Monthly Archives: April 2012

Learn Jazz Piano Voicings in Record Time

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By Jeffrey Pettijohn

One of the reasons that piano genres like jazz, R&B, funk and gospel sound like they do is due to piano voicings. Voicings are the way the notes of a given chord are arranged. For example, a C-major seventh chord comes from the C-major scale and contains the root (C), the third (E), the fifth (G), and seventh (B) of the C major scale.

However, instead of playing the notes in that order (C, E, G, B), a pianist might just play the seventh (B), root (C) and third (E) of the chord (spelling the chord from the bottom to the top). This voicing omits the fifth of the chord, inverts the other chord tones to create a certain sound. Play this voicing now.

Each of the genres I mentioned before have between three and five standard, “go-to” voicings. When we multiply that number by the number of chord qualities: major, minor, dominant, altered dominants, minor-seven-flat-fives and multiply that number by twelve (the number of major keys), we end up with quite a few voicings to learn.

Of course, learning the voicings is not even the hard part, especially for a pianist with a little understanding of music theory. The challenge comes up when we try to recall the voicings and use them on a lead sheet or in a jam session. In this article, I will show you a way to quickly learn piano voicings and have the ability to recall the right voicing at the right time. For this example, you can use the major seventh voicing I spelled out earlier, B-C-E or, you can use any voicing of your choosing. This system works for all voicings.

To begin, sit at the piano and clear your mind. Quieting the chatter, take two or three deep breaths. Play your voicing. As you do this, relax, hold the notes and let them ring. Then, let go of the keyboard. Place your hands in your lap. Using the same notes in the same register, repeat the process again: breathe, play, hold, relax, let go.

Now, close your eyes and picture the keys you just played in your mind. See the letter names of the notes in your mind’s eye and then say the letter names aloud. Play the voicing again. As you hold the notes, sing them from the bottom to the top. Sing the B, then the C then the E. If you need help finding or checking the pitches, play them them individually. Continue this process for five minutes, even if you are tempted to move on. Remember: “Practice” is short for Practice-Doing-It-Right.

After five minutes, take a break, come back, and play your new voicing. Repeat this process with one voicing at a time. After an hour, you will know that voicing in all twelve keys.

When we learn to play the piano, using many different parts of our brain helps ensure that the information will always be there. I have found that the best way to learn voicings is simply relax and use different parts of the brain. This way we only have to learn them once.

Jeffrey Pettijohn writes articles about the best ways to Learn to Play the Piano.

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Piano Fingering – Was the Piano Created to Fit Our Hands or the Hands Have to Fit the Piano?

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Idea 1: fingering written on your music is only suggested fingering, it can be changed. Yes, you can experiment with the fingering and you will find there are several options, sometimes better solutions to fingering.

Idea 2: take a look at your hand and fingers. We have 3 long fingers, fingers 2, 3 and 4. Now look at the piano, there are sets of 2 black keys and sets of 3 blacks keys. See how easy it is, which fingers do you think go on the black keys?

The piano was made for the hand.

Long fingers reach easily on the black keys, and the thumb and 5 fingers on the white keys.

Idea 3: The thumb is short and stubby, but can move very easily. The thumb is a pivotal finger and when used as a pivotal finger repositions the hand to move up or down.

Example using the right hand: Play C, D, E, F, using fingers 1-2-3-4. Next, lift your thumb off the key of C, and “pivot” it under your hand and play the key G. Notice your hand position, you now have all of your fingers available to play new keys.

Idea 4: The 5 finger is only used when you finish playing the highest note in the right hand or the lowest note in the left hand. Why? Once you play the 5 finger, the hand is in a difficult position to pivot to a new position.

How to add your own fingering to a song. First, find the black keys and start experimenting with the long fingers. You will use a 2-3- or 4 finger on the black keys.

Next, add your 5 finger on the highest point in your music for the right hand, or the lowest point in the left hand.

