An important step in achieving piano mastery is the learning of new chords. While the major and minor chords are the most popular chords in modern music, suspended, augmented and diminished chords are important for those who wish to learn how to play piano. While not as common as the above mentioned majors and minors, they are certainly found in a lot of music and need to be addressed at some point in your quest to learn the piano.

For a quick reference of these chords, check out our FREE basic chord chart or advanced chord chart.

It is said that suspended chords often make a piece of music sound like it must resolve into another chord. Csus4 for example resolves to a C-Major chord very nicely.

“Sus4” chords are derived by raising the 3rd note a step. So if you take C-Major which is C, E, F, and raise the third note you are left with C, F, G. Another way of thinking of it is to take the scale of C-Major and play the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale.

There is also “Sus2” chords which are derived by lowering the 3rd note a step rather than raising it, and again this chord can be derived from the C-Major scale in the same way. Csus2 is thus C, D and G.

Augmented chords are derived by sharpening the 5th note, so in the case of C-Major, the resulting chord is C, E, F#. Augmented chords usually work well for blues and gospel tracks, those that feature a turnaround on the 5th chord in particular. So if you were in the key of G and at the end of the sequence you would play D augmented on the turnaround.

Diminished chords feature flattened 3rd and 5th notes, so in the case of C, C diminished is: C, Eb, Gb.

While it can certainly helpful to commit each of these chords in every key to memory, by simply remembering the correct pattern you’ll be able to derive the chords you need, when you need them. This can be just as useful as having a lot of different chords in your head. Perhaps more important a thing to know is chordal relationships, which we will discuss in a future article. For now, if you want to learn all of these chords and their patterns, it will not be time wasted.

Walking bass notes can be a fun way to accompany playing chords with your right hand. The usual way to do this is simply to walk the low piano notes up and down the scale of the chords of your right hand. This can work particularly well on blues songs, which is perhaps no surprise. However this method of playing piano usually works well while playing on your own. When playing with a band it is often a good idea to stay away from bass lines on the piano and let the bass player handle them. Because they are in the same range, the piano bass notes tend to clash the the bass guitar notes. It’s often better to vamp on mi-range chords and play fills as the music calls for it with your right hand.

The exception to this is when you are playing a solo. During a solo, you can go crazy with both hands. The rest of the time you are one player in the band. The overall goal is to compliment the unit as a whole which can be an amazing experience when it happens. You may find that playing with a band can be an intensely frustrating experience as well and you do not want to be the source of the frustration!

So bear this tip from the experts and let the bass player handle the bass lines when you are on stage.

Another issue that affects onstage musicians is the matter of sound monitors. These are an amplified speaker system that is usually placed at the front of the stage in the direction of the band. Instruments can be piped through each musician’s individual monitor speaker at whichever level they choose to help the bland stay in touch with the other members of the bend. Quite often it is just vocals that are needed to be heard, especially when a musician is on the far end of the stage from the lead singer.

While sound monitors are great in theory, when individual musicians turn up the volume level too loud, the whole thing can spiral out of control. Usually the next guy cannot hear himself, so he turns his up and the rest of the band follows suite to the dismay of the poor mixer who loses control of his ability to mix sound due to the excessive volume coming from the stage.

A band’s musical energy tends to feed the audience, which in turn feeds the band. which is why it’s important to work out your piano chords and scales and riffs in other keys using step patterns and note relationships. This also goes for getting your right hand bass notes in order so that they do not clash with the bass guitar. Doing so ahead of time makes for a more polished and successful performance.

Top players enjoy using grace note when they play music, these are “passing notes” that make the music sound more interesting.

The Blues genre, which many consider the root of Jazz and Rock, often feature the guitar to evoke emotion from the music usually by bending guitar strings in the solo.If you have ever listened to Freddy King, BB King or Albert King, you will understand what I’m talking about here. Many blues influenced rock guitarists use a similar technique in their songs. The same effect can be achieved in other types of instruments to, like the trumpet, saxophone and harmonica for instance. Another way of bending pitch that was used more in the eary days of Blues was the bottleneck or slide guitar, where the sound was produced by sliding a cut-off neck of a glass bottle up and down the strings.

