Pianology Complete Techniques (Videos)
The Piano Harmony
Let's get onto some piano harmony
OK have you got the basis of the song or piece, have you got the tune, chord progression and bass notes. Well there’s still the harmonies, yes I know harmonies are something you usually think about for singers but harmonies are everywhere and putting them into a piece of music can be a great way to give it a fuller sound
One way of making a harmony is to use one of the notes from the chord that’s being played and play it along with the tune so that it sounds like a harmony rather than part of the chord, a harmony can sound like part of the chord or it can sound like it’s own tune, a tune that complements the main tune but is a tune in itself as well
A great way to make a nice piano harmony is to work out a tune that you think would sound nice with the main tune and then play it along at the same time, that’s if you’ve got enough fingers, that’s one of the challengers you’ll face, making a tune that you can play while still playing the main tune
So there will be harmonies in any piece of music regardless of weather you put them in or not because if there is more than one note, the two notes will harmonize with each other to create a piano harmony
But if you make your harmonies so that listeners can hear them as an added extra rather than being part of the song as a whole you might find you can get some lovely sounds and fullness coming out of your pieces, if you do it right you can make it sound like there are four hands playing the piece rather than two
You can also do it wrong and make it sound like a real mush, although you’ll still have the benefit of it sounding like four hands, just not the 4 hands that you would have liked hehe...
Arpeggios are the notes of a chord played independently rather than together. This means simply that the chord is "broken" and the notes are played moving in alternate steps...just like playing a major (or minor) scale. The difference being of course that when playing or practicing arpeggios, you play the notes of the chord or chords. Check out the graphic below for the arpeggios of C Major 7th and F Major 7th chords.
You should now review the sections of this site entitled "Piano Chords" and "Chord Inversions" and practice the arpreggios of the chords you have learned and their inversions. When practicing remember to "run" or play the arpeggios both ascending (going up the piano keyboard) and descending (going down the piano keyboard).
Please Do Not underestimate the value of learning and practicing arpeggios. Learning them will solidify your knowledge of the notes used to create a chord, help in increasing your finger independence and dexterity, and along with scales will give you the basics for improvising on the piano.
Why practise scales and arpeggios ?
Scales and arpeggios form an important part of the technique of playing the piano or keyboard. They form the basis of the skill, and there is no way that you can avoid learning them and practising them if you want to play the piano even to a moderate standard. There are people who try and play piano or keyboard without learning scales and arpeggios, but they come up against serious limitations eventually.
1 They help to you achieve tonal evenness - that is to play many notes of equal loudness and quality played successively
2 They help you to achieve rhythmic evenness - that is to play many notes of equal length played successively.
3 Legato scales and arpeggios help you to join all the notes together - the technique is to have no gaps between them.
4 Staccato scales and arpeggios help you to play detached notes - that is to put deliberate gaps between the notes.
5 They help you to achieve a good finger action of the right kind by squeezing the note firmly with a circular action from the knuckle.
6 They help you to perfect the passage of the thumb or the movement of the hand over the thumb - important piano technique.
7 They help you to perfect the sideways movement of the hand when putting the thumb under.
8 They help you to play with shape - getting gradually louder or softer over a number of notes.
9 They help you to be more aware of keys and key signatures - that is the number of sharps or flats in a piece of music.
10 As these problems are encountered in all pieces of music, scales help you to learn music more quickly.
11 They help you to sight read - to read a piece of music for the first time - because you can recognise bits of scale and arpeggio patterns in the music.
12 They help you to memorise music because scale and arpeggio patterns are easily recognisable and committed to memory.
13 They generally help your confidence by improving your technique on the piano or keyboard. This then enables you to devote more thought and energy to playing expressively.
Advance Blues Solo Techniques
Many jazz students start out improvising by playing the blues. With the standard blues chord progression, where one single blues scale can be applied all the way throughout the whole 12 bar. It is one quick and nice way to make your solos sound hip.However, after doing the same thing for some time, students normally will start to question, “what else can I do over a standard blues progression instead of just a blues scale?”. It is the purpose of this post to answer this question.
