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How To Really Play The Piano

Remember that some chords can have ambiguous identities: the same chord can be
both B6 and Gm7 in the same key (see p32, above). It will get its name according to
context, inversion and the whim of the songwriter, composer or arranger.
Swap around from key to key, using minor and major and a range of the different
keys within the two main groups. Can you transpose a chord sequence from F major to
A major? Can you adapt it into B minor? Working in different keys like this will help
prevent you from getting stuck in the rut of playing in just a few familiar keys all the
time. This is quite a common weakness in pop pianists, and youll often meet people
who begin to struggle outside keys like C, F, G and Am.
Nobodys saying you have to achieve equal levels of perfection in every key unless
you become a session musician, youll rarely encounter situations where you want or
need to play in B major or F# minor: in most amateur settings even the fussiest singer
can shift up or down a semitone from awkward keys like these. Even so, it pays to be
flexible. Regular scale practice is useful, but it will only take you so far. Sitting down
and experimenting with patterns of chords in a variety of keys will make the biggest
difference.
Exploration is all about playing around with other peoples music to see how it fits
together. If you talk to skilled pop pianists, a common theme emerges: many of them,
when they were learning, branched out from the mainstream syllabus of classical pieces
they studied for their exams and looked at other music.
Myself, I remember buying a book of songs taken from Disney films about the same
time I joined my school jazz band. At first I didnt understand the chord symbols above
the melody line. Once jazz practice had helped me work out what the symbols meant,
I began to get a sense of where the chords went and what they did. Instead of playing
the left hand and right hand of my Disney songs as notated, I started just playing the
chords, and humming the tune over the top. After a while, I started playing the chords
in the left hand and the melody in the right. Gradually I started putting together my
own head arrangements, using pretty much the same process as Ill describe in Part
3, for working with lead sheets.
The point is this: while I was playing like this, I was internalising a sense of which
chords went where. If I played E, my fingers began to fall naturally on to Cm7 or Fm7
(two chords which might commonly follow Ein a progression). I noticed how chords
shared notes, and how it didnt take much more than a change of emphasis or inversion,
or a move to a different bass note, to change an Emaj7 (say) into a Gm, or a Cm7.

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