Unfortunately bending notes on the piano is a bit trickier than any of the above-mentioned instruments. Instead of “bending” notes, we must use our fingers fast. Usually how this is done is to mix in notes that are not part of a scale, to achieve the effect of “sliding” down or up the target note. Some notable musicians who utilized this style of playing were Otis Span, Oscar Peterson and Ray Charles.

To do this yourself, if say you’re playing a blues scale in the key of G, you try to “roll” the C, C#  onto D. You do this by playing these notes very quickly. You can then “roll” the D and F close together while the low G (played with the thumb) rings through. When playing down the scale you may slide from C# onto C and Bb to G.

You can, of course do the same thing in any of the other keys, G was just an example. Of course in certain keys you will not be able to do this in the way that you want to. Rather than “slide” you will have to play each instead which requires the insertion of an extra finger and does not produce the same effect. But when the key is right and you execute this technique correctly, you’ll add a certain “flair” to your music. This technique tends to work best with Blues Piano Chords and Scales, but there is no reason why you can’t do it in other scales and modes of play.

Most budding piano players, at some stage struggle with motivation when learning piano chords and scales, but at some point you might wish to have a go at playing in a band and you will quickly discover that your effort has been well worth it! Joining a band can be a cool thing, but making the transition to a band for the first time is a learning experience that you will at some point need to go through. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind as a keyboard or piano player in a band. Not a definitive guide to be sure, but some observations from experience.

Usually it is a good idea to stay away from playing left hand bass lines on keyboard when you are working with a bass player. Sometimes however, it can work depending on the music you are performing. Early rock as well as R&B pieces can work exceptionally well in this regard.

When playing you should be conscious of laying back in the grove in time with the drummer and not “rushing” when in a supporting role. The same does not apply when soloing and an experienced drummer will hold back so as to allow your solo to have appeal. A good band should sense where the soloist is taking them and back them up and while taking the lead is a great way to express yourself, playing a supporting role can be equally as satisfying.

An experienced keyboardist once told me, if you do “rush the beat” in the role as a rhythm pianist, watch out for flying drum sticks!

A few more general observations:

Do not “overplay” when playing with other musicians in a band. You should attempt to inject subtleties into your music and allow the melody to shine through the piece. Fast complicated finger work is OK, but only when in the correct context of what you are playing, otherwise you risk capturing the attention of your audience, leaving them dazed from the onslaught of advanced technique. While it is tempting to show off your technique by playing at a million notes a minute throughout a song, it is a mistake to treat music as a race and you risk leaving your audience emotionally flat and underwhelmed.

Working with a good music teacher will help you adapt to playing in a band, as will spending time with other musicians. If you are a young player and still at school, try and take the opportunity to play in school music performances, Even if you are forced to play the kind of music you don’t like, you will learn a lot from the experience of performing with other musicians and you’ll gradually develop your own musical attitude and style as your experience and level of skill increases.

While technique is extremely helpful in broadening your knowledge of music and offering you more choices of material to play in improvisations, an essential element that cannot be simplified to music notation, chords or scales is “feel” for music. This is commonly referred to as “soul” and can be thought of as an extension of your spirit and emotions within relation to the music. While music rules are important, they should serve only to help you express yourself and in breaking music down into components that you can understand. Your personal perspective and originality is what will make you stand out as a piano player in a band.

For piano players who wish to achieve mastery, or may wish to simply become competent, knowing the important Piano Chords and Scales is a must, but also having some knowledge of important piano playing modes (based on these scales) is an important skill. In our previous articles, Part 1 and Part 2, we covered the Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian modes. In this article we will address the remaining important playing modes as well as cycle of fifths.

