Piano Tips

(10 of 'em)

Piano tips

Piano tips to help you make your piano playing
more interesting and exciting!

Piano Tip #1: Create a flowing river of sound.  By using arpeggios in your left hand while using straddles simultaneously in your right hand, you can create a sensation of "flowing" -- I like to visualize a calm, smooth wide river like the Columbia River here in NW Oregon (which is 4 miles wide at its mouth when it flows into the Pacific!). Very appropriate for slower songs such as ballads and love songs -- it creates an emotion all its own. Use open-voiced arpeggios and 4-note straddles for the fullest and best sounds.

     Piano Tip #2: Use crunches. Instead of just playing a chord, roll the notes down from the top quickly to create an effect. You can do this on any chord, but do it sparingly -- certainly not all the time.

     Piano Tip #3: Use "implied blue notes". You know what a blue note is -- the flat 3rd, 5th, or 7th of any scale (used in the blues and jazz, etc.). Instead of striking the blue note, just slide off it quickly as you play a note or a chord. It gives a slightly "bluesy" effect without being obvious.

     Piano Tip #4: Use a tri-tone chord substitution. Instead of moving from a V7 chord to a I chord, do a half-step slide by playing the 7th chord 1/2 step above the target chord (the I chord). You'll notice that the 3rd of the V7 chord becomes the 7th of the substitute chord, while the 7th of the V7 chord becomes the 3rd of the substitute chord. (For an explanation of the mysterious tri-tone, click here).

Piano Tip #5: Use Walk-Ups in your left hand in octaves. Anytime a chord progression moves up a 4th, you can use a walk up. For example, if you see a chord progression like this: G7   C Since C is 4 scales notes above G, you can walk up the G scale in octaves until you play C. If the chord progression is F7   Bb, then you would walk up the F scale until you came to Bb.

  Piano Tip #6: Use Walk-Downs in your left hand in octaves. This is just the reverse of the last tip, except you walk down a scale 5 notes instead of 4. For example if the chord progression is G7   C , you would play G - F - E - D - C in your left hand in octaves.

  Piano Tip #7: Add one or more "color tones" to some of your chords. Instead of playing a plain old vanila C chord, why not add some color to it by including a 6th or a major 7th or a major 9th? It will add flavor to any triad, and make your piano sound more unique and interesting. (But don't overdue it -- just as you can add too much salt to your meal and ruin it, you can overuse color tones too.)

  Piano Tip #8: Add some "passing tones" to your songs. Passing tones are non-chordal tones such as 7ths and 9ths and 6ths that "pass through" the harmony of the song, creating movement. They create movement and interest and help move the song down the tracks. (If you don't know how to create passing tones, check out "How To Create Passing Tones To Add Interest & Motion To Your Songs"

    Piano Tip #9: Start playing in public as soon as you can. You will probably protest "But I'm not ready yet!" just like I did when I got started. And of course, you are probably correct -- you may not be ready yet. But by playing in public you will advance so much faster than if you just always play for yourself. There is something about knowing other people are listening that motivates a person to improve rapidly. I had several very embarrasing experiences when I was just getting started, but I wouldn't trade them now for anything because those experiences got me in gear to figure out what I was doing wrong in a hurry. So get in a group, play for church, play at a retirement home -- anywhere, but just get started.

   Piano Tip #10: Play along with your favorite artists. I used to do this by the hour and it really paid off for me. I remember back in high school days I was in a practice room "playing" the piano along with a record (we didn't have CDs or IPODs then) of Erroll Garner playing "Misty". What I was doing was imitating the sounds I heard as best I could, but my playing sounded more like a trash can being emptied than it did music. Don, a friend of mine and also a piano player, came in the room and said "Shinn -- what in the world do you think you're doing?" -- and I didn't blame him -- it sounded terrible. But you know what? After a couple solid years of doing that, I got the hang of it and my playing actually started to resemble the records I had been playing along with. It's hard work, but it's fun, and there are big rewards down the road if you hang in there.

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