In A Sentimental Mood: Ways To Harmonize

Fun Fact: The gorgeous Duke Ellington composition In A Sentimental Mood begins with an ascending melody formed from a pentatonic scale. These same pickup notes (F,  G,  A,  C,  D,  F,  G) could also lead into the Gershwin classic Someone To Watch Over Me, but would land on another starting chord and go into a whole different tune altogether. (See Idea #29 “Chromatic Pickups”, notated on page 44 of my book Amazing Phrasing-Keyboard, found here): https://www.amazon.com/author/debbiedenkemusic

The following solo piano arrangement of Duke Ellington’s ballad is in the standard key, with an improvised salute to Leon Russell’s A Song For You nestled inside. Both pieces use similar chords in the key of D minor/F major.  I used contrary motion to harmonize the opening phrase in various ways, plus you can see additional ideas from the “birds eye view” of my hands on the piano keys. Find an explanation of certain techniques included below the video. Click link to watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cHzp5ZPFnYI  

0:05-0:10 LH plays contrary motion with single notes

0:10-0:18 See LH Easy Tip #1 where the bottom note of a minor triad moves down in the following video:

0:39-0:43 LH Contrary motion starts on Ab7 moving down to Dm

1:16 Bridge begins in key of Db

1:46-1:50 LH Contrary motion starts on Bm7(b5) down to F

1:57-2:03 Easy Tip #2 moving 5th used on Gm chord

A7 (b9) transition into new tune

2:34 A Song For You easy tip #1

3:46 Back into Bridge of In A Sentimental Mood

The ending moves the opening phrase of 6 notes in keys:

Ab,  F,  D, and ends in B (roots move down by minor 3rds)

Music Game #1: “Tip Jar” (Playtime For Teacher & Piano Student)

Feeling slightly “under the weather” but still wanting to teach, I asked 2 adult jazz piano students to meet online for lessons. Educators know that teaching over the internet requires extra energy to communicate, and I was a bit short of breath. What valuable lessons could I give my inquisitive students that would keep their fingers busy while I listened, hydrated,  and encouraged them, with minimal talking on my part? I took a couple hits off my inhaler and came up with a “game plan” (modeled after real life situations I’ve had as a performer), and tested it out on my students. Together we had a good deal of fun playing these online socially safe music games. Continue reading “Music Game #1: “Tip Jar” (Playtime For Teacher & Piano Student)”

Block Chords (Locked Hands Style) vs Spread Chords: How Pianists Create Them

There are certain types of rich chord techniques the jazz pianist ought to have under their fingers in a piano/bass/drums or larger group setting. Both Block and Spread Chords may be used for a full sounding effect during the melody of certain tunes. Additionally, these styles may be used to build intensity during a piano solo, or culminating in impressive spread chords at the solo’s highpoint. Continue reading “Block Chords (Locked Hands Style) vs Spread Chords: How Pianists Create Them”

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:


Continue reading “Big Ideas For Small Hands: How To Write a Full Sounding Piano Arrangement”

Add Jazz Pizazz To Holiday Hits: Play by Ear & Improvise Piano Tutorials

December is the perfect time of year to develop one’s ear training skills. We’ve been by saturated listening to Christmas & Holiday tunes playing all over the place since Halloween, and know those familiar jingles a jing-jing-jingling quite well by now, so well in fact we can’t seem to get them out of our heads! So you may as well face the music and do something creative with these tunes as long as you are hearing them over and over, right? Continue reading “Add Jazz Pizazz To Holiday Hits: Play by Ear & Improvise Piano Tutorials”

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”

Explaining the Greek Modes

Observe today’s music theory illustration pictured above. Notice the photo of these colorful Four O’clock Flowers – each bloom is unique, but they all are linked together as a family that grows from the same parent plant.

This week one of my newer adult piano students eagerly read ahead in my book Amazing Phrasing – Keyboard, and got a bit confused trying to understand the Greek modes/scales we refer to in both jazz & traditional music theory. During her first lesson this enthusiastic lady Continue reading “Explaining the Greek Modes”

Adding Chords to a Jazz Ballad: Skylark Tutorial

Ever wonder how jazz musicians come up with inspired chords when playing ballads? Reharmonization can be a fun experiment to try!  Watch my video to find 3 ways to create a compelling bass line plus some sweet chord voicings to play under the melody of Hoagy Carmichael’s classic composition Skylark: