Summer 2020: Questions & Answers


What is the difference between a fake book and