Christmas Time means Piano Time! – Piano Lesson #8

December 22, 2007

Piano Lesson #8

View all previous Piano / Keyboard Lessons

You are about to learn:
Vince Guaraldi (from A Charlie Brown Christmas)
Song: Christmas Time is Here

christmas hollyChristmas Time is Here so its time to be full of christmas cheer. This beautiful song will fill your mind with beautiful memories of opening presents under the tree singing along to all the christmas carols playing in the background. Christmas is the time of your you sit and watch all your favourite Christmas cartoons, and Christmas Time is Here definitely made it on to the most popular Christmas cartoon ever, Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

In this tutorial you will be taught how to play this wonderful song by an amazing pianist who has done this tutorial phenomenally. Hope he helps you learn this fantastic song and gets you into the Christmas spirit.

Well now that we’ve learnt the song I think its time to watch a great video creation that will display Christmas Time is Here beautifully. Enjoy!

Now most of you are probably thinking, where is Charlie Brown? Well its time to get excited because this next video will be the excerpt from the great Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Get your piano ready and play along!

Vince Guaraldi did an amazing job at composing that ever so peaceful melody. I’m hoping to hear you play too! Christmas Time is Here now let’s get that piano going and play me a tune!

~Chrissi~christmas tree

I hope all these tutorials are helping you out. Lets learn some more together in my next entry. See you there!

Can you play piano… like them?!

September 27, 2007

Hi Everyone!

I had so much fun watching the following videos that I am writing this post! 🙂
Today we are going to enjoy some odd videos on piano playing!

  • A guy who plays piano with “his balls”
    (…don’t misunderstand me! … especially dirty-minded people…)
  • Two guys who play the piano with their “sticks”
    (…yes.. now DO misunderstand me! dirty-minded.. you are now on the right track… haha)
  • A cat that plays a concert piano with his paws following other instruments with correct rythem!
    (… well “correct” rythem for cat.. don’t expect a “Gould Cat”! So innocent and cute!)

It seems playing piano is easier than we though, isn’t it?

Check out these great videos to probe it.. haha
… and then tell me about it!

Learn to play piano with your own balls!

Learn to play piano with your (sexy?) ‘stick’! (I am sure you didn’t know it also has some peculiar other uses! although reserved for the skilled ones.. haha)

Make your cat teach you piano! (Not even Garfield can do this!)
…and I know you want to see more of this cutie. Here again, in concert II:

I hope you had a good laugh!

What do you think about them!!!? haha 😉

(and please do not confess you tried replicating video No 2… haha)



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Enhancing your piano technique – Voicing

July 29, 2007

Vocing piano keyboard chords In easy ways, Voicing is the inversion of a chord. This is the vertical ordering of the notes of the chord, or in other words. which notes are on top, bottom, or in the middle.

This simple concept can change completely how rich and professional your playing sounds.
Geniuses like Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, always based their compositions in other to obtain the best voicing combinations for their musical phrases. However, this not only applies to classical music, a bad voicing can cause a jazz player to sound ‘cheap’ or very unprofessional, and a good voicing can make you be the most wanted piano bar player!

Fortunately, the secret of voicing can be summarized in one line:

You must always minimize the distance that each note of each chord must move in order to go to from the previous chord to the next chord.

Following this simple and amazing rule, your sound quality will improve greatly, and it’s just that easy for chords!

To expand into this subject, I invite you to read the following article, by the experienced pianist Paul Tobey:

It always amazes me when I hear different piano players and how they voice their chords. Voicing is one of those skills that is not talked about a lot but in my experience makes the biggest difference in a pianist’s overall sound.

What does voicing mean exactly? Simply put, voicing is the way chords are played which gives them their timbre or richness. In other words it’s how many notes are played, the distance between each of the notes and the quantity and quality of extensions.

There are literally thousands of ways to play a single chord. There are also millions of ways to play a chord progression if you consider that each chord can be played a thousand different ways. However, it’s likely a good idea to start off with a few solid possibilities instead of a thousand.

For example, let’s take a Cmaj7 chord. The chord itself is simple enough and is made up of C E G and B. However, depending on how rich you want the chord to sound you can also add D and A to the chord as extensions. Why? Because D and A come from the C major scale and do not clash with the basic chord.

These are what we call extensions. In other words a good pianist will already consider D and A in their chord voicing when they see the chord symbol Cmaj7. It doesn’t have to be written Cmaj7 (9 13) for them to understand this.

