Tips for playing piano beautifully.
Concert artists have dedicated years learning to play the piano beautifully. They have studied and mastered all the elements of their craft: repertoire, technique, aural skills, sightreading, performance practice, historical awareness, idiomatic knowledge, and more. However, they all had to start somewhere. So here is a starting point for beginners and intermediate pianists looking to elevate their interpretive skills.
This is a starting point for expressive playing. To develop a more sophisticated understanding one must transcribe the performance practice of professionals from different eras performing your pieces and compare the results. For example, when comparing performances of the first 8 measures of Scarlatti’s Sonata in E K380 over decades of recordings you will discover the diverse ways the musicians interpret the trills. Most start above the principle note, but not everyone. The intensity, tempi, and dynamics vary as well.
If I can help you further, call me.
1. Count aloud throughout.
2. Count one measure before you begin.
3. Practice counting and clapping first.
4. Record yourself clapping and listen back to evaluate your success or lack thereof.
5. Play one hand and count aloud. Record yourself playing and listen back to evaluate your success or lack thereof.
6. Play two hands and count aloud. Record yourself playing and listen back to evaluate your success or lack thereof.
7. Do this and similar exercises for the rest of your piano career.
If I can help you, call me.
I wish this had been available when I started playing piano as I was not a gifted ear player. In fact, I struggled. On top of this my teachers didn't stress aural development either. They were all readers first. So, my development was glacial. Thankfully, things have changed for piano students.
How did I develop my sight reading and aural skills? In college I was given proper ear training. Later, I took up the drums, learned countless tunes by ear, and wrote them down. For the last decade I've been teaching online where I don't always see students' hands clearly. My ear learned to hear individual notes out of place. My sightreading developed early because I was a lazy student. It was more fun to read tunes than to practice them. Consequently, I became a professional sight-reader. I still am.
If I can help you, call me.
This is a perennial favorite of music students. Let's look at a few key terms and concepts.
Canon is a melody that accompanies itself at a staggered interval. Row, row, row your boat is a well-known example. In this canon the melody, played by the violinists, follows itself in two measure intervals.
Ground Bass is the violoncello melody that repeats its 8 note pattern throughout the piece.
Cembalo or continuo is the chordal accompaniment that is improvised behind the violins. In this video it is played by the organ and the lute. Notice that the cembalo left hand outlines the ground bass.
Other notable orchestral canons can be found in J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering. The canons in that suite of pieces feature 2 violins chasing each other around accompanied by the continuo.
This is a lesson given to a student this week.
Louis Armstrong, on the topic of how to improvise, said something to the effect, "memorize the melody, mess with the melody, and then mess with the mess." For beginners, this is the best advice I've ever come across. It is truly the shortest distance between A and B. Or jazz newbie to intermediate jazz student and beyond.
The student can already play. Therefore, it is a question of what to play and less of how to play it.
Two octave scales: C, F, Db, Bb, Eb
Four note broken chords: C, F, Db, Bb, Eb
Two octave arpeggios: C, F, Bb, Db, Eb
Please use a metronome and practice different tempi, dynamics, and articulations.
Being able to play the broken chords is an important starting point in improvisation.
This African rhythm is found throughout the popular music of the Americas for centuries. Here it is applied in a jazz context. You will hear it in the introduction of "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin, The Charleston by Green Hill, and Chinatown by Teddy Wilson. It is still heard today loudly emanating from the cars of young men. Jelly Roll Morton called it the "Spanish tinge." You can hear it in "The Crave." It is also called the Habanera Rhythm as heard in the introduction of St. Louis Blues.
Learning the melodies to jazz standards will save you a lot of time and bother. The thesis is this.
A student writes, “Hey David, I wanted to check my learning strategy with you. My goal right now is to play better at the jams I attend. Most of them are funky with someone creating a groove, and everyone jumping in.
I noticed the keys players are all very good at hearing the bass and figuring out the progression— or finding a groove within a set progression. At my level, I’m usually asking others what key we’re in (although it doesn’t always work since it changes) and then playing the root chord and inversions of it. I’ll sometimes create groove lines from the respective blues scale, but that’s about it for my understanding.
Taken together, I’m thinking the number one thing I need to work on is: Ear training.
