Monday, February 26, 2007

Piano Books: The Top Piano Books To Help You Become a Better Piano Player!

Piano Books: The Top Piano Books To Help You Become a Better Piano Player
There are umpteen zillion piano books available in music stores and online at such places as Amazon. And piano books are usually necessary if your goal is to become a better pianist.

But how does a person know which piano books are necessary and which books are redundant, to say nothing of good or bad. There are books on music theory, scales, chords, books about composers, books about music in general, and of course piano lesson books by Schaum, Williams, Alfred d'Auberge, Bastien, John Thompson, Glover, etc., etc.

The best way is to divide the study of piano playing into it's components:
General lesson piano books:
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Monday, February 19, 2007


In contrast to a unison or an interval, a chord is any group of 3 or more notes that are played at the same time. Broken chords, also known as arpeggios, are chords which are played one note at a time, but add up to 3 or more notes.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Music Chords: How To Become a "Chord Detective"

Music Chords: How To Become a "Chord Detective"

Over the years I have been a piano teacher I have had many people call or write me and ask me something like this:

"I play by ear, or by chords, but lots of music doesn't have chord symbols written in -- how do I know what chord to play when?"

"Our hymn book doesn't tell which chords to use -- how can I know what to play?"

"I read music but don't have a clue what chords are being used. How can I know what they are?"

What do you do if you want to play a song using chords instead of the written sheet music notes, but the song doesn't have any chord symbols printed -- symbols such as Cm7, G13, B+, D dim7, etc.?

There's a logic behind every note written in music, & you can learn to understand that logic, and therefore understand music. If you can read music to some degree but don't "see through" the written music -- don't understand what you are seeing -- it is now very possible that you can put on your "chord glasses" that good "chord detectives" wear to see through all that mass of black printed notes on a white page of sheet music to quickly understand what chords are being used and the "family logic" behind it all.
The "family logic" is this: In every key there are certain chords which are organic to that key -- "family members", so to speak. For example, in the key of F the 3 most used chords are F, Bb and C. In the key of G the most used chords are G, C, and D. In the key of Eb the most used chords are Eb, Ab, and Bb. Do you see a pattern here?

Chords are based on scales, and the chords which are used the most in any key are built on the 1st degree of the scale, the 4th degree of the scale, and the 5th degree of the scale. They are identified by using the Roman numerals I, IV, and V.

So the most used chords in any key are the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord. They are the primary chords, and they are all major. They occur way more than other chords. The next most used chords are the ii chord, the iv chord, and the iii chord -- all minor chords.

Just knowing these simple facts gives a musician a giant advantage when learning or playing a song. If he or she knows the most likely chords that are going to occur in a song, based on the key of the song, then they can scrape together other evidence quickly to build an air-tight case that they know the chords of that song.

For example, let's take two musicians about to play from a piece of sheet music. Both read music, but only one knows chords and music theory. The first musician looks at the notes and sees a Bb in the bass clef as the first note, a Eb in the bass clef in the second measure, a Bb in the 3rd measure, an F in the fourth measure, and so on. He can play what he sees, but nothing else, because he doesn't grasp the fact that the first few measure have given away the fact that the primary chords have been outlined.

The second musician looks at the same music, but with "X-ray eyes". He sees through the same notes into the chord structure behind the scenes.

The first musician is tied to the written music and limited to the notes printed on the sheet music, while the second musician has the best of both worlds: he can read the music and play it as it is written, but he can also add chords and fills and come out with a much bigger, more interesting arrangement than the first musician.

The benefits of becoming a chord detective are many:

It allows a musician to immediately identify what key a song is in...
It allows a musician to know POSITIVELY which chords are most likely to occur in each song...
It allows a musician to look at the first measure and the last measure and immediately know the harmonic form of any song...


It works in any key -- major or minor...
It works with any kind of hymn or gospel song...
It works by releasing a musician from being "tied to the written music"...
It works by allowing a musician to add chords of his or her own...

The bottom line is this: knowing chords and music theory allows a "chord detective" to develop "see through eyes" that immediately perceive the structure of a song and then allow that musician to use both the written score and any fillers or improvisations he or she desires to add to a song.
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Monday, February 05, 2007

Piano Runs & Fills

Runs & Fills:
How To Add Real Excitement To Your Piano Playing!

We've all heard pianists who make us drool with musical jealousy when they play, using a tool box full of lighting-fast runs and clever fills that have us clamoring for more. I well recall hearing Errol Garner play "I'll Remember April" when I was about 14. I had no idea a piano could be played like that, and I was absolutely fascinated by all the interesting and exciting runs and fills he added to his improvisation of those standards.

If you're anything like me, you would love to learn how to "fill up the empty spaces" with scale fragments, chords, broken chords, and so on. Techniques such as 8th note runs , 16th note runs, 32nd note runs, triplet fills, and many combinations thereof -- some so fast you can't even see which notes are being played. Techniques such as"cascading waterfall runs", the fabulous "pro straddles", the exciting "tremelo-fired runs" and lots more. Learning how to "fill it up" with runs and fills would certainly take your piano playing to the next level.

After listening to countless pianists in all genres, I compiled a list of six types of runs and fills that they often use:

1. "Cocktail" runs --The lightning fast runs used by the great "show" pianists. One hand runs, two hand runs, open-octave runs, tremolo-blasted runs, cascading waterfall runs and more. Made famous by such names as Eddy Duchin, Carman Caballero, Liberace, etc., but also used tastefully by many others, such as Roger Williams and many "pop" piano players.

2. Embellishments -- Mordents, inverted mordents, trills, turns, tremolos, grace notes, glissandos, etc. These are the "finesse" techniques that give your piano playing class and grace. Virtually NO amateur piano players use these, so the pianist that learns these is putting herself or himself in a class usually reserved for professional pianists.

3. Piano tricks -- How to make your piano sound oriental, or make it sound like a drum or a music box? A bell? Latin? Country?

4. Evangelistic runs -- These are the octave runs and fillers used by the great gospel pianists of past and present such as Rudy Atwood and other evangelistic piano players.

5. Jazz & blues runs -- Using the "blues scale" up and down the keyboard, blue note-crunches, slides, etc. These runs are very useful not only in jazz and R & B, but also in "black gospel" (I hate to use that term because it sounds racist, but people use it to describe a certain type of gospel music, so I reluctantly use the term...but only in that sense of the word), fusion, and many rock-pop songs.

6. Fillers galore -- Filling up an empty measure with a counter-melody; creating an intro; creating an ending; developing "turnarounds", plus chromatic fillers, fillers based on the Dorian and Lydian scales and other "church mode" scales.

It is exciting for any pianist to picture himself or herself playing those LIGHTNING FAST runs up the keyboard and back down in time for the next chord, or playing CASCADING RUNS down the keyboard for a WATERFALL of wonderful sounds, to say nothing of using mordents, inverted mordents, trills, turns, tremolos, grace notes, glissandos, fillers galore, cocktail-piano runs, plus gospel-style runs as well as "blues runs" based on the blues scale!

Is it worth the effort to learn some or all of these techniques? It certainly has been for me, but every pianist will have to make that judgment for himself or herself.
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Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!