Tag Archives: improvise on piano

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

 

Piano Scales: The Lydian Mode

Piano-ScalesOne of the piano scales enjoyed by the pros as an alternative to the major scale as most of us know it will be acknowledged here. This scale really can add some “juice” while improvising over those major 7th chords. What’s great, too, is if you’re already familiar with the traditional major scale, you’ll find this one easy to get used to.

The scale being referred to here is the Lydian mode. Let’s investigate…

We’ll start by illustrating the traditional major scale. The C Major scale will be used here:

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

We have the foundation we need here. Look at the 4th degree of the scale. In this case, it is the F. Okay, play the C Major scale starting and ending on this note, as we have illustrated here:

F  G  A  B  C  D  E  F

Here we have the F Lydian scale (or mode). Again, this is one of those piano scales that you will use for added flavor when playing those major 7th chords. Let’s listen to this scale as you play it with your right hand while playing an Fmaj7 chord with your left.

You will notice that this scale varies from the traditional F Major scale in only one respect – that 4th of the scale is raised (the B is not flat in this case). So, an easy way to arrive at a Locrian scale is to play the traditional major scale that starts on the same root and simply raise the 4th degree a half step.

Play that scale again while playing the chord with your left hand. This time, pay particular attention to how that B natural sounds with the chord. How does it sound to you? However you describe this is right for you. Perhaps you might say that the raised 4th makes for a bit of a “mysterious” kind of effect.

An interesting characteristic of the Lydian mode is that there are no avoid notes. An “avoid” note is considered to be a tone in the scale that doesn’t really sound all that wonderful when held for a long duration while playing the chord. To confirm this for yourself, play the chord with your left hand and slowly play the traditional F Major scale (F  G  A  Bb  C  D  E  F). Notice that, when you arrive at the Bb, there is a certain dissonance that you may not consider all that pleasing to the ear. Next, play the Lydian mode (with that B natural) and listen to the difference!

Please consider exploring this very popular Lydian mode in other keys, too. You’ll find that it will very likely become one of your favorites!

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

Piano Improvisation Tips: Chord Tones & Scale Tones

Piano-Improvisation-TipsWhen it comes to playing cocktail piano, of the many piano improvisation tips I could offer, a favorite to promote that is most conducive to getting satisfying results is using chord tones. However, this approach can take on a more mature flair when your mind set is that of combining chord tones with thinking and playing in a linear fashion as well.

Let’s say that you are improvising over the chord changes to a standard song like Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned (lyrics by Johnny Mercer). The beginning in the key of F would look like this:

/  Fmaj7  Dmin7  /  Gmin7  C7  /

Here we have a I – VI – II – V chord progression. The chord tones for each of these chords are:

Fmaj7 = F  A  C  E

Dmin7 = D  F  A  C

Gmin7 = G  Bb  D  F

C7 = C  E  G  Bb

Consider using these chord tones in an arpeggiated fashion. Mix it up, changing the order from ascending to descending. In addition, start your improvised lines on a chord tone in the middle of the chord and work yourself outward, to the left… to the right… etc.

Perhaps you have already had some experience doing this. If so, you know the possibilities are unlimited, especially when you start using the inversions of these chords as well. One of the most important piano improvisation tips I ever learned was to not take this simple strategy for granted. Remember, it’s one thing to “know” a technique or strategy. It’s quite another to implement it.

In addition, take note that the four chords in this progression are diatonic chords in the key of F Major (Chord Progressions and How They Work #1 offers a good introduction to the diatonic system). This means that their chord tones are all members of the F Major scale. This being the case, the F Major scale serves as a good resource for improvising over these two measures. Play up and down the entire scale over this chord progression. If you play it in eighth notes, one time in either direction, you will fill up one measure. So, if you play in order (in eighth notes)…

F  G  A  Bb  C  D  E  F…

…you will have played through the scale over the chords Fmaj7 and Dmin7. Do this for the next measure as well. Now, while maintaining the duration of these chords, play half of the scale for half a measure and use only chord tones for the other half of one of the measures. Mix it up!

Naturally, you can begin the scale beginning on different tones. You will find that certain chords lend themselves to starting on different notes of the scale. There is a gold mine of discovery just within what was mentioned in that last sentence.

As you come up with your own ideas using this improvisation strategy, your confidence will soar since you will be the one creating. The sky’s the limit here, so have tons of fun with this! As you do so, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

 

Piano Improvisation Technique: Chord Tones

Piano-Improvisation-TechniqueOne piano improvisation technique that you absolutely want to make a regular part of your practice routine is the use of chord tones. Please don’t make the mistake of underestimating the power of this improvisational approach.

