Tag Archives: play cocktail piano

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

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

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

 

 

 

Jazz Piano Chords: A Popular Ending

Jazz-Piano-ChordsLet’s take a look at a couple of jazz piano chords that, when played one after the other, make for one of the most popular endings of all time. We will relate this to the key of C Major for our illustration. Of course, as always, you are highly encouraged to transpose what you learn to other keys.

The two chords that will be playing are basically Db7 and Cmaj6. In their most basic forms, they are spelled out like this:

Db7 = Db  F  Ab  Cb

Cmaj6 = C  E  G  A

We will be voicing these two chords in a fashion that sounds full as well as tasty. First, we will be adding some color to each of these chords…

To the Db7, we will add the 9, which is Eb. To the Cmaj6, will add the 9 as well, which is D. Spelled out in order, we have:

Db  F  Ab  Cb  Eb  for Db7, which is now Db9.

C  E  G  A  D  for Cmaj6, which is now Cmaj6/9.

Played in that order, we can hear that these chords sound more “juicy” than the original ones above. However, when we voice the chords as we are doing below, we have something quite appealing.

We are going to voice them as follows:

1 – 5 – 3 – 7 – 9  for Db9

1 – 5 – 3 – 6 – 9 for Cmaj6/9 (sometimes called C6/9)

Once you are comfortable playing each of these chord voicings, play the Db9 and follow it with the C6/9 and you just might recognize that popular song ending we were mentioning. This works especially well when we are playing in a swing style.

Let’s take a look at what these jazz piano chords look like on the staff:

Jazz-Piano-ChordsMost of the time, the Db9 is played on the 2nd beat following a rest and leads into the C6/9 a half beat later as illustrated above.

This chord progression could be analyzed as bII9 – I6/9 for the purpose of transposing to other keys.

These chord voicings sound quite rich and really lend themselves to creating an ending that ends with authority. The perfect 5th intervals at the bottom of the voicings together with the perfect 4th intervals at the top of the voicing really contribute to the flair that this mini chord progression creates.

Again, transposing this chord progression to other keys will increase your confidence because, whenever you are playing a swing tune and want to achieve this effect, you’ll have it available on command. Have lots of fun with this one!

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

 

Cocktail Piano Chords: Diatonic 7ths

Cocktail-Piano-ChordsYour exploration of cocktail piano chords must include the eventual understanding and implementation of diatonic 7th chords. In essence, within a given key, the diatonic system represents the “skeleton” of that key that you are playing in.

What do we mean by “diatonic?” Let’s take a look at the scale of C Major:

C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

Now, if we build chord structures using 3rd intervals (in other words, playing every other note from left to right) beginning on any given degree of this scale, this will result in playing a 7th chord. For example, starting on C, we would have:

C  E  G  B  (Cmaj7)

Keep in mind that we are adhering to the members of the scale (we are not playing any sharps or flats since the scale of C Major contains none).

As we do the same using D as the root of the chord, we arrive at:

D  F  A  C  (Dmin7)

Again, notice that we have built our chord using 3rd intervals while adhering to the members of the C Major scale.

When we adhere to the members of a given scale as we are doing here, we are playing diatonic chords. These are cocktail piano chords that you will want to have mastery over!

Here are all seven diatonic 7th chords in the key of C Major:

C  E  G  B  (Cmaj7)

D  F  A  C  (Dmin7)

E  G  B  D  (Emin7)

F  A  C  E  (Fmaj7)

G  B  D  F  (G7)

A  C  E  G  (Amin7)

B  D  F  A  (Bmin7b5)

So, you see, we have constructed every possible chord in this fashion within the key of C Major. As you play your favorite standard songs, you will want to take note of the key you are in and pay attention to which of the chords are diatonic.

In order to become more proficient at recognizing these chords within a song, you will want to gain familiarity with each of the scales and the chords that are constructed using the members of these scales.

Take note of the following:

The I chord is a maj7 chord

The II chord is a min7 chord

The III chord is a min7 chord

The IV chord is a maj7 chord

The V chord is a dominant 7 chord

The VI chord is a min7 chord

The VII chord is a min7b5 chord

Since the musical system is mathematically perfect, the same will be true for all the major keys. Although the roots and chords will vary, the qualities of these chords will always remain the same (The I chord will always be a maj7 chord, the II chord will always be a min7 chords, the III chord will always be a min7 chord, etc)

You will want to become familiar with the diatonic 7th chords in all the keys. Not only will this enhance your understanding as to how music is put together, but you will also be able to more efficiently improvise your own musical ideas as you become more and more comfortable with the diatonic system. As a cocktail piano player, this will be conducive to your coming up with some pretty interesting improvisations of your own!

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