So, how would a pianist then voice this chord? Well, for starters, that depends on the melody. Whatever the melody note is will become the highest note of the chord. For example, let’s say D is the melody note of prominence while the chord is being played. That means that for a pianist our 9th is already understood as part of the chord and is the top note.

Next, it’s generally a good idea to play the bass note in the left hand which is C of course. Then the next 2 most important notes are the 3rd and the 7th because these notes give the chord its flavor. Consider playing the 7th in the left hand above the bass note. That would mean playing the C with finger 5 (baby finger) and B with finger 1 (thumb).

Then, play the 3rd, 5th and melody (9th) in the right hand with the 1st, 2nd and 5th fingers respectively. What’s left? The 13th or A which, you can cover with the 3rd finger of the right hand. So, from bottom to top you would have the notes in this order; C B E G A and D. That right there is a very rich sounding chord and you’d have to go a long way to find one richer.

However, this is only one way of voicing the chord. Like I said before there are literally thousands of ways. My suggestion is this; learn one way at a time until it becomes second nature. Voicing the root and 7th in the left hand and covering the 3rd and the melody in the right hand is a very good system to start with. Then with your left over fingers in the right hand cover the 5th and any other extension that’s available. This works for all chords including major, minor, dominant and diminished chords.

Once you’ve learned this way of voicing chords it becomes much easier to tackle a new formula because this one is already clear and concrete and will help you hear very clearly the difference between the chords. Until next time, keep practicing.

I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did.

We expect your comments and questions, and if you’d like us to publish an article about any piano related topic just tell us!

Cheers and until next time!



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Make your piano playing sound proffesional

July 29, 2007

Piano Keyboard Reharmonization

Wouldn’t you like to enhance your piano playing technique and sound more professional?

Learning a new song with the basic chords is always rewarding, but what if could tell you that you could learn how to replace these basic chords with more elaborated ones and sound like a proffesional?

This technique is called reharmonization and the concept represents studying the harmony that makes up the original chords of the song, and replacing it with a new set of chords, or adding more chords in between. This enables a richer and more professionals sound.

The technique sounds hard, but once you get to play with it you’ll discover that it’s easier than you thought and that the results you’ll be able to make will sound completely at other level, gradually incrementing your knowledge about harmony, and what makes music sound well.

To let you have a good start on reharmonization techniques, we invite you to read an example of reharmonization of Christmas Music by the hand of our friend and experienced pianist, Paul Tobey:

Christmas Sheet Music is generally like every other kind of sheet music except for one thing; because of the well-known melodies it is more open to re-harmonization. What does that mean exactly? Well, simply by virtue of the fact that everyone knows the melody it’s easier for the piano accompanist to take more harmonic chances.

Christmas songs like Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells, Silent Night and Joy to the World are so entrenched in our consciousness that few people even have to think about the words or the melody. It just comes naturally for most of us, at least in western culture, to sing the lyrics and melodies without any thought at all.

That’s what makes it all the more fun for pianists who accompany carolers to take some really neat harmonic chances with the underlying chords. Generally speaking no matter what you do, and as long as you keep the beat going, no one’s going to get lost.

Christmas sheet music is very often notated with accompanying chord symbols to help pianists make good chord choices. Of course, the more talented the pianist the more interesting the choices. That’s why I like chord symbols on Christmas sheet music because, it gives me a general guide to follow and makes it easier to add more chords to the mix.

How is this done? Let’s take a song like Jingle Bells for example. If we’re in the key of F, the basic chord symbols at the chorus are as follows;

| F |F |F| F | Bb | F | C7 | C7|
| F |F |F| F | Bb | F | C7 | F |

Now, how would one approach re-harmonizing this very simple chord progression (as there are many repeated chords making the progression sound kind of dull)? Most jazz players would know the answer to that question but for everyone else the trick lies in something we call the 2-5-1 progression or II – V – I. This basically means that in front of every landing chord we can put a II – V progression with the one (I) being the landing chord or destination chord.

If in the chord progression above you were to put a II – V in front of the Bb landing chord you would get a whole new sound. What is a II – V? In the scale of Bb (our landing chord) C is the second note of the scale and F is the fifth note of the scale. Therefore the chord progression would be C – F – Bb. However, because the second chord of the Bb scale is a C minor chord the progression would be notated like this |C- | F | Bb|.

