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 #2: Happy Memories Retirement Home (Playtime for Piano Teacher & Student)

Are you ready to play The “Home” Game? Truth be told, many music students, hobbyists, and professionals bring on the smiles playing for audiences in retirement homes. The power of music can be both healing and comforting. Famous singer Tony Bennett has been in the news of late as we witness him suffering Alzheimers disease, yet to see his face light up as he sings with amazing recall is incredibly inspiring. Aspiring musicians of all ages can test drive their upcoming concert material in front of receptive senior audiences. Teen piano students get not only performance experience, but may earn high school community service credit by playing in retirement homes. Continue reading “Music Game #2: Happy Memories Retirement Home (Playtime for Piano Teacher & Student)”

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”

Growing Up Around A Piano: Memories of My Brother

Frank Denton Denke (6/17/1934 – 1/29/2021)

I didn’t get the opportunity to ‘grow up’ with my big brother Denton and oldest sister Diane, since these first born 2 siblings had already left the nest. Our mother Virginia (singing in the photo) behind our father Frank R. Denke (playing the piano) really spread the 4 of us out in age: My brother was born about a year after our parents married, followed by my sister Diane (not pictured) a few years later. 10 years after Diane my sister Connie was born (the teen girl singing), and 12 years later I came along. I’m the little girl in this newspaper article, looking up at her big brother, who planned to leave for the following 3 years doing Catholic Charity work as a teacher in Chile. Continue reading “Growing Up Around A Piano: Memories of My Brother”

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”

An Experiment With ‘Rhythm Changes’ (Skeletons Dance at Midnight)

Ever wonder what would happen if you took Rhythm Changes and put them in a minor key? You just might get a spooky October surprise!

First, let’s define “Rhythm Changes“. (It has nothing to do with a rhythm changing or any meaning close to that. This jazz musician term is simply a shortening of the phrase, ‘Play the same chords (aka the changes) that George & Ira Gershwin used for their popular tune, I Got Rhythm’. Knowing how to improvise over Rhythm Changes (especially in the key of Bb), is an expected part of every jazz musician’s repertoire, next in line after being able to improvise over the 12 bar blues form. Continue reading “An Experiment With ‘Rhythm Changes’ (Skeletons Dance at Midnight)”