First listen to this solo by a great bass player, Oteil Burbridge.
Oteil Burbridge Blues Solo
Notice how he ventured way out of the usual blues scale to create some really interesting colors in his solo? Before we go on further, here is the transcription of this clip.
The first thing a student must know is that over a blues progression, there are already two basic blues scale to be used, as shown below for the F blues.
The first two bars show the F minor pentatonic blues scale. And the following two bars show the D minor pentatonic blues scale. Both scales can be applied over the standard blues progression, switching between the two will create some interesting effects on your solos. Refer to the transcription above for example, look at the solo from bar 17 which is basically using mostly the notes from the F minor pentatonic. However, in bar 21, notice the sudden change to the D minor pentatonic scale. Listen to the clip for a better picture of the effect.
Bars 37 to bars 39 might sound very interesting, but one glance at the transcription shows that its just a basic use of some chromatic notes. Chromatic notes can be used almost anywhere in a piece of music, but be careful which note the solo line end on. For example, the string of chromatic notes stretching from bar 37 to 38 ended on a nice Eb, which is one of the notes in the F minor pentatonic scale.
Another interesting thing happened in bar 22. You can think of it as using the Eb minor pentatonic blues scale, which is a half step up from D minor pentatonic. Take note that you can always modulate a semitone up from your original key in your solo, but be sure that you find a way to resolute back.
So these are just a few tips for you to add some flavor into your blues solo. I’m sure you can find more stuffs in the transcription I provided. Create some lines based on this ideas, and practise them with an open ear to get the sounds into your head.
Have fun and enjoy……..
Acquiring Speed in a Slow Way
According to Hal Galper and his book,Forward Motion, one of the secrets of all those great jazz masters when improvising over fast bebop chord changes, is to count in half time.
Here’s an example of the first few bars of popular jazz bebop tune Donna Lee, notated in its usual form.
Here’s another example of the same few bars, notated in half time.
Notice that both examples above sound the same to the listener (note the tempo marking)
But for the musician playing it in half time, the speed of the song is reduced to half.
The end result is a more relax feeling while improvising. Imagine yourself improvising over a ballad, but actually sounding like a fast swinging bebop tune.
This video demonstrates Hal Galper’s point perfectly, with Bud Powell improvising over a tune titled “Get Happy”
Besides being totally relax even while improvising at such tempo, notice also that there is alegato feeling to all the lines executed by Bud.
As mentioned by Hal Galper, this is one of the result from counting in half time, a skill that Bud Powell had inevitably mastered.
This entry is part of a series of posts dealing with Hal Galper’s Forward Motion Concept in bebop jazz improvisation.
Become Better At Piano Sight Reading
1 Develop Your “Relative” Sense of Touch.
Acquire the skill of playing so that you don’t need to look down at your hands. Without looking at the keyboard, glide your hands so you feel the two and three black keys (like Braille.) When you need a C, D, or E, feel for the “2s.” When you need an F, G, A, or B, feel for the “3s.” Most good sight-readers don’t need to look at their hands while they play and this drill teaches you how to find any note without looking at your hands. Then you will be able to keep your eyes on the music and look ahead and this will greatly speed up your sight-reading.
2 Develop Your “Absolute” Sense of Touch.
Always sit in the same place. Middle “D” is recommended because it creates a symmetrical pattern in both directions. Sometimes you may need to make a page turn or your hand will jump from a high position to a low position on the keyboard. It is handy to not have to look down to find the correct position in these cases. By always sitting the same place at the piano, you will develop a physiological memory of all 88 keys on the piano!
3 Practice Finger Technique Without Looking at Your Hands.
A creative way to do this is to play your scales and arpeggios in the dark. This will add confidence to your sense of touch. This exercise is to further enhance tactile awareness that is developed in steps 1 and 2.
4 Learn the Four Groups of the Lines and Spaces:
Try to learn these without the typical slogans: “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” or similar phrases. If you were to attempt to read a note using slogans, you would have to go through a 2-step process which seriously slows-down your speed. Just memorize the groups as fast a possible by saying them out loud frequently. Memorize the following.