Next, add the thumb. Place the thumb in the music at the point you will need to pivot the hand so you can reach notes higher or lower. The 2 finger will fall into place at this point.

If your song has all white notes, place your thumb on the keys needed to pivot the hand up or down.

Yes, this is a thinking process but you can do it. When your hand is comfortable on the keyboard, you will know you have the correct fingering.

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Piano Pedals: What to Do With those Pedals, or are They a Foot Rest?

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There are three pedals on the piano: the damper pedal on the right, played with the right foot; the soft pedal called the Una Corda, on the left, played with the left foot; and the sostenuto pedal in the middle, played with the left foot. In all cases, the end of the pedal should contact the ball of the foot

in line with the big toe. The heel of the foot stays on the floor at all times, and the foot remains touching the pedal at all times.

The Damper Pedal raises the damper (hammers) off the strings at once, and holds them off, so that if the fingers are removed from the keys, the sounds does not stop, as the pedal is still holding the dampers of the strings.

Now let’s work with the most common pedal, the damper pedal. The damper pedal is used for the purpose of playing legato, or purposefully allowing 2 or more tones to ring at the same time to create harmony, and/or for a rhythmic purpose.

Playing legato means to connect your sounds without silence between the notes. Hold the first key and keep it vibrating until the next note is played, then release the first note. This can be easily accomplished through your finger action if all the keys in your song are within close proximity of each other. If there is a huge span between the keys, then it is impossible for the fingers to play legato, for the hand will have to be moved to a new position to reach the key.

By using the damper pedal, you can connect these tones and retain the sounds of legato.


1. Play middle C, and at the same time depress the damper pedal.

2. Hold the damper pedal in the depressed position.

3. Lift your hand and move it up the piano to play a high C.

4. At the exact moment you play the high C, Lift and depress the damper pedal very fast.

How do you know you are playing the pedal correctly? All you have to do is listen. If you release the pedal too soon, you will hear silence between the two notes. If you release the pedal too late, there will be a point where both tones will be ringing.

Playing the pedal correctly takes practice, go slow and listen carefully. How do you know when to use the pedal? Change the pedal when you do not want tones ringing together. Change the pedal on every chord change. In classical music, it is customary to analyze the composition and when the composer is changing chords, change the pedal. Composers will write in phrases, which are similar to sentences, if the same chord is used, but the phrase changes, you would change the pedal when the phrase ends and a new phrase starts. As you progress in your lessons and gain knowledge about music theory, you will be able to analyze the music and this will guide you as to when to change the pedaling.

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12 Bar Blues – How to Play Boogie Blues

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12 Bar Blues is a universal set of chord progressions using the I, IV and V Chords.

Formula for 12 bar blues using the key of C:

4 measures of C Chords (the I chord)

2 measures of G Chord (V chord)

2 measures of C Chord

1 measure of G Chord

1 Measure of F Chord (IV Chord)

2 measures of C Chord.

This equals 12 measures. If you know the 7 chords you can use the C7 chord, G7 and F7 in place of the 3 note chords.

Now you know the pattern, you can play with any musician around the world.

What’s fun about playing the 12 bar blues is that it is simple enough where everyone can start learning to play rhythms, and begin improvisation.

I am going to give you some ideas of how to play the blues. This will be very simple to learn and is excellent for playing hands together if you are a new piano student, it will strengthen your hands and fingers, and start you playing rhythm.

OK, here we go. Starting with the left hand, let’s learn a boogie woogie. The left hand will be played in quarter notes, in 4/4 time.

How to play each chord in boogie:

Left hand C chord:

beat 1, play C and G together

beat 2, play C and A together

beat 3, play C and B flat together

beat 4, play C and A together.

Left hand G Chord Boogie:

beat 1, play G and D together

beat 2, play G and E together

beat 3, play G and F together

beat 4, play G and E together.

Left hand F Chord Boogie:

beat 1, play F and C together

beat 2, play F and D together

beat 3, play F and E flat together

beat 4, play F and D together.

