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Piano for Dummies (Part 2)

A while ago I wrote about how I figured out how to play some simple accompanying chords to a song using Google, a piano and the guitar chords found in any songbook.

Of course, simple accompanying chords get boring after a while, and when I mentioned this success to my Mom (a music teacher) she pointed out that most musicians don't like it when you just throw in the raw, basic chords behind a song. So, tonight I asked her to explain to me how to do it better. It turned out to be fairly easy:

Essentially, piano players are just as lazy as we programmers are. And thus, they don't like to move their hands a lot. As you will know, a piano has the same tone on it in different variants (i.e. once for each octave). My keystation, for instance, has four octaves, and thus it has the tone C on it five times (the first and last key on the piano is a C, so I have C5 without the rest of its octave).

[Picture of a piano keyboard from C2 to B4]

So, if I'm singing Pat Cooksey's The Sick Note, the first few syllables are sung to the C-chord. According to Chord House, that's C, E and G (you may even remember that from High School), and for convenience's sake I'll start with the middle octave, i.e. C3, E3 and G3. The next chord is G. Which is G, B, D. Now, up until now, I made a huge jump with my hand there and played G3, B3 and D4.

Now, the most important rule in picking the right chord is to try to keep your fingers on any keys that the two chords share. In the case of CEG and GBD, both have the G. So I won't move my little finger off of G3. Since B3 and D4 are to the right of my little finger and I'm playing the main chords with my right hand (I'm saving my left hand for the bass-line), that means I can't play these two, though. The solution? Well, we have several B and D keys on the piano. And B2 and D3 are reachable if I stretch my hand just a little.

Considering an octave consists of only eight different tones (the black keys are essentially variants of the white one to their lower left or lower right), you're pretty much guaranteed to be able to reach all keys that way. Likewise, if two chords share no tones, the new chord is usually very close to some of the keys you're hitting. Notice how, when you try to play that way, it just sounds very slightly better?

Next thing I'll try is the base-line. From what I understand so far, playing a simple bass-line basically involves just playing (with your left hand) some of the tones from the chord the right hand is currently playing. You're supposed to mainly play the first tone or "keynote" of the chord (in our examples above, that would be C resp. G). But all other tones are fair game if you don't overdo it.

Update: Fixed a typo.

Reader Comments: (RSS Feed)
augie writes:
I'm 57, never have played a piano, but would like to learn one song in my life that is easy to learn , but sounds like I'm a clssical genius. Know of any sites a can go to get this type of info.
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Created: 2005-10-20 @767 Last change: 2018-06-18 @119 | Home | Admin | Edit
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