Say: “Lines in the Treble E G B D F”
Say: “Lines in the Bass G B D F A”
Say: “Spaces in the Treble F A C E”
Say: “Spaces in the Bass A C E G”
Eventually, you will just memorize all the notes, but until that time comes, literally speak through the appropriate sequence until you reach the desired note. For example, if you want to read the third space in the treble clef, you say “F A C.” You stop on “C” and that is the third note.
5 Practice Only the Rhythmic Information.
In a composition you are working on, ignore the correct pitches. Just play the rhythmic infomation of the piece on any notes. Your brain will enjoy the ability to work on just one thing.
6 Practice Only the Pitch and Fingering Information.
In a composition you are working on, ignore the correct rhythm. Just play the correct pitches along with the correct fingering. Don’t try to play in time here. This way, you can focus on just the right notes with the right fingers. your brain will enjoy the ability narrow its focus. Eventually, you will be able to play the right notes with the right fingering and with the right rhythm all at the same time!
7 Play Easy Pieces up to Tempo.
Force yourself to keep going no matter what. Don’t worry about mistakes. This helps you to look ahead.
8 Play Difficult Pieces Super Slowly.
9 Look For Patterns in Music.
Don’t be afraid to look way ahead for a second just so you can anticipate what will be easy or difficult. Patterns make it easy. If you detect a pattern then you can devote your concentration to other things.
10 Study Music Theory
Professional sight-readers never read every note! They get a sense of the overall chord and “fill-in” the blanks. With a solid knowledge of music theory, this becomes natural and immediate.
PLAYING SCALES SMOOTHLY
Playing smooth scales requires PRACTICE, of course, but there are other techniques to help even out your tone
and make your scales sound effortless. Here are a few...
***1. When tucking your thumb in a scale run, let the thumb gradually move into position while the fingers before it
are playing so the thumb doesn't wind up being late into position, which causes you to jerk your hand in an awkward
direction to try to get there on time.
***2. Point your fingers in the direction you are traveling in a scale run. The hand position you achieve allows fingers to use a natural "grasping" movement when playing each note of the run.
***3. Beware of individual fingers that may be stronger than the others (many times the thumb or middle finger)
that might create accents in your scale run you don't want. Think in terms of the overall philosophy of
"finger independence" in which all the fingers are equally weighted to give you the smoothest run possible.
***4. Overall in scales avoid awkward hand positions and unneccesary motions that don't contribute to the event. Power is required, but efficient power is the best kind. Use a mirror if you have to, observing from the side of the piano, because graceful looking playing usually includes near perfect technique.
Each scale should be played until the entire tone-chain appears even like a string of beads, like a succession of balls of the same size. There should be no intermission between any of the tones, nor should one be stronger than the other should. A scale thus played is always pleasing to the ear. In order to produce this effect constant and attentive practice is required.
Tips to study piano scales
Scales must at first be played slowly, so that the student may watch the fingering and the evenness of his touch. If a mistake occurs, it is best for the pupil to begin over again. After the scale has been practiced to a good degree of velocity and evenness of touch, it should be played soft, then loud, then also crescendo or decrescendo.
The main difficulty of scale practice, as has already been stated, lies in the passing of the thumb under the longer fingers and in passing these over the thumb. "When doing this, the hand may be slightly bent inward or outward, the arm may be moved somewhat from the body, but both arm and hand must be steady. There must be no turning of the hands, as if they were moving on a pivot, there must be no motion of the arms, as if they were wings in motion. Watch both hands and arms. Always move the thumb under the other fingers just when it is ready to strike, so that there may be no delay or interruption.
As it is considered more difficult to pass the thumb under the longer fingers than to pass these over the thumb, it follows that the ascending scale in the right hand and the descending scale in the left should be especially well drilled.
Listen carefully while you practice scales, the mere running of the fingers over the keys is not intelligent practice.
How to practice scales on piano
Hear each single tone and listen to the whole series of tones as to their smoothness and evenness of strength. Remember the thumb is stronger than either of the other fingers, while the third, and fourth are the weakest. In the use of the one restraint is necessary, in that of the others strength must be increased.
Always strike the keys from the knuckle joints when playing scales, raise the fingers as high as possible, and let them descend perpendicularly upon the middle of the keys. Thus only will you produce a good clear tone.
Etude to practice scales
In this Etude scales are practiced with the right hand and in one octave only. Play strong and slow. Raise your fingers high. Play first Blow, then fast.
This little piece looks more difficult than it is. Read it over carefully and you will find it easy. The main lesson is the crossing of the hands. Play slowly and softly, emphasize the notes placed by the left hand, when crossing the right.
Also, bring out the melody given to the right hand to be played. Observe the ritardandos at the close of each part
How to Compose Piano Music
In my 20 years of writing piano music, I've arranged over 120 compositions, about 85 of which I've released to the public on CD. A fan who read my advice for pianists article asked if I'd write a similar article for beginning composers. So, I've put together these 12 composition tips for anyone who would like to compose music for the piano.
1) Start With the Melody
You don't have to come to the piano with an entire song already in your head before you start composing. Just start with one simple melodic phrase. That melody will be the centerpiece for everything else in your composition. It's the foundation and the focal point of your piece. As you begin to compose, improvise on that melody and see where it naturally wants to take you. The musical place it leads you to is usually your 'hook', or what I'll refer to in this article as yourchorus. Think of your chorus as your melodic destination.
2) What is Your Song About?
As you develop your overall melody, think about the emotion or image you want your composition to convey. What is the song's message? Is it love? Faith? Winter? Water? Whatever your song message is, keep it in the forefront of your mind as you compose. Doing so will influence the direction the composition takes. I find it helps to give the composition a name early in its development. Then the song title becomes the 'goal' you're working toward, in a manner of speaking.
3) To Intro or Not to Intro?
It is sometimes tempting to write a long introduction (something I'm guilty of) to 'set the mood' for your composition. Be careful with this. Remember, the melody is (typically) what makes or breaks your song. It is also the device that holds the various elements of your composition together. Finally and most importantly, the melody is the part of your song your listener will remember. So, get to the melodic point quickly, and don't linger too long on your introduction. People don't generally hum introductions to themselves - they hum melodies.
4) The Anti-Melody Song?
Some compositions are just 'mood' pieces. I have a few of these, which don't really have a melody so much as cool, ambient sense about them. There's nothing wrong with writing mood pieces, but be warned, you can only carry a 'mood' for so long before the listeners ear tires. Keep your mood pieces relatively short. Under 3 minutes is a good, general rule. Most of mine are about 2:45.
5) Follow the Muse
It's not uncommon to find that while you're developing a composition, you find yourself taken into an entirely new musical direction. The question to ask yourself is, does this 'new direction' belong with your original melody? Or, have you accidentally stumbled upon a new, second melody better suited for an entirely new composition? A great number of my songs originated as spin-offs of other compositions. So if you have a great melody and it takes you to a second great melody, consider whether you're might really be working on two different songs and whether you need to split them apart so they can 'play' in their own separate worlds.
6) Repeat with Style
Once you have firmly established your melodic phrase and chorus, don't pound them into the ground. You might play your melody twice the same exact way, but by the third time you ought to be embellishing it so that even though it's the same melody, it sounds different. That might mean playing it in a different octave, adding more bass, more flair, or a slightly different rhythm. However you do it, enhance the melody throughout the piece. Don't let it grow stale or your beautiful melody will begin to grate on your listeners' ear.
7) Build Slowly, but Build Something.
Whatever you do, do something with your song. Remember, you're telling a story with your music, so arrange your song in such a way that it keeps moving in a particular direction. When you read a storybook to your kids before bedtime, you don't read page one, read page two, then go back to page one again, and then read page two, read page two, and read page two once more. Your kids would get really bored! With each new page, the story needs to advance toward the happy ending, in proper order. Do the same thing with your music. Every 'page' of your composition should develop your storyline a bit more, building to a gratifying conclusion.
