G   (Emin7)

Begin by playing up and down as you play all the chord tones of each chord at the same time. Then play the 1 and 7 of each chord together while you play the corresponding 3 and 5 in a melodic fashion, playing each note separately. As you do this and become more and more comfortable with it, you’ll begin to see that you can really get a nice cocktail piano sound climbing up and down this progression.

Play through this progression delicately and, as you do so, create some simple improvised melodies with the 3 and 5 of each chord. You’ll become more creative with this. Also, consider playing everything up one octave. Then come back down to the original octave. Then play the voicings in a “rolled” fashion, playing from the bottom chord tone (Root) to the top (5th), too!

Naturally, this chord voicing structure works well in your tunes. However, just using it as you play through this progression really lends itself to complimenting a quiet setting. In addition, just by playing these three chords, you can explore your potential improvising with just these few notes. Experiment with your dynamics as well, using crescendos and decrescendos.

As you really set the scene with this simple yet great sounding combination of chords, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Cocktail Piano Chords: Open Voicings

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsAs you explore your world of cocktail piano chords and voicings, you will undoubtedly find yourself investigating open voicings if you haven’t already. In this message, I would like to suggest a concept that is so very easy to get a handle on yet is very effective at the same time.

Consider applying this to any 7th chords you are already familiar with. Simply play any 7th chord in its most basic position. For now, let’s use G7:

G  B  D  F

Here we have a G dominant 7th chord in root position. With your left hand, you would most likely finger this chord with your pinky, middle finger, index finger, and thumb.

Well, perhaps you have often heard the expression “less is more.” A perfect example of this can be realized by doing the following: simply leave out the middle two chord tones and play only the G and F (the Root and 7 of the chord) aith your pinky and thumb. This is often referred to as a “shell.” If you think about an oyster, you can imagine the two shells with the oyster inside. You can think of that 3 and 5 (B and D) as the “oyster” or middle and the 1 and 7 as the outer shell.

Becoming familiar with playing your 7th chords in this fashion will open you up to many possibilities when it comes to cocktail piano chords. For one, playing just the shell voicing (the root and 7) works well on its own without adding anything else to it. Go ahead and do this. Play through a favorite song of yours using only the 1 and 7 of those 7th chords with your left hand and playing the melody with your right and listen to the very open sound that results. You’ll learn to love these shell voicings before long.

In addition, becoming acquainted with these shells and implementing them will lead to your being able to extend the idea to playing other piano chord voicings. One example would be playing the shell with the left hand and playing that 3 and 5 that you left out an octave higher. That’s a nice chord voicing that I’ve often referred to as the “oyster voicing” (it’s just a name I attached to it). So, if you are playing that G7, one way to approach it would be:

G and F with your left hand

B and D with your right hand

The D would be the highest chord tone. Now, if that happens to be your melody note, this works nicely. If your melody note is higher, then you could play this voicing under it, thus creating a 5-note voicing.

Focus on creating shells for a while and you’ll appreciate more and more the “thin” or “open” sound they create. Then you can expand on them, too. As you have fun with them, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Jazz Piano Chords: The Very Minimum

Jazz-Piano-ChordsIf you are just beginning to learn jazz piano chords and have a decent familiarization with 7th chords, it will likely serve you well to begin harmonizing some of those tunes you are familiar with in a fashion that is both easy and conducive to getting a decent sound out of those keys.

Here is one such way to begin your venture with jazz piano chords:

1) Identify the 3 and 7 of each of these chords

2) Harmonize the melody with just that 3 and 7 with your right hand while playing the root of the chord with your left hand

Let’s say, for example that you are harmonizing Richard Rogers’
My Romance (lyrics were written by Lorenz Hart) in the key of C. After the pickup notes, the melody note is a G and the chord in that first measure is a Cmaj7. Here is the basic construction of the chord:

C  E  G  B
1   3  5  7

The C is the root, so you can play this note in the bass area with your left hand.

