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 🙂

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.

 

C Major and F Major Piano Scales

Here’s a quick video about how to learn scales super-fast by visualizing and feeling the “shape” of the scale on the piano keyboard.

 

To reinforce this pattern concept, here’s a color-coded image of the C Major Piano Scale. The red keys represent the first grouping of 3 keys – played by your thumb (finger 1), index finger (2) and middle finger (3). The green keys represent the second grouping of 4 keys – played by your thumb, index finger, middle finger and ring finger (1,2,3,4). The yellow key (C) means that you can start the 3-note pattern over again with your thumb, or simply play the yellow key with your pinky finger (5), if you’re going to be coming back down the keyboard.

C Major Piano Scale

And here’s a color-coded image of the F Major Piano Scale:

F Major Piano Scale

Scales may seem like one of the boring parts of learning to play piano, but, believe me, learning how to learn them fast – AND learning which chords to play them with – can dramatically improve your piano playing.

In fact, I’ve just put together a video piano course that shows you exactly how to do just that.

So, if you really want to take your piano playing to the next level by learning 19 unique scale structures (NOT just major and minor) in all 12 keys, check out my video piano course, Piano Scales… FAST! And right now, you can get it for almost 50% off the regular price, but only until Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 at midnight!

Click Here For Details

How To Play Piano Chords That Sound Good

You may have learned how to play piano chords from a piano teacher, a music book you picked up, or even a YouTube video, but you probably learned the simple mechanics of playing chords – basic fingering, which notes go to which chords, and so on.

how to play piano chords

Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, but I’m guessing that no one ever took the time to show you exactly how to play piano chords in a way that makes them sound REALLY GOOD.

If that’s the case, keep reading, because I’ve got some simple rules that will help you, along with a brand new chord resource I just finished putting together.

So, how to play piano chords so they sound “good”…

Although “beauty” in music – as in other art forms – is highly subjective, I believe there are some things you can do to make the piano chord you play sound really good, meaning better than the way most people usually play them.

Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments – I think there’s no right or wrong answer, but check out these suggestions and see if they don’t help your piano chord playing, at least a little bit.

1. Whenever possible, when playing “close position” chords – meaning the chord tones are consecutive and not spread widely apart, like they are in open chord voicings – try to play the chords as close to middle C as possible. Once you start getting too much higher, the chords start to “thin out” in their sound. They still work for certain songs, but they just don’t have the depth that most often sounds good. If you got too much lower than middle C, the chords really start to sound muddy and thick. Which brings us to suggestion #2…

2. As you play chords lower and lower on the piano, it’s best to move one or more of the chord tones apart from the others. For example, if you play a C major tried one – or even two – octaves below middle C, it really sounds kind of awful. But, if you play a very low C in the bass, and play just the C and E an octave or two above that, it sounds pretty good. You can also play an open C major voicing on the C (root), then G (fifth), then the E above the G (the 10th, technically). This open voicing sounds really good in the left hand, and helps to “un-muddy” a plain old major triad.

3. Create open voicings for chords, where you move the chord tones apart from each other – maybe an octave or less. You might even use two hands to help pull the chord tones apart from each other and allow the chord overtones to react in such a way as to create “virtual” sounds between the notes. Wow, that’s kind of heavy stuff.

4. Here’s a chord rhythm suggestion for you – DON’T OVERDO THE CHORD RHYTHMS! Sometimes just a simple bass pattern with the occasional chord interjected is just fine – less is more. Don’t feel like you need to play the entire chord on every beat of the song, or even every time the chords change. Take it easy. Leave some space. Enjoy the silence between the notes.

5. Try a different inversion, even for basic piano chord triads. Sometimes the 1st or 2nd inversion sounds much better than the other inversions, and darned if I could tell you why. Remember, an inversion is when you play the chord with something other than the chord root on the bottom.

These are just a few quick pointers to help you improve the sound of your piano chords – try them out and let me know what you thing.

And, if you REALLY want to get your hands on what might be the last chord guide you’ll ever need, be sure to check out my super chord reference, Piano Chord Voicings… FAST!

I’m having a very special sale, but only until this Sunday, April 9th, 2017 at Midnight.

Click Here For All The Details About My 2-DVD/1-CD, PDF + Video piano course, Piano Chord Voicings… FAST!

Keep making beautiful music – preferably on the piano!