Relative Minors

All keys within an octave have their own relative minor. For instance, A minor is a relative minor of C major. To find a key’s relative minor, you can either count six notes up from the key’s root note or count down three half steps. Both methods will take you to the major’s 6th note. By playing the notes of the major starting from it’s 6th you create the Aeolian scale, or you can play a minor chord with the 6tth as the root. So while the relative minor of C major is A minor, the relative minor of G is thus E minor. You may have seen a chart that depicts each chord’s relative minor like this one:

Locrian Mode

On the final note of the major scale, the seventh note of the major, (B for C-major). By using B as the root or tonal center, you play the notes of the major an octave higher to produce the Locrian Mode of play. This mode is not commonly used for soloing, because it is “unstable”, not having a perfect fifth. It contains a diminished fifth instead making it an odd fit on top of most musical pieces.

Typically you will find yourself playing the Dorian, Aeolian and Mixolydian modes a lot when soloing and improvising.

Here is a basic reference you can use in the case of the key of C based on C-major:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C C Ionian mode
D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D D Dorian mode
E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E E Phrygian mode
F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F F Lydian mode
G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G G Mixolydian mode
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A A Aeolian mode

To become a better piano player, you can work on getting used to playing the different scales. Don’t be afraid to experiment and create new melodies with your right hand while using your left to lay down chords. It is also a good exercise to practice these to background music. No doubt it will feel a bit awkward at first. You may find that trying new things is difficult at first, especially when combining right and left hands at the same time. You may even find your hands beginning to hurt, the longer you play. Some will frown on the idea and urge you to stop when you are feeling tired in your hands, but many skilled piano players advocate plowing through your discomfort, especially when learning something that is advanced and technically demanding.

Once you’ve practiced something repeatedly, you’ll get to the stage where it seems a little easier next time you sit down to attempt it. Eventually it will become second nature to you which is what you are ultimately aiming for.

If you are hear, you probably already want to learn how to play the piano and do not need to be told that the acoustic piano is an amazing instrument and that playing it is an excellent talent to develop. You may be a jazz enthusiast and aspire to play like the greats in the jazz genre. Or you may prefer the modern piano players in the jazz arena who have touched the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Others will be more interested in rock piano players. There have been some excellent piano players of rock including Ben Folds, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and many others. Some of you will likely be from a classical music persuasion. Even if you have never been a fan, you might still enjoy playing some of the more recognized classical music tracks on the piano for a challenge. This type of music being more complicated in nature is satisfying to play, due to the sheer amount of extra skill needed to achieve mastery. It can be highly educational to learn the work of some of the great classical composers including Brahms, Handel, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Learning some of their work can improve your playing immeasurably, even if you ultimate goal is to be a jazz, rock or blues piano player and it is noteworthy that may popular modern day musicians have been influenced and have even based some of their music on classical influences, the band Queen comes to mind.

So why learn to play the piano? If it is for fun, then this needs no explanation. You may simply just wish to emulate the works of some of the great artists and if you get good enough at doing so it might lead to you joining a top band or having your own solo act one day, however you may simply wish to entertain yourself as well as family and friends.

Another benefit of playing piano is relieving stress and relaxation. Playing the piano has been proven to be therapeutic. When you are tense or angry, music can help soothe the nerves and it can lift you if you are feeling down.

If you are good enough, then the piano can even give you another source of income. While some players will earn just a little and simply enjoy playing in a bar, other more ambitious players can do very well for themselves if they have sufficient talent and luck going their way. Never think that this cannot be you, if this is truly what you want to do with yourself.

Piano is also a great way to improve your discipline and there is not enough good that can be said about this. Learning how to play the piano competently give you a goal to aim more. Reaching the goal of playing a song well can be it’s own huge reward, helping you stay motivated and keeping you practicing harder. The great thing about playing piano is that it is, in many ways, not as hard as many other musical instruments. Vocal music, for instance, requires that you be very precise with pitch. Not so with the piano where a key press will always produce the right tone. There is no need to worry about being just above or below the note.