8) Mistakes Count
Don't fret too much about making mistakes as you develop your song. Mistakes can lead to some very cool sounding chords. More than once I've played the wrong notes and then thought, "Hey, what a switch, that sounds cool!" Your "mistake" might end up being the very twist you need at the end of your song to add spice to your tune. When I first start composing a song, I make a LOT of mistakes. It's just part of the process. Music composition is like pottery. You start out with a dirty blob (an idea) and you mold it into something. The process isn't always pretty, but In the end, with persistence and skill, you may end up with something beautiful.
9) Change is Good
After you've developed your melody, you'll need to change things up a bit to keep the listener interested. The 'change up' might be a secondary melody, though it's usually not as strong as the primary melody or chorus.
One of the reasons I think people enjoy my compositions is that they are basically songs. I write them to be, for lack of a better description, songs without words (sorry for the cliché). Every one of my songs has a song-like pattern to it. For example, listen to 'One Night at Mozart's', one of my more popular songs. Here's the pattern:
A) Melody established (Intro)
A) Melody (Octave lower with embellishment)
D) Change Up
B) Chorus to End
and there you have a 3 minute song. Notice how simple the structure is?
Let's look at another composition. This time, 'No More Tears.'
* Intro to set the mood, then...
A) Melody (with embellishment)
C) Change Up
A) Melody (octave higher) to end.
Do you see the structure of the songs? Every song is a bit different. Some songs are as simple as "A" and then "B". The point is, a composition is a song. Give it a song-like structure and...
10) Keep it Simple
The biggest mistake I hear in others' composition is over-complexity. For some reason, beginning composers try to make things complicated - as if bigger is better. Part of this, I think, is the need to impress others, and part of it is the mistaken assumption that the more complex a song is, the more significance it has in the overall scheme of life. No, no no. Simplicity is the key to beauty. Clarity is the key to perfection. Don't try to write a song that will impress and don't try to write a song of significance. Just find a simple melody, develop it, give it a twist, and finish it. You should be able to do it in less than 4 minutes. If you have a song over five minutes, examine it closely. You might be doing too much.
I know a very talented pianist who writes incredible melodies, but his songs are way too long. It drives me crazy, because if he'd just simplify his arrangements, his CD would be a thing of beauty. I won't name him, of course, but just look at this song arrangement:
A) Melody (Intro)
A) Melody (Repeated)
B) Chorus (simple version)
B) Chorus (simple version)
D) Change Up
B) Chorus (complex version)
C) Bridge (with embellishment)
D) Change Up (with much embellishment, turns into a vamp)
B) Chorus (with much embellishment)
B) Chorus (simple version)
A) Melody (to end)
The song runs at six and a half minutes. While the song has one of the most beautiful melodies I've ever heard, the artist plays it into the ground. By the time you're five minutes into the song, you're really wishing it was over.
Keep it simple.
11) Let Time Have its Way
Realize that it might take years to complete a piece. Now and then, I'll write a song in two hours flat, but that hardly ever happens (like maybe 4 times in 20 years). Most of my songs take 6-9 months to complete, and some songs have taken years to finish. If it takes you awhile to finish your composition, don't get frustrated. If you need to, set the composition aside for awhile and come back to it later. Sometimes if you take a couple months off of a song, then come back to it, you'll find it easier to actually finish it. .
12) Get a Tape Recorder
Finally, have a tape recorder right beside you so you can record your ideas while you're still sitting at the piano. There's nothing more frustrating that having a great idea, getting interrupted, and then forgetting it. With a tape recorder handy you can take the two minutes you need to record a rough-draft of your melody and come back to it later if need be.
There you have it.
How to Play Piano Accompaniment for Soloist
The piano is a very versatile instrument. You can play it as a solo instrument, or you can play accompaniment for soloist or vocalist. This makes the piano such a fun instrument to learn. In this article, you will find the most common rules, guide lines and method to play accompaniment.
