Jazz Piano Lesson: Chords, Inversions and Voice Leading

Jazz piano can seem kind of “mysterious” or “magical” to the uninitiated or untrained, but once you know a few basic tricks, it’s easy to see how to create your own jazz piano arrangement using just a few standard techniques.

In this post, I’ll show you – in both video and text/picture form – how to get started making your own piano playing sound more… well… “jazzy.”

This is kind of a bonus lesson for my Jazz Piano… FAST! online/DVD video piano course (special Introductory Sale until 9/9/17 at Midnight), which you can learn more about here.

First, the video:

Roman Numeral Chord Progressions

In the video, I’m working with the I-vi-ii-V7 chord progression, which refers to a series of chords independent of any key. In this case, we’re working in the key of C, so we just need to translate those symbols to that key.

But what do they MEAN?

In the key of C, the C major scale is simply made up of all the white keys on the piano:

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

Let’s number those notes as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

Now, if we play a C major chord in root position, we would play C-E-G, or 1-3-5. Since the root of this chord is the “1” note, and it’s a major chord, we’ll label this with a capital Roman numeral I.

If we then move each of those 3 notes up the C major scale one note, the next chord we get is D minor, or D-F-A. Since this chord’s root is the “2” note, and since it’s a minor chord, we’ll label this with a LOWERCASE Roman numeral ii.

Similarly, we get the following chords, moving up the C major scale:

I – ii – iii – IV – V – vi – vii(dim)

There is no VIII chord – it’s the same as the I chord. Also notice that the vii(dim) chord is diminished, since the notes are B-D-F.

A very popular chord progression that’s been around forever is ii – V7 – I. The “V” (5) chord is normally played as a dominant 7th chord, FYI.

So, in the video, I’m working with the famous I – vi – ii – V7 progression, which you may know from “Heart and Soul,” that famous duet played by aspiring pianists of all ages. 🙂

It’s simply C – Am – Dm – G7.

In order to talk about our first technique for sounding better on the piano, we need to talk about…

Chord Inversions

A chord inversion is simply a chord that is played in something other than “root position.” Root position means the root of the chord is on the bottom (left-most on the piano keyboard).

So, a C major chord in root position is C-E-G.

If we move the C to the top of the chord as E-G-C, that’s called 1st inversion.

If we then move the E to the top, that’s called… you guessed… 2nd inversion. That would be G-C-E.

If we move G to the top, we’re back again to C-E-G, or root position.

Got it? Piece of cake, right?

Good “Voice Leading”

Next up, we need to talk about creating good “voice leading” – meaning that we don’t want the chords we play to jump around too much on the keyboard.

And we use chord inversions to accomplish that.

Ideally, we’d like the individual chord notes to move as little as possible from one chord to the next.

So, instead of playing this:

Good voice leading might have us play this instead:

Or maybe this:

Play those for yourself and notice the difference in sound. They should sound a bit smoother and less “disjoint” than the first version.

Adding 7ths to the Chords

Finally, we can begin to move towards that “jazzy” sound by changing major chords to major 7th chords and minor chords to minor 7th chords.

To create a major 7th chord, we simply add the note that is one half step below the root of the chord. So, C major – C-E-G – becomes C major 7th, written CM7, and played C-E-G-B.

To create a minor 7th chord, we add the note one WHOLE STEP below the root of the chord. So, A minor, written Am – A-C-E – becomes A minor 7th, written Am7, and played A-C-E-G.

For now, we’ll leave G7 alone, althought there are a few other things we can do with that one, too!

So, finally, our I-vi-ii-V7 progressions becomes IM7 – vi7 – ii7 – V7 and might be played like this:

And if we’re playing the chord roots in the left hand, we could even omit the root in the right-hand chords shown above.

Notice how beautifully the individual chord voices move on the keyboard, which I just noticed myself after creating this picture. I love it when artistic beauty expresses itself in multiple forms!

So, there are just a couple of steps you can use to start creating your own jazz piano arrangements.

For a lot more ideas and a more in-depth look at 3 classic jazz standards – “Moonlight in Vermont,” “Satin Doll” and “The Girl From Ipanema” – check out my Jazz Piano… FAST! online/DVD video piano course, which is on sale for a very special introductory price until Saturday, September 9th at Midnight!

Thanks for reading, watching and (hopefully) playing along!

Boogie Woogie Piano Licks Inspired By Barry Manilow

I like Barry Manilow.

There, I said it.

I’m a grown man with a beautiful wife and 4 growing children, and I’m a professional piano player.

And I like Barry Manilow.

I can still remember listening to an 8-track tape of his Greatest Hits and playing his songs on the piano as a teenager… watching his numerous TV specials and variety show appearances.

I mean, c’mon. The guy is arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years.

He actually sang, “I Write the Songs”!