Notice that the melody note is the G, which is the 5th of the chord. Below this melody note, play the 3 and 7 with your right hand as well. So, you are playing (in this order) B, E, and G,  the 7, 3, 5 respectively (we are not concerned with including that 5th unless we are playing a form of a diminished chord). By doing this, you are playing the minimum chord tones necessary to complete the functionality of the chord. However, what you are also achieving here is a nice thin sound. This is an excellent cocktail piano approach when playing those ballads, though it is certainly not limited to slow tunes.

Play through an entire tune using this strategy. Remember, the 3 and 7 of the chord are always included. Now, in many cases, that melody note will be either the 3 or the 7. This means that you can simply add the one missing below that melody note while playing that root with the left hand. An example would be the first measure of Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) in the key of Ab. That first melody note in the first measure is an Ab and the chord is Fmin7. Notice that the Ab is the 3rd of the chord. Therefore, simply play the 7th (Eb) below that Ab while playing the root (F) with the left hand. This tune is excellent for this since you’ll see that there are many melody notes that will be harmonized in this manner.

By taking on this strategy, you are not only obtaining a good sound that works, but you are also confirming your understanding of the important notes of these chords. Thus, you are setting up a nice foundation to make more of these chords later, since you can add extensions, like 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, etc.

Do this with several tunes in your repertoire and you’ll begin to see and hear the benefits for yourself! As you become more and more confident with this very important and effective first step toward gaining a more thorough understanding of jazz piano chords, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Cocktail Piano Chords: Getting Your Feet Wet

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsWhat exactly are cocktail piano chords? Well, as we have acknowledged, cocktail piano in itself is a way of playing. Therefore, whatever chords you decide to play can be considered to be “cocktail piano chords.” Of course, when the phrase is used, it is often referring to chords or voicings that are especially tasteful from the perspective of a certain individual. Playing a simple C Major triad (C-E-G) can be considered quite appropriate when played in a context that calls for simplicity.

For fun, let’s consider opening up that triad. Start with playing the chord in its most basic form in root position beginning on the C one octave below middle C on the piano keyboard:

C  E  G

Next, take that E out of the middle and, instead, play it one octave higher. Thus, the order of the chord tones from left to right is:

C G E

Now we are playing a C Major chord in open position. Doing just that much creates a nice alternative to the more basic way of playing it. So, let’s say you’re playing that C and G with the left hand and the E with your right hand thumb. You now have four fingers of the right hand that can enjoy the freedom of playing the melody as long as it’s higher than that E.

The topic of cocktail piano chords, of course, goes way beyond the scope of what we are talking about here but it can rather helpful and encouraging to the beginning cocktail pianist to know that making even the slightest of adjustments to basic chords can be conducive to some creating some nice flavor.

Go ahead and do the same with the inversions of that C Major chord by opening them up as well. This chord played in 1st inversion is arranged like this:

E  G  C

Take that G out and replace it with the G one octave higher and listen to the result:

E  C  G

Again the lower two chord tones can be played with the left hand and the G can be played with the right thumb while the other fingers of that hand can accommodate the melody.

The C Major in 2nd inversion is arranged like this:

G  C  E

Do the same and listen to the texture of this open voicing.

So, you see, it takes very little effort to make what you already know sound like something quite different. We’ll talk more about cocktail piano chords as we progress. Right now, I would like to invite you to begin with a few chords that you already know and begin opening them up. Learn to listen and really appreciate the many different chord sounds that you are capable of. As you do so, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,
Davewww.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Handbook

Piano-Improvisation-HandbookA piano improvisation handbook for beginners  that will serve as a starting point for those who feel as though they would like some encouragement in this area is available. This guidebook is brief and is accompanied by a short video that demonstrates the easy approach presented. If you have felt inspired to improvise on piano but wish you had an easy way to get your feet wet, you are likely to find this one quite eye-opening (and ear-opening).