Would you like to try something a bit trickier? Try adding sevenths to each chord. That means add a seventh interval, either major or minor 7th to each chord as reflected by the Bb major scale. Therefore the final II – V – I progression, with Bb as the landing chord, would be notated as |C-7| F7 | BbM7|.

So how would the chorus of Jingle Bells be notated if you used II – V’s in front of each landing chord? Like this;

| F |F | C-7 F7 | BbM7 | F | G-7 | C7 |
| F |F | C-7 F7 | BbM7 | F | G-7 C7 | FM7 |

As you can likely hear if you play these chords on the piano it makes the progression seem much more interesting and rich. So, the next time you pick up a sheet of Christmas music have a look at the landing chords and see if you can’t put a II – V in front of them. You’re music will have so much extra color to it and everyone will marvel at your new found ability.

As you can see reharmonization is not that difficult, and it can provide you with astonishing results that can take your piano playing to another level.

These techniques are not only useful for playing other pieces, but also for composing, and improvising at your own.

You are welcome to ask any harmony related question or tell us what you’ll be interested in reading next!




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Master Piano Improvisation

July 29, 2007

Improvising at the piano Lesson.Do you play piano?


But can you play without a score, without a list of chords, without a written or specified melody?

The most common scene for a piano student: you perform a little concert for a group of friends, and after you finish playing your most well-known pieces, one of them asks you: “Hey could you play for me anything from jazz or blues?…” or “Could you play for me something similar to [this song that you don’t know, nor have the score in front of you!] ?
Most times you answer evasively thus hiding your frustration that you don’t have a clue on how to do that, and play another song for them…. until now!

Our friend Paul Tobey, a concert pianist full of knowledge and experience, will give us a quick lesson about improvising at the keyboard or piano:

One of the greatest thrills a pianist can have is to be able to sit at the piano and just play; without music and without thought. Unfortunately many pianists never learn to do this. They are closely tied to their music because that’s not only what’s comfortable for them that’s the way they learned.

However, what if I were to tell you that in as little as ten piano lessons you could be playing your favorite melodies without music and also be able to improvise as well? Would that be something you’d be interested in? Take a moment and picture you sitting at the piano at a party and just playing. How does it feel? Great, that’s what you need to feel if you’re going to do what it takes to learn properly.

Let’s get started. In our first piano lesson, you must understand how music is structured in order to be able to improvise. Most western music is based on what we call tertian harmony, which simply means chord structures that are based on intervals of three. For example a C major chord is made up of the notes C E and G. Each of these notes is spaced a third away from the next.

So, assuming that all chords are based on tertian harmony, then next thing you need to know is where do the notes we choose for our chords come from? Well, they come directly out of a major or minor scale. For example; let’s take a C major scale which is C D E F G A B and back to C. When we build chords on top of each of the notes of a major scale we would build them in intervals of 3 and the quality of the chord (major or minor) is determined by the scale.

That means just like our C major chord which is C E and G (notes chosen from the major scale), our F major chord would be F A and C, where A and C are notes from the C major scale. We wouldn’t use for example Ab or C# because they do not come from the C major scale. Likewise for a G major chord, G B and D, the note B and D come also from the C major scale.

The number of the chord is important as well. Since our C major chord is built on the first note of the scale we call this one (1). The F major chord is four (4) because it is built on the 4th note of the C major scale. And, the G major chord is five (5) because it’s the 5th note of the C major scale.

Coincidentally, the chords C, F and G or 1, 4 and 5 are what most classical and popular music is based upon. The vast majority of songs use the chord progression 4, 5 to 1 which is the most common chord progression there is.

Understanding the 4, 5, 1 chord progression is essential to understating how to improvise. Knowing that 4 is followed usually by 5 and then resolving to 1 is of high importance if you wish to be able to play your favorite music without using sheet music.

In our next piano lesson we’ll discuss how to substitute richer chords for the 4, 5, 1 progression and how to choose our melody notes so as to create and improvisational theme.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson as much as I did.

I’ve studied piano for more than 12 years and let me tell you that in order to master the piano you must understand how music really works. When you get to know that, you’ll be able to play, compose, and improvise at ease.

We’ll be posting more interesting piano lessons in the following weeks.

Please tell us if this lesson was useful to you and what piano related-topics would you be most interested in learning!




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