If you know the chords to a tune you are playing, then you’re already half there. Of course, knowing what they are and using them to their potential are two different things. Let’s face it: there are people who might say, “Yeah, I know how that works” and there are people who will actually make it work.

Become acquainted with the chord changes to the point where you are not only able to play those chords as the accompaniment to a given melody but you are also able to play them as arpeggios. Let’s take a look at a few measures from a popular jazz standard tune like All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) in Ab:

/  Fmin7  /  Bbmin7  /  Eb7  / Abmaj7  /

Now let’s consider how this piano improvisation technique can really work for us once we establish what the chord tones are for the chords in these four bars of this great standard. The chord for each of these chords are acknowledged here…

Fmin7: F Ab C Eb
Bbmin7: Bb Db F AbEb7: Eb G Bb Db
Abmaj7: Ab C Eb G

With your right hand, play each of these chords as arpeggios (one chord tone at a time from bottom top). Then reverse this by playing the arpeggios from top to bottom. Play these arpeggios in a rhythmical fashion. One way you can easily approach this is playing each chord tone as an eighth note while both ascending and descending. For example:

If you play the Fmin7 chord as an arpeggio in eighth notes ascending, that completes two beats. Starting at the top of the chord and descending completes the measure with another two beats.

/  F  Ab  C  Eb Eb  C  Ab  F  /

Following this, treat each of the other chords the same way…

Doing this for the entire tune will accomplish a couple of great things:

1) You will learn the chord changes in a way that you didn’t before

2) You will come up with some really great piano improvisational ideas in the process

I will acknowledge here that, at first, you may feel as though this may sound rather “robotic” or redundant. You would be right about this; however, keep in mind the reason you are doing this. You are opening your ears in a way that you really get to hear those chords as arpeggios and doing this will lend itself to your coming up with different ways of playing those chord tones as you create your own improvisations. For example, you can change the order of those chord tones anytime you please. Perhaps you will start the improvisation for one chord on one of the middle chord tones and climb up… then climb down… etc. For Fmin7, this could mean you play Ab  F  Eb C. As you proceed to the next chord, mix it up as well. The combinations are endless!

Your ears will open up in a way they never did before. Also, those improvisations will really begin to take on some interesting shapes!

Have a ball exploring this piano improvisation technique and as you do so, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com

Piano Improvisation Tutorial: Love Those Half Steps

Piano-Improvisation-TutorialThis piano improvisation tutorial focuses on a very simple technique that you will love to love if the idea of improvising is new to you. It involves using chromaticism, or using half steps.

This is a piano improvisation technique that is so easy to implement, but don’t let its simplicity fool you! By using this easy-to-use strategy over and over again in various areas of those favorite songs of yours, you will very likely not only become confident with it but it’s probable that doing so will lead you to other ideas of your own as well. Now that’s good news!

I’m including this easy piano improvisation tutorial here because it’s my belief that if you are to make one tiny step (another pun intended) toward learning to improvise on piano, this is the one that will open doors for you.

How do you apply this piano improvisation technique? It’s as easy as pie. Simply approach any note in that melody by a half step below. Let’s say you’re playing Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon in the key of C Major. The first melody note is a C (played with an Amin7 chord). Before you play that C, play the B one half step below it and then immediately resolve to that C.

By the way, you can apply this to any of the melody notes in that first measure. You can even use this improvisation technique on every melody note. Now, understand that, by doing so, you may consider the result to be a bit redundant. But that’s okay, because you’re learning to implement the technique. As I always encourage my students, when you learn a new technique or concept, overuse it to the point where you are feeling very, very comfortable with it. Once you do, it’s rather easy to apply the idea less often. By overusing a certain idea, it’s kind of like swinging a baseball bat with the weight on it and then taking the weight off. Swinging becomes a whole lot easier. Thus, you’re more in control!

Let’s say the melody note is normally played for one beat. Well, consider sharing the value of that beat with both the melody note itself and the note that is one half step below. So, you’re playing two eighth notes. This is just an option. As you become more and more acquainted with this concept, you can play the note that is a half step lower for a shorter duration and the melody note for a little longer. If the melody note is normally played for two beats, then the note that is one half step lower can be played for one beat, a half beat, or a duration of your choice, and then the melody note can play for the remainder of the two beats. After a while, you will really get a feel for this!

Have fun with this half step approach to piano improvisation and as your playing becomes more and more tasteful, remember…

Always…

ALWAYS…

PLAY WITH PASSION!

Musically,

Dave
www.PianoAmore.net
www.ProProach.com