He also wrote the famous McDonald’s jingle, “You deserve a break today,” the “Stuck on Band-Aid” jingle, AND the “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” jingle, which is still used today!

These days, I still get requests for “Copacabana,” and ever now and then I’ll play “Weekend in New England,” which usually gets the women reminiscing and singing along 🙂

But I digress…

I promised you some boogie woogie piano licks, so that’s what I’m gonna deliver!

One of Barry’s lesser-known tunes is called, “Jump Shout Boogie,” and I always enjoyed playing it on the piano – mainly because it uses some very simple right and left hand piano licks that sound really fancy.

I’m guessing Barry Manilow isn’t a name that comes to mine when you hear the words “boogie woogie piano,” but this tune really cooks, in my opinion.

That’s why I decided to make this ANOTHER free bonus video lesson to go along with my Boogie Woogie Piano… FAST! online/DVD video piano course, which just happens to be on sale until midnight on August 22nd, 2017. Click Here For Details

And now, Barry Manilow’s boogie woogie piano licks… enjoy!

Boogie Woogie Piano Lesson

Contrary to my own kind of mental block I’ve had for years, and possibly your own belief about your ability to play “flashy” piano licks and styles, boogie woogie piano is amazingly easy to play, and all it takes is a little analysis of some bass patterns and right-hand licks, with a few turnarounds and endings thrown in for good measure.

In this video – kind of a bonus lesson from my Boogie Woogie Piano… FAST! DVD/online video piano course – I’ll show you how I built a simple boogie woogie piano piece by putting together some basic elements, and how you can do the same!

No, this piece won’t make it onto the “Boogie Woogie Top 40” charts, but it will give you some nice tools to add to your piano arsenal, and maybe even dig more into boogie woogie piano.

If that’s the case, I suggest you check out my Boogie Woogie Piano… FAST! DVD/online video piano course!

Click Here To Check Out Boogie Woogie Piano… FAST!

The Importance of Rhythm When Playing The Piano

I realize it’s not exactly breaking news to say that rhythm is one of the most important aspects of music. In fact, it’s really the foundation for virtually every style of music, affecting the mood of a song, the lyrics, and how dancers move to the music.

But rhythm is more than just the tempo, or speed, of a song. It’s what  happens between and around the beats that really give a song its unique sound. And the ability to create very specific rhythms on the piano is a skill that can almost instantly improve your playing.

It’s also one of the things that bugs sometimes me when I hear other piano players play.

And it’s not that hard to fix!!

Let me give you an example…

First of all, consider a song like the classic “Country Roads” by John Denver. That rolling guitar riff that starts the song is so soothing, and his classic voice just rolls right in. To me, this song has a very 2-beat or 4-beat rhythm, but a STRAIGHT rhythm. What do I mean by that?

I mean that there’s no “bounce” to the song – the eighth notes just roll along in an even pattern. In fact, here’s a simple way to play that opening riff on the piano:

Country Roads IntroductionNotice how straight and steady those eighth notes are.

Now, here’s how NOT to play the introduction to that song:

Country Roads BouncyThis is a very subtle difference in the written music, but a BIG difference in the actual feel of the song. This small change turns this song into something more like Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Family Tradition” (well, not exactly, but definitely with more of that kind of feel).

Next, I suggest you take a listen to the classic reggae song, “Three Little Birds,” by Bob Marley.

Listen VERY carefully to the underlying rhythm of this song. Notice that it, too, is a very STRAIGHT rhythm! It is NOT bouncy at all. Now, some reggae is kind of bouncy, but this particular song is not. While some people may not notice this subtle difference, I think it’s VERY important to get this right when recreating songs like this on the piano.

In fact, it may be the difference between your listeners loving your arrangement or saying, “There’s something that’s just not quite right about that.”

This is just one of the reasons I put together my Piano Rhythms… FAST! video piano course not long ago – to make sure you have the must-have rhythms in your piano toolbox to create whatever feel you need to on the piano.

In fact, this course is on sale for over 50% off until this Wednesday, September 20th at Midnight! So, it’s a great time to check it out.

And may your beat go on 🙂

How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain

This video has been around for a while, but I just recently discovered it and wanted to share it with as many people as I could, so here you go!

What I found really interesting is the difference that actually PLAYING an instrument makes, above and beyond just LISTENING to music:

  • Better memory
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Increased communication between brain hemispheres
  • Improved planning skills and attention to detail

These benefits seem to be unique to playing and learning music and are not associated with any other type of activity – for example, sports or even other artistic activities.

So, watch this video, then get back to the piano! 🙂

 

How To Connect Your Piano To Your Computer To Help You Practice, Write and Orchestrate Your Own Music (VIDEO)

OLD MIDI Setup From Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels

OK, so this photo is of a pretty OLD MIDI setup, but I’m a sucker for nostalgia!