For that, I’m thinking I focus on training my ear to understand:
Yes, this is a good start. Here are some more ideas to consider.
One Chord Songs
There are sixty jazz chords that you will need to recognize by ear. The ability to hear them, sing them, and play them will form the cornerstone of your jazz improvisation and aural recognition of jazz chord progressions.
1. Major 7th
2. Dominant 7th
3. Minor 7th
4. Minor 7th b5
5. Diminished 7th
Five types, 12 keys = 60 chords.
These exercises will help you get there. If I can help you, call me.
FYI: Page two contains the diminished 7th chord.
Question: What are the elements I need to consider, as a musician, to improve my aural skills?
Answer: To improve your aural skills as a musician, you should consider the following elements:
Sounds like the Royal Conservatory of Music curriculum to me.
The teacher practices Jazz
Last weekend I went to my first jazz jam with my Vibraphone aka my Malletkat GS Grand. We were a quartet of Tenor Sax/Flute, Vibes, Bass, and Drums. I survived with my dignity intact, but I’ve a few discoveries and confessions to share.
On the plus side, I knew all the tunes from years of playing and teaching jazz piano plus my jazz time and feel is strong.
Here is the practice regime I began to follow to improve my jazz experience.
Tune: Satin Doll by Ellington/Strayhorn
If I can help you with your jazz piano journey, call me.
BTW: In the era of Ai content generation, a human wrote this blog.
What to listen for.
Yesterday my student and I listened to the first two measures of each recording. What a revelation. The differences in the performances became more obvious with each listening and these differences were large. I invite you to try the same.
Super video demonstration but...
Let's consider the assumptions he is making about you the student/listener.
What is my job?
I prepare students to understand and execute what he is talking about. The first thing we will do is assess your situation and then we'll draw up a logical plan.
BTW: in 2017, I studied with Peter Martin in Rome Italy. He's a great guy and a very skilled musician. When I grow up, I want to play piano like him. FYI. I was in Rome studying jazz drumming with Greg Hutchinson. Greg played in Ray Brown’s last group.
Creating a "roadmap" gives you a visual representation of the form or structure of a performance. You will discover the: who, what, when, and how much in the recording. This is valuable information. You will learn to count, recognize the instrumentation and more. You will begin to develop an awareness of how musicians organize their performances and recordings.
1. Pick a favorite piece
2. With a pop song listen for the following sections and their order; introduction, verse, chorus, bridge, ending (tag). With a jazz piece, notice how many times they play the "head" or main melody and then note the order of solos. How many times do they play the head after the solos?
1. Make a note on your "map" of dynamics.
2. In a jazz piece, count how many times each musician solos on the form.
3. Do they trade "fours" with the drummer? If you are unsure what this means, click here.
1. Make a note on your "map" of anything interesting you pick up or hear.
Here is a more detailed roadmap that includes a guide to my drum part.
Sight singing is fun when we sing along with something great like the fifth symphony of Beethoven. We might call this tympani karaoke.
Trivia question: What does C jam blues and the Tympani part for Beethoven's 5th symphony have in common?
First Edition 1798-99
None of the artists played with a completely steady beat, in other words, the tempo varied both from section to section and within sections.
There is much to learn from listening to each of these recordings, especially the counter-lines played by John Lewis. I would encourage you to learn, by ear, the diverse ways musicians approach the simple blues melody.
When learning to play Brazilian jazz it is best to go to the primary sources, the original and other seminal recordings recorded in Brazil, both past and present. At the end of this sample of Brazilian recordings is a fine recording by Kenny Barron, who it must be said, has listened to the original recordings.
Spend an afternoon playing the melody with the recordings, mimicking as much as possible what you hear. Then add the chords.
The following is a series of exercises to help you "experience" intervals, taking them out of the theoretical and into the practical. I recommend that you transpose these passages as you learn new patterns.
The Major 3rd, Minor 3rd, and Perfect 5th is just theory until we hear them, experience them, and then apply this understanding to our playing. The following exercise is one way to "experience" these intervals.
This exercise will work on any instrument. You should vary the tempo of the metronome as your skills increase. Counting aloud is imperative. No counting in your head or mumbling. Speak boldly and clearly as you play. The first two measures are counted only. You begin playing in measure three.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.