1. Never play the melody simultaneously with the soloist
I often see many beginner pianists playing the melody when accompanying a vocalist. They simply don’t know what to do with their right hand. Playing the melody is the only way they can keep their right hand on the keyboards. The melody is the singer’s domain, and singers often resent piano players who “play on top of them.”
2. Left hand plays the bass
To keep it simple when you start practicing, play the root of the chord with your left hand pinky finger. It won’t sound out of tune I guarantee. But if you want to play nicer notes, learn some appropriate chord inversion. Try some passing notes between chords. You can also arrange the bass notes that actually leading or solving into the next chords.
For chord progression C to F, you can play E for C chord, and F for F chord. The E will lead to F. That’s why they call E the leading note of F.
3. Play chords with the right hand
When you are playing the melody, you just free up your right hand’s main task, which is obviously playing the melody when there is no singer around. So according to rule #1, no MELODY… ….. No NO …. no melody please. Play chords instead. Play those notes within the chord. Start with the simple triad, and then some inversion, and then some arpeggios. After you are familiar with the 3 notes triad, venture into some other interesting voicing, e.g. 9th, Maj7th, 11th, 13th etc.
4. Don’t ever let your left hand get bored!
Simply playing some roots and passing note on left hand for the whole song, you will feel bored. Add some other notes. You can:
- double the root with your thumb, it is even better if you can play 10th apart. e.g. C - E ( not 3rd, but 10th). I found it hard for most Asians because of their physical limit.
- add in 5th - it will hardly sound dissonant with the 5th note added. But try avoid it at the low notes. It’ll sound muddy.
- play chord and voicing - when you hit the bass note and press the sustain pedal, you free up your left hand instantly. Use the “free time” to play some chords and voicing together with your right hand.
- ostinato pattern - I wrote about it before. Refer to the link.
5. Familiar with chord notation
Actually, chord notation is the basic of playing piano accompaniment. A chord is the simplest way to show all the notes we need to play. Imagine looking at a chord music sheet:
Compare it to EbMaj7 9. It probably takes you 1-3 seconds to comprehend all the notes shown in the staff. But if you look at the chord symbol, it takes me less than a second to figure out the voicing. When you play from chords, you basically create your own arrangement on the spot. This can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. The best way to practice chord reading is to play by reading lead sheet with chord chart. This is how a lead sheet looks like:
You can quickly search for the notes included in a chord symbol here.
6. Rhythm is the main obstacle
After thorough understanding of all the rules #1-5 above, some pianists who went through the classical learning path (I am one of them) still can’t play nice and soothing piano accompaniment. It is due to the ability to play rhythmically. This is the most challenging part to master. I find it very hard to explain through words. Music is so indescribable. I will write some other post about rhythm.
Learn Piano Accompaniment: Simple Bass Pattern
In fact, there are million ways to play a piano accompaniment. I probably know merely a few of them. Through years of practice, I’ve developed my unique style of pianoaccompaniment especially for vocalist solo in pop and jazz feel. I would like you to know that there is really no strict and rigid rules on how to learn an accompaniment. You can give a few great pianist the same lead sheet or chord chart, we will all play it in different ways. I might be able to imitate some other pianist but definitely I can’t copy exactly the same thing spontaneously. At the end, we are all specialists in our own style. But I can tell that the best musician is still the one who can play whatever created in his/her mind. I am not at that level, yet. However, before I play the accompaniment, no doubt that it is created in my brain first before the neurons trigger my fingers.
This video is created by John Axsom. He teaches a basic accompaniment pattern which is very useful and easy to learn for beginners. He showed you how to play a folk song Hava Nagila with three simple chords: E, Am, Dm
The lesson is simple to learn because:
1. only three basic chords involved
2. all the chord voicing is in the most basic form: triad which consists of 3 notes only for each chord. Later on, you shall venture into more complex voicing. For a nice chord voicing, there should be at least 4 notes in a chord.
3. not much changes in hand position.
4. simple rhythm.