The piano improvisation handbook/video combo is entitled The One Improvisation Secret You Must Know and has proved to be rather popular. This popularity is most likely due to its simplicity. This is not a book on improvisation that is meant to be read in an armchair. Actually, it will not take you long at all to read through it. It is not something that is meant to be studied intensely. Reading through this guidebook once along with exposing yourself to the piano video session once is likely to be enough for you to grasp the concepts and begin applying them immediately.

In college, one of my teachers (in harmony class) who was also a trumpet player, alerted me to a very simple approach to improvisation. I had been familiar with the concept but actually hearing it from one I considered to be an authority confirmed for me that this was a way of learning to improvise that was worth paying attention to. This improvising strategy is so simple that many are likely to discount the real power of it. Why is this improvisation technique so effective? Well, it’s practical and it promotes musicality.

By the way, this teacher informed the entire class that he had attributed his ability to improvise to taking this route. I heard this guy playing a gig at a local club just up the road from Berklee College of Music and, wow, could he ever play! Bebop was where it was at that night and he cooked on that trumpet!

Okay, here it is:

Learn to improvise by learning the melody of that tune you are playing like you never knew it before. Play it over and over again and, little by little, use small embellishments. Over time, it works like magic. You see, by improvising this way, you show respect for the melody and, as a result, your improvisations really take on a nice shape.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with learning scales and patterns and incorporating them into your solos. It is actually encouraged. But this improvisation method that we are referring to here does not require thinking along those lines. You can start as simple as approaching a melody note by a half step below. If the melody note is G, for example, and is played for two beats, you can just play the Gb for a half beat and follow with the G for the remaining beat and a half… or you can change the note values, of course. The possibilities are endless. The piano improvisation handbook mentioned above can help you tremendously with this method of improvising.

As you implement this improvisation technique more and more, you’ll find yourself becoming more creative around those melody notes. The result? Your improvisations will have coherence and you will be developing your own personal style!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Tutorial: Pentatonic Scale Solos

Piano-Improvisation-Tutorial-Pentatonic-Scale-SolosIf you have an interest in developing some pentatonic scale solos, as a beginner this is a good choice since you can really come up with some impressive sounds with little effort. Who said it needed to be complex to be good, right? It certainly doesn’t. Actually, when it comes to creating simplistic solos that sound “pro,” the utilization of pentatonic scales is an excellent choice.

Let’s see how to come up with a pentatonic scale:

“Pentatonic” is derived from “penta,” which means “five” in Greek. Therefore, a pentatonic scale is a five note scale. Let’s first take a look at a G Major scale:

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

Let’s extract the following scale degrees from this major scale:

1, 2, 3, 5, and 6

Thus, this leaves us with the following, which is a G Major pentatonic scale:

G  A  B  D  E

Of course, we can repeat the 1 as we do with the major scale, resulting in:

G  A  B  D  E  G

An  interesting characteristic of the pentatonic scale is the unique flavor we get from simply playing it in either an ascending or descending fashion. However, some of the real magic can happen when using bits and pieces of this scale and creating patterns with it.
Here is one example of a descending pattern that can be used to create some interesting pentatonic scale solos:

G E D   E D B   D B A  BAG etc.

The use of the pentatonic scale is unlimited. The possibilities go way beyond the scope of this particular piano improvisation tutorial since this is simply an introduction. Below is a short video clip excerpted from Sneak Peeks #2, illustrating the G Major pentatonic scale. Of course, you will want to play this scale in other keys as well!

Once you know how to play a major pentatonic scale on a given root, it is very easy to also play a minor pentatonic scale as well. If we take a look at the G Major pentatonic once again and simply begin that scale on the 3rd note of that scale, which is B in this case, we instantly have the B Minor pentatonic scale:

B  D  E  G  A  B

So, you see, both of these pentatonic scales (G Major and B Minor) consist of exactly the same notes. You are highly encouraged to explore and have fun with both of these scales in as many keys as possible. Your confidence when it comes to improvising on piano will undoubtedly increase in a very short amount of time!

Remember,

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com