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.”
First, the video:
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:
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…
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?
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.
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, although there are a few other things we can do with that one, too!
So, finally, our I-vi-ii-V7 progression 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!
Thanks for reading, watching and (hopefully) playing along!
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. Click Here For Details
And now, Barry Manilow’s boogie woogie piano licks… enjoy!
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!
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:
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! 🙂
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:
And here’s what to do:
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!
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!
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.
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 🙂
For a more in-depth look at piano accompaniment, be sure to check out my course, Piano Accompaniment… FAST!
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.
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.
And here’s a color-coded image of the 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!
Well, I’m in Joplin, MO for St. Patrick’s Day, but I wanted to post a little Irish piano lesson on my blog, so I fired up my smart phone and put this together for you.
Not the highest production values in the world, and I hadn’t had my hair done yet, but hopefully you can use these couple of tips today or tomorrow, or whenever you want to make some Irish sounds on the piano.
If you’d like to learn a simple, but beautiful arrangement of Danny Boy, be sure to check out my Danny Boy Video Piano Lesson here.