Whatever your reason to learn the piano, the ultimate “reason” anyone should learn is for their own fulfillment. Whatever your goals are you should be happy to have worked hard and achieved your true potential. When you can play a composition well it is it’s own reward making you a happier person for allowing it to become part of your life! It is our goal here at HighNotesMusicLessons.Com to help you achieve  your goals and enjoy life at the top 😉

Those who choose to learn how to play piano may have encountered some confusion when learning about keys, due to those things you strike with your fingers which bear the same name, but when talking about how music is produced it is necessary to cover the basics of the theoretical notion of “key”. In this context, the word “key” refers to the key the music is played in and not the black and white blocks of wood your fingers strike on the keyboard.

Music Keys and Signatures

Music Keys and Signatures

If you have watched a music performance by a band in a lounge or bar, you may have heard the band mention the “key” in which the piece is performed. Keys of music tracks are typically major or minor (but there are others). Major keys are usually bright sounding and happy, while minors are “gloomy”. Keys derive from musical scales, but we will save this complex theory of another article.

In terms of sheet music the key signature is a grouping of sharps or flats depicted on the staff on the left hand side of the page. If there are no sharps or flats on the staff then the piece is in the key of C major. The important thing to know are the notes that make a “sharp” or a “flat” when you translate from the notes of the sheet music to the physical keys on the keyboard.

When it comes to determining a key signature for a major key, knowing whether there are sharps or flats in the key is crucial. Only the keys of C and F do not have sharps in the key, so if a sharp is featured on a music staff in sheet music, the key can be assumed to be either G, D, A, E, B, F# or C#. If a sharp follows the letter name, then the key signature will of course feature sharps, while if a flat follows the letter name the key will feature flats.

To determine the name of a major key that has starts within it, you can use a simple method: name the note that is half a step above the last sharp, so in the case of four sharps in the staff, the key is E major (as the last sharp is D#). Similarly to determine the name of a major key that has flats in it, another method you can use is to name the second last flat in the music staff which will the the name of the key.

It is important when reading sheet music to look at the key signature on the left hand side of the staff and after the clef symbol. It is displayed as either zero or more sharp (#) or flat (b) symbols over a line or space. Ordinarily these sharps or flats are played throughout a piece, so if you are playing a piece of music in the key of “F”, then every “B” note displayed on the staff equates to a Bb (B flat) and not written beside the note. Sometimes the key signature can change during the piece which will be denoted by a new key signature and a new clef sign (which can also change during a piece).

When you are just learning how to play the piano, just remember to use the key signature to tell you what notes to play flat or sharp throughout the whole piece. In time you will get used to seeing key signatures and it will make more sense.

It is important for piano players who wish to get good to learn the important Piano chords and scales, and it is also extremely useful to know the different playing modes. These are useful for improvisation, most solos are played in one of several “modes”. In our last article: Piano Modes, we covered the Dorian, Aeolian and Phrygian modes. In this article, we will move onto some of the other important modes that top piano players use.

Lydian Mode

Lydian mode, like some of the other modes we mentioned in the last article follows the pattern of the major scale, but has it’s tonal center on the 4th note of the major. For the C-major scale, the Lydian mode then starts on note “F” and follows the C-major notes up to “F” in the next octave (this also applies to any other key of course). Lydian mode is a major scale as it features a major third.

Mixolydian Mode

Likewise, Mixolydian mode begins on the fifth note of the major scale and follows the major scale notes an octave higher. Using C-major, Mixolydian starts on note “G”, which is it’s root note and tonal center. Mixolydian Mode is another major scale as it features a major third. The Mixolydian scale is thus: G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G and is actually a popular scale used to solo with.

Aeolian Mode

Stepping up to the sixth note of the major scale, Aeolian mode begins on the 6th note (which is “A” for C-Major and one note up from “G” of Mixolydian mode). This scale is the natural minor that was mentioned in the previous article. Like many of the other modes it uses the same notes that are found on the major scale from which it is derived. Because it is a natural minor you could play this over a minor chord of it’s tonal center (Am in the example above) and it will sound good. An interesting variation is to play the octave down with your thumb and form an Am7.