5. same interval for the left hand bass part. So it just require you to move your left hand by shifting it up or down for different chords.
6. No black keys anyway, don’t afraid of the black keys. It is actually easier to press the black keys. You’ll hardly miss it.
Suggestion for further practice:
Use the same chord progression, but play it in different keys.
Top 14 Tricks to Play Bass with Keyboard
Although I seldom play bass using the keyboard on stage, but I program the bass track for almost every song I arrange. In this post, we are going to discuss how to play or program great sounding bass track by using the MIDI keyboard. Here are some tricks compiled through days of research and my own experience.
Play with both hands
Do you play the bass track using right hand or our left hand? I used to play it with my left hand because ergonomically, the lower register is on the left. Bass part is normally monotone, which consist of only one note at a time. It makes sense that playing with my left hand is the most comfortable setting. In fact, my left hand fingers play a bit slower than right hand’s. I guess most keyboardists have swifter fingers on the right. When it comes to improvising the bass part, left hand seems not powerful enough to carry the load. Now, I play the bass part mostly with my left hand for simple movement, but occasionally involve the right hand fingers when doing some improvisation or faster passage. Real bass players can hop from string to string, enabling them to play a wider interval. So please put your right and on the keyboard too. You will be able to play a very wide interval jump feasibly.
Study the bass guitar
Trying out the bass guitar will definitely help you understand it more. The range of a bass guitar is about 3 octaves. When you are immitating an electric bass guitar, remember that the bassist generally use open string notes (E, A, D, G, low B on a 5 string) a lot as passing tones to fill in gaps when he makes big leaps. On stage, the bassist will play open string too when he wants to free his left hand to do other things such as flipping scores, scratching nose etc.
It helps a lot if you can listen to other records to analyze how a great bass line projects itself.
What to Play?
- Play a mix of legato and staccato.
- Simple rule is to start the bar with the root (or the specific bass notes), then you can do something creative during the rest of the chord. For example, a bar consist of G major chord - play the bass G on 1st beat, and add other notes to fill up the bar if necessary.
- occasional bend or tied note does a lot to help the bass “sit”.
- The 1st note and the 5th note normally won’t make you wrong.
Recreate the slurs of a real bass guitar
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are also known as slurs. They help to create a smoother sound between notes. It is the equivalent of a saxophone player playing a group of notes with one breath, and not tonguing each note. Or a violin player playing some notes with one bow stroke. That is the way that those instruments slur and get a smoother sound.
A hammer-on involves 2 different notes. A note is plucked, then a second note is sounded by slamming or “hammering” another finger onto the same string at a higher fret. A pull-off can be thought of as the opposite of a hammer-on. Before starting, you will need to have both left hand fingers that are involved already placed in their perspective frets. The first note is plucked, then a second note is sounded by pulling that finger off of the string with force.
In order to simulate this action, you can
- play the line with fast passing notes (acciacaturas)
- play a long note, and use pitch bend to slide the pitch
- simply use the audio samples that play hammer-ons and pull-offs. It is more convenient if you program the sample player to play the slurs at high
note velocity (120 and above)
Groove or Melody?
Bass is a rhythm instrument. Sometimes, it sounds good even if repetitive notes were played rhythmically. Occasionally, add in some fills and melodic runs to spice it up. The best bass line I heard is both groovy and melodious.
Easy guide to have a groovy bass line:
- follow the kick drum - play a note whenever kick drum is hit (not necessarily every single kick drum hit)
- avoid snare drum - I find it neat to cut off the bass sustained note at snare drum hit.
Getting the Right Patch
Turn on the radio and you will probably hear 70% of the songs with synth bass line. Getting the right sound before you start tracking the bass line is important.
A quick guide:
- Monophonic setting -
bass should be played one note a time. Sometimes can be doubled notes 3rd apart, 6th apart, 5th apart, or octave. More often that double notes will sound muddy.
- Glide/Portamento Function - glide is a function that is available in certain sound module/sampler that allow a notes to slide to the other note. This function is useful to imitate the fretless bass. You can use glide feature for synth bass too.
