Notes To Choose For a 12 Bar Blues (Easy RH Improvisation Tips)

By popular request I filmed this tutorial exploring my easy go-to ideas a pianist may play over a medium-up tempo jazz blues in the key of F:

The original tutorial shown below was meant to be simply a lesson on a LH device called The Bud Powell Shell. Many of you then asked if I could share what RH “licks” I was using on my video, Improvising 28 Bars of Blues. 

I looked back and analyzed the ideas my RH originally improvised – broke them down, and explained the key note choices plus devices I used throughout the short 28 Bars of Blues video. All of these right hand tips are explained in great detail in the Notes To Choose For a 12 Bar Blues tutorial video above.

This tutorial video below focuses on the LH Shell device:

 

For further study look into 2 of my book/audio improvisation methods: Amazing Phrasing – Keyboard & The Aspiring Jazz Pianist. Both are loaded with tips on playing the blues, plus come with digital download tracks to encourage improvisation skills while playing along with a back up band!

 

Big Ideas For Small Hands: How To Write a Full Sounding Piano Arrangement

Let’s take the lovely ballad Skylark (by Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael), and learn how to enhance a ballad’s melody with beautiful chords and a foundational bass line. In this video observe how I took a chart from an old fakebook and updated some chords more to my liking, a process called reharmonization:

The music I used during the above tutorial was this messy looking chart:

It’s probably something only its creator could decipher, right? A few of my YouTube subscribers & students wanted me to share the written music with them, so I reverted to a technique I normally do when I wish to add my own chords to a desired tune – I write out just the melody, with no other chords to distract me, and start afresh:

Now if you weren’t familiar with this tune, judging by the key signature Skylark could either be in the key of C minor or Eb major, but since I knew in my head how the tune was supposed to sound I went with the latter key of Eb, figured out the tune’s skeleton structure (bare bones chords that give Skylark its characteristic sound). Next step was to add pleasing passing chords between the essential ones, keeping in mind how the melody might affect each chord’s quality (ma7, mi7, or chords with altered notes?) etc., while at the same time creating a strong bass line to move the harmony along from the bottom roots to the top melody note:

 

The final step is perhaps the most challenging – how to figure out the inner voice movement (inside moving notes in between the melody and the bass), all the while using good sounding voicings, divided up between the fingers which are full in tone, yet also playable by small hands! I enjoy using the Bud Powell Shell in my left hand for chords within a certain range. On ballads I intersperse LH shells with rolled or broken 10ths, mixed with single note left hand lines or the occasional low bass note for richness and variety! (You can find in depth demonstrations of these techniques in my book The Aspiring Jazz Pianist plus several video tutorials https://www.youtube.com/c/DebbieDenke

It helps with expression to hear the lyrics of a song, even when playing instrumentally.  There’s a part where the lyrics “crazy as a loon” pop up, can you guess where? Great American Songbook composers and lyricists work hand in hand to bring out the best in a tune. In the video below I’m playing the above written out arrangement, plus a few ‘birdcall trills’ to top off this 2 handed piano arrangement of the beautiful Skylark:

 

 

Arranging Tip for the Pianist’s Left Hand: Broken 10th & Variations

 

The Broken 10th device most likely got introduced during a Nocturne by composer Frédéric Chopin. It’s a very rich sounding accompaniment for the pianist’s left hand, made with only the root, 5th, and 3rd of a chord. (If you take the 3rd out of the middle of a close position triad and transpose it up an octave it is now called the 10th.) Pianists with large enough hands may be able to play the 10th solidly as a chord, but those with smaller hands fear not – the video below shows 2 handed “cheating” ways to play walking 10ths, plus some lovely ways to break up 10th chords in a variety of rhythmic patterns. Continue reading “Arranging Tip for the Pianist’s Left Hand: Broken 10th & Variations”

3 Easy Tips: Playing With Minor Chords

Bored with that minor chord? Don’t be! Making music in minor keys can be quite exhilarating with these 3 fun and easy tips. All you need is a bit of time to move around on a minor chord – then you can add colorful sounds to your arrangement.

The next 3 videos explain everything to start exploring the ideas. Apply the following tips to a tune of your choice in a minor key, or choose a piece which has a minor chord lasting 2 bars or longer. You may also elect to work on the many song suggestions demonstrated in the body of these tutorial videos: Continue reading “3 Easy Tips: Playing With Minor Chords”

Tea For Two/My Little Suede Shoes (Piano Medley)

This quirky mambo/cha-cha mashup of 2 seemingly unrelated tunes had been buzzing inside my brain for a week. What would happen if I paired this Vincent Youmans 1924 classic with a Charlie Parker mambo, put them both in the same key, mashed the tunes together with a Latin Jazz Dance Beat, figured out how to create that groove for the solo pianist’s left hand while exploring the possibilites of how to utilize the range of the piano for a ‘hands on the keys bird’s eye view’ tutorial/demonstration, filmed with a gooseneck cell phone clamp attached to the music rack? Continue reading “Tea For Two/My Little Suede Shoes (Piano Medley)”

Got The Blues? Tips on How To Play a Slow Blues in G

It’s over 100º outside, we are all getting a bit bored with “socially distancing”, and let’s face it – today is a great day to learn to play a very slow, hot, blues.

This tutorial came together after giving several of my online piano students tips on the basic 12 bar blues, common blues endings/turnarounds, typical jazz blues substitutions – plus my “covid bubble hubby” music partner and I had just performed a live Zoom concert from our home studio to friends’ living rooms across the country in their own “covid bubbles.” Continue reading “Got The Blues? Tips on How To Play a Slow Blues in G”

8 Ways to Play 4 Notes: If I Had You (solo piano ideas)

If I Had You (1929) is a cute YOUtune that can be played various tempos; I chose to arrange it with a slow swinging ‘saunter through the park’ feel.  The tutorial part of this first video explores 8 different ways to harmonize the opening 4 chromatic melody notes in the main body of the tune. Watch the video all the way through, and you will get a bird’s eye view of many stylistic solo piano devices such as single note or octave bass lines, broken 10ths, soft swing bass, and the Bud Powell LH shell voicing using the root and 7th, which are all suitable for small hands. Continue reading “8 Ways to Play 4 Notes: If I Had You (solo piano ideas)”