So you see, although there is a lot to take in, learning the different playing modes on piano is not that difficult. Most as you have seen can be derived from the steps of it’s relative major scale pattern. We are not done yet, however, in the next post I will discuss relative minors, cycle of fifths and the Locrian Mode of playing. Stay tuned…

It would be negligent of us to leave out the blues scale. This is because this scale is widely used in the rock genre for solos, but it is much more versatile than this, being used prominently in Country, Jazz and of course Blues music. Chances are when you listen to a guitar solo, the guitarist is playing blues licks and piano players can use the same progression in their solos.

The step for a blues scale is:

W+H, W, H, H, W+H, W

Where W = whole step and H = half step.

Thus in the key of C, the notes are: C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb, C.

This is also a great scale for practicing your fingering. You would typically place your thumb on C, 2nd finger on Eb, 3rd on F, 4th on F# and then roll your 1st finger (thumb) underneath your 4th which serves as an anchor to play G and then Bb with your 2nd and so on if you wish to keep playing up the keyboard. To go down the keyboard, play Bb with your 2nd, G with your thumb which serves as an anchor in this direction, then play F# with your 2nd finger, thumb on F, 2nd finger on Eb and thumb on C.

This is not the only way you do blues scale fingering, but it is one way to works for some.

You do not need to play in a blues band to benefit from playing blues piano chords and scales. There are scores of songs that have a bluesy sound and feel to them. It is worth practicing this scale in every key – for each key, you simply follow the pattern described above, but it might take some practice to get the pattern perfect in certain keys. Perhaps the best way to practice your blues scales is to find a bluesy track to serve as backing music and then practice your scales to the music. You could even write and record your own chord progression to practice with, in fact it would be a great exercise to practice both your chords and improvisation in one go.

Older styles of music utilize blues progressions and scales more so than music does today. There are plenty of 50’s,60’s,70’s and even 80’s music that are influence by bluesy music, scales and chords, or you can go back directly to the roots and seek out blues music itself to play or improvise against. The blues is a lot of fun and sounds good too! Finding a good blues pianist who plays solos and improvises a lot is an excellent way to discover the limits to which the piano can be stretched in this genre.

 

The concept of modes simply boils down to the step pattern intervals between notes. Whether notes are black or whit is irrelevant, it’s the interval between them that matters. When a musician improvises in a solo, he will usually play notes within a musical scale. Most of these scales have special names. Being familiar with common scales is useful as you extend your knowledge of piano chords and scales.

Some of the names of modes include:

  1. Aeolian
  2. Locrian
  3. Lydian
  4. Ionian
  5. Dorian
  6. Mixolydian
  7. Phrygian
  8. Pentatonic

Each will provide their own unique color to a piece of music. The most natural mode to most players, due to the fact that it’s notes are those of any standard major scale is the Ionian Mode. (C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C – in the key of C).

Dorian mode is easy to memories as it simply starts on the second note of a major scale and goes up in sequence. (D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D – in the key of D).

The Dorian mode step pattern is thus W-H-W-W-W-H-W.

When playing in the C-scale, by starting on D and playing up the C scale to the next D note an octave higher you’ve just played the D minor Dorian scale. This is quite useful, given that by knowing a C-major scale, you also know everything you need to know about playing Dorian scales, you just need to remember that the second note is the tonal center.The natural minor scale is the Aeolian scale and is different from the Dorian minor scale by one note, a flat sixth is played, but this subtle change can result in a different feel when played in music. In summary, the important notes of Dorian mode are the tonal center note which is the root and creates it’s minor characteristics and it’s major sixth which differentiates the Dorian scale from the natural minor or Aeolian mode of play.

If you were to make your way up to the third note of the C-Major scale to “E” and make this the new tonal center, you form another scale in which you can solo with. This is Phrygian mode, which is often used in Flamenco music. You simply play the C-Major notes (or whatever major key) starting from “E” instead of “C”, so you see by simply learning the notes of major scales you already have the knowledge you need to play in three modes for soloing.

While the scale has a “minor” sound to it, it sounds “weaker” against an Em chord, but much stronger against E-Major. Phrygian mode works well against an E-major and F-major sequence.