Next apply the left hand to the 12 bar blues, playing the correct chord in each measure. Practice and memorize the left hand boogie following the formula for the 12 bar blues.

What will the right hand play? The right hand can play the 3 notes chord.

C chord = C-E=G, F chord = F-A-C, G chord = G-B-D. I would suggest when you first add the right hand to the boogie, play the right hand chord only on the 1 beat, until you can play hands together easy. After practicing the simple hands together, try to play the right hand chords in any rhythm that sounds good to you. For example, you could play a right hand chord on the 1 beat, and play eighth notes of the 4 beat. Now you have a rhythm. Once you start a rhythm, continue the same pattern throughout the 12 bars.

Alana LaGrange is the founder of Music and You An online piano lesson website teaching beginning, Intermediate, music arranging and jazz. She has published piano lesson books, and is also an arranger and recording artist.

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One Piano Chord – The V7 Chord is the Flower Child of Music, Free, Colorful and Expressive

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The V7 Chord is the only chord that has complete freedom in the theory of music. RULES OF THE V7 CHORD……..IT HAS NOT RULES

The V7 chord supports all tones chromatically, which means, a V7 chord can be used with any melody tone. The melody does not have to have any tones of the chord, in fact, in jazz or advanced arranging, we strive for these “color tones”. This is the only chord that can that supports all extensions chromatically.

Using the V7 chord as a substitution chord. A substitution Chord is a chord that is either inserted into music or replaces a chord in music. Why? Because we want to fill in our music with interesting harmony, color tones, or just fill-in empty spaces.

RULE…….Any chord may be preceded by its’ V7 chord. The V7 is the easiest substitution to learn and use.

EXAMPLE of using the V7 chord as a substitution Chord.

Here is the original music: CM7 | Dm7 | FM7| CM7|

Now let’s add the V7 substitution chords: CM7 | A7 Dm7| C7 FM7| G7 CM7

Now here’s the fun! The V7 chords can be preceded by it’s V7 chords. CM7 | E7 A7 Dm7| G7 C7 FM7| D7 G7 CM7

How do I use these chords? 1. These chords are perfect for empty repeat bars moving back to the verse or into the chorus. Use a nesting of V7 chords to go back to the IM7 chord. Example: You have 2 repeat bars going into CM7 chord in measure 1, use E7 A7| D7 G7. 2. Add V7 chords under the melody. This will also fill in measures that only have 1 or 2 chords plus will give you that jazz sound. Example. let’s play Twinkle Little Star

MELODY: | C C G G | A A G- | F F E E | D D C |

CHORDS: |C— |F-G-| F-C-| G-C-| Now let’s add V7 substitution chords:

CHORD: C- G7 C7| F G7 C C7| F G7 C A7| D7 G7 CM7-|

Notice in measure 2 I added the G7 chord and the melody is on the note A. This is an example of changing the chord to get a jazz sound, the melody note A is the 9th of G. This is what we strive for in arranging and in jazz, using color tones instead of the 1-3-5 of the chord. 3. Improvising on the V7 chord: Since the V7 chord is the only chord that supports all extensions, 9th’s, 9-, 10-, 11, 11+, 12-, 13, 13+, you can improvising on any note of choice. In Classical Music it is the same, composers can use any melody tone against the V7 chord.

Here’s a couple of tips for playing the V7 chord in the left hand: 1. As a comping chord play F, A FLAT, B D (7, 9-, 10, 12) OR F, G,A, B, D (7, 8, 9, 10, 12) 2. As a Tri-Tone Quartal, (great for blues) F, B, E (7, 10, 13)

This article is quite simplified, but I have found if one can get an overall picture first, then we can back up and learn step by step. The V7 chord is part of our lessons on adding substitution chords to arranging and jazz piano lessons at

Article Source:—The-V7-Chord-is-the-Flower-Child-of-Music,-Free,-Colorful-and-Expressive&id=282186

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