- Layered bass patch - lay a few patches for very thick bass, if that’s what you are looking for.
Practice with a Rhythm Track
Throw in a drum loop and practice to play along. It helps to get a chord chart and try to improvise according to the chord progressions.
Do you use sustain pedal for bass?
I don’t. You have 10 fingers but the bass line only requires one finger to hit the right key at the right time. Do you really need sustain pedal? the only reason to use a sustain pedal while playing bass line is probably to ride the note for longer decay rather than a sudden stop.
Use Expression Pedals or Aftertouch
You can program the aftertouch or expression pedal
to do pitch bending or vibrato modulation. Instead of shaking your legs while playing, you might as well put it to good use. This won’t require your other hand to leave the keyboard to use the pitch bend and modulation wheel.
Split your keyboard
Most modern synthesizer keyboards allow zone mapping, or keyboard split. Some keyboardist split the keyboard to play bass on the left hand and piano on the right.
Use a Bass Amp
When you are playing keyboard bass live, route the output into a bass amp instead of your normal keyboard amp. This can be done if you have multiple outputs instead of the normal stereo main outs.
Turn off the Reverb
Bass should never have massive reverberations. Reverb can blur the bass timbre and make it sound muddy. To make the bass sound big, try chorus effect or add layer to it.
I heard some producers say that Nathan East plays the bass without the need to compress. This shows that he is a great bassist who can control the dynamic perfectly. When you are not that good yet, use slight compression to tame the peak. Your bass track will sound smoother and sustained.
Learn Jazz Chord Voicing with 3-6-9
Jazz chord always comes with lots of tension. Tension is formed with the notes other than the normal basic triad. This video shows a simple but fantastic sounding voicing method. You just need to play 5 notes with your 10 fingers.
2 notes on the left - Play Root + minor 7th
3 notes on the right - Play 3-6-9 ( Major 3d, Major 6th, Major 9th)
For root on A, the complete 5 notes are A, G, C#, F#, B
Although the chord is voiced sparsely, but it sounds so full with tension. This is due to the use of 3 tension notes i.e. 6th (F#), 7th (G), 9th (B). Unlike conventional voicing, the fifth is omitted. No E!
Learn how to play ‘phat’ chord voicing
This video is prepared by PlayPianoToday, teaching you how to use ‘phat’ chord voicing in your piano playing. In the video, the instructor shows you how to play Em7 9 in ‘phat’ voicing. For normal dull piano playing, the Em7 9 is play from bottom E, G, B, D, and F# in close and tight manner. But the instructor shows you how he voice it by tearing the chord apart, play E, B, G, D, F# with both hands. Left hand playing the E and B (a perfect 5th), and right hand playing the other 3 notes with the F# at the top.
after watching the video, I learn something new and below is my version of playing his chord progression with ‘phat’ voicing.
3 easy steps to play a chord on piano
In order to develop the improvisation skill, the basic to learn is how to play a chord. Before learning to play a simple chord, one must learn the interval - the relationship between notes. Here is the 3 easy steps to play a chord on piano:
1. Play the bass note with your left hand little finger.
To play C Maj7, press C with your left hand little finger
2. Play the remaining notes in the chord with your right hand.
Here is where our brain do all the maths. In CMaj7, there are 4 notes:
C - the root which already played in left hand
E - the major 3rd from the root (C)
G - the perfect 5th from the root (C)
B - the major 7th from the root (C)
So, play E-G-B with your right hand.
3. Play the designated notes as if a drummer - create your rhythm!
play the left hand root note as if hitting the bass drum
play the right hand chord notes as if hitting the snare drum
These 3 easy steps are done subconsciously when you reach a practice level where you can play any chord without doing all the interval maths. When you can do that, improvisation is just a piece of cake!
To learn about notation of chords and what the chord consisted of, refer Shane McDonald’s complete chord chart. Click on the chord’s name and it will bring you to a keyboard picture highlighting the notes you should play.
Please understand that the best way to practise is to play songs, improvise and compose your own tune