In this post, I’ll show you how to hook up your electronic piano or keyboard to your computer and begin taking advantage of the fabulous technology known as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).

There will actually be very little video about the actual hookup, since that part is very simple. In fact, here’s what you need:

  • A MIDI-enabled piano or keyboard (look for the MIDI In, Out and Thru connections on the back)
  • A computer with an available USB port
  • A USB-MIDI interface, like the E-Mu Xmidi 1X1 V3 USB MIDI Interface found at Amazon (about $25)

And here’s what to do:

  • Plug the interface into your computer and let your computer automatically install the drivers. If it does NOT, you may need to use the CD included with your MIDI interface, or simply download the latest drivers from the manufacturer’s website
  • Using a MIDI cable (available online or from your local music store), or simply using the interface itself (like the E-Mu), connect the MIDI OUT port from your keyboard to the MIDI IN port on the interface
  • Using another MIDI cable, or the interface itself, connect the MIDI IN port from your keyboard to the MIDI OUT port on the interface

That’s it!

This video goes a little more detail on all this:

Now comes the REALLY fun part!

You can now use your keyboard to enter music into notation programs like Finale NotePad, AND you can record performances – NOT the audio, but the actual performance as MIDI events (also known as sequencing) using a free tool like Anvil Studio.

Check out this video for all the details:

I hope this blog post and these videos gave you just enough information to be dangerous with your computer and electronic piano or keyboard! Once you get the hang of MIDI and begin using these software tools, you’ll find a whole new world of musical creativity and fun, literally at your fingertips.

So, jump in, play around, and explore the amazing, musical world of MIDI!

AND…

Please leave a comment if you enjoyed this post, have any questions, or might like me to put together a more formal course on the subject. Thanks!

New Age Piano

For some reason, “New Age” piano is one of the few piano styles that REALLY calms my nerves and flushes out nearly all traces of stress for me.

I start thinking about snow and cold, moonlit nights, and sitting around a darkened house late at night after the kids are in bed, playing or listening to piano music. There’s something that’s very peaceful and meditative to me about new age piano, I associate it with some very special times in my life, including a few wonderful holidays..

Although we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the US for a few more months, if there is an actual “Thanksgiving Song,” to me it would be “We Gather Together.” I probably have some elementary school anchor to that song somewhere deep in my consciousness… I don’t know.

It’s also just a very peaceful, soothing song to me, and one that lends itself very well to New Age piano stylings.

That’s why I originally decided to put together my video piano lesson, New Age Piano… FAST!, where I show you just how simple it is to create your own New Age piano sounds for just about any song you like (but it does work better and is much easier for simple, traditional melodies, like this one:

And for the next few days, I’m offering this brand new course for a very special price. But that’s only until this Thursday, November 24th (Thanksgiving!) at Midnight, so…

Click Here Now To Claim Your Discount Copy,
While There’s Still Time

And you’ll be enjoying the smooth, peaceful sounds of New Age Piano – from your OWN piano – in just a couple of hours!

Simple – But Effective – Left Hand Piano Techniques

I get quite a few questions about what to play in the left hand on the piano, and I realized that a lot of what I play – especially in dueling piano shows, where my job is to get people to dance or sing along – is just ridiculously simple.

So, I put together this video to show you how you can create a quick left hand piano accompaniment for just about any song.

I hope you like it.

Just watch, then play! And have fun 🙂

(If you have trouble viewing this video on my website, try viewing it on YouTube by Clicking Here.

Piano Accompaniment Tips

Here’s a quick video with a few tips on how to accompany yourself or another singer or instrumentalist on the piano.

I cannot overstate this – BE CONSISTENT in your rhythmic and harmonic patterns. Some variation is OK, but it’s your job to provide a solid foundation for the singer WITHOUT distracting the listener from their performance.

Don’t worry, you’ll have your turn in the spotlight 🙂

Click Here To Grab A Discounted Copy Of Piano Accompaniment… FAST! Before Tuesday, August 8th at Midnight!

Yellow Submarine On The Piano

As a “Thank You” to Lee Clarke, one of my students who introduced me to a fantastic website and Apple app for learning songs, I put together a quick video lesson to show you how to play The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” on the piano.

The website is wikifonia.org, where you can get a bunch of lead sheets absolutely free!

The app is called Capo and will allow you to slow down or speed up mp3 files to help you learn new songs. I haven’t tried it myself (I’m an Android guy at the moment), but I do plan on checking it out as soon as I get a chance.

Anyway, Lee had requested I put together a quick lesson on several songs. While I don’t normally take many requests (unless I get a lot of the same request), I decided to put this one together for Lee – and for you 🙂

This is a super-easy song to learn (even though it’s in the key of Gb), so check it out and get it into your repertoire today!

I hope you like it.