Aeolian King – Unlock Piano Improvisation

Peace Prayer by Debbie Denke


I’d like to share my most popular composition Aeolian King with you: It was created in about 20 minutes while waiting for a new piano student to arrive at my house, and is a very easy tune designed to free up improvisation for pianists. The trick is, you really can’t hit a bad sounding note if you just stay on the white keys, because the whole tune is based on the A natural minor (Aeolian) scale. I have played Aeolian King for church services, weddings, memorials, and it is even featured on an exercise video by Ann Smith. But most of all this is the piece I give my piano students who are new to improvisation to help them relax.

While looking at the music below take a listen to Aeolian King from my recent Peace Prayer album by clicking here: Aeolian King

Below find the basic melody & chord chart or lead sheet:

To download the chart, click here. It is also on the Downloads page.

Notice that the chords are either major or minor triads – all are the same shape and built using only white keys. Students can play the simple triad in their left hand (LH) around or slighly below middle ‘C’, learn the melody in their RH, and improvise new melodies the next time through using only white keys. (If a note sounds unpleasant just move quickly up or down a key and that should fix the temporary dissonance.)

This next example shows Aeolian King with a handy LH technique called The Broken 10th, which creates a full sounding accompaniment. This more challenging device should be practiced enough to feel comfortable with keeping a slow steady rhythm before adding in RH improvisation. Students are encouraged to begin with simple RH rhythms and focus on keeping the beat with time smoothly flowing in the LH:

To download the chart, click here. It is also on the Downloads page.

More piano/keyboard improvisation lessons for how to play this tune and others can be found in my book/audio methods The Aspiring Jazz Pianist and The Complete Church Pianist. Books found here.

Both the meditative listening album Peace Prayer & the instructional companion album for The Complete Church Pianist: A Piano/Keyboard Method with Tips for Inspired Improvisation and Worship are found here:  CD Baby artist page.

I hope you have fun playing Aeolian King and it frees up your improv!

CA Here I Come!


The history behind the story also known as…

Bob Takes The 101:  A Road Trip Musical Story/Game

Last Spring our keyboard & bass duo was invited to play a charity fundraising event held in the lovely gardens of El Mirador Estate, Montecito (pictured above). The 2017 theme was “California Dreaming” – they requested that we play as many CA themed tunes as we could – naturally Robert Kim Collins and I included a fair share of West Coast Jazz too. 😉

Once again I turned to musical friends and posted an inquiry on Facebook asking for tune titles specifically written about places in California. I also gathered ideas from my father Frank Denke’s album made for an insurance company in the 1950’s called, Melodies of California: Continue reading “CA Here I Come!”

Do You Hand Out Bad Charts?

Deb's blond hair

Okay, I will be first to admit it: I occasionally dash off very bad charts to fling at my trusted musical partners the night of the gig when I am in a big hurry. I am a jazz & church pianist, vocal accompanist, and sometimes sing a few numbers on my gigs too – yet, even when I know better, now and then I fall short and exhibit CSS symptoms. Although this article resembles ‘preaching to the choir’ (including myself in that group) – it is a more detailed exploration into writing music extracted from my blog, Do You Suffer Chick Singer Syndrome?)

I’d like to share a few examples ranging from pitiful to pretty good charts (both lyric and lead sheets), that I have either personally penned or have been instructed to “Just read the chart and listen to the YouTube link and figure it out.”

The following levels apply to charts written by today’s jazz and church musicians, vocalists, accompanists and band members. Remember, men and women can suffer Chick Singer Syndrome – even superbly talented ones!  So with a touch of humor, kindly read on. Continue reading “Do You Hand Out Bad Charts?”

It’s All About YOU! Party Game

How To Play the Musical “Guess that YOU-tune” Game:

The host will want a copy of Debbie Denke’s album, It’s All About YOU!*

Additionally the host will want a pencil for each guest, a fun dessert to serve for intermission, a prize for the winner (I suggest something musical like an album or a music book as an award), and have copies of the list of clues for each guest (or a page with blank lines numbered 1-16), plus a copies of the lyrics to #16 It Had To Be You. Clues and lyrics are found in this site under the Downloads tab above. Allow about 90 minutes to play this game.

Continue reading “It’s All About YOU! Party Game”

The Father of the Bride and The Wedding Pianist: True Tales Part 2

The phone rang late one Thursday evening. A male voice on the line calmly asked, “Are you free a week from this Saturday at 9:00 am to play a wedding for my daughter at the North Mission, and do you know the Ave Maria?”

“Let me see,” I said as I checked my book. I was surprisingly available. Continue reading “The Father of the Bride and The Wedding Pianist: True Tales Part 2”

True Tales from a Wedding Pianist Part 1

I like to consider myself first a jazz pianist. But I am also a working pianist, which means I play background music for parties, get employed as an accompanist for singers, will play occasional classical music when requested, perform in a ballroom dance duo, am a gospel choir pianist, and have worked as a professional church musician on piano, organ, and keyboard since the age of 15. I also do a good amount of gigs playing weddings and funerals, which have presented some of the most fascinating experiences for me as a musician! Continue reading “True Tales from a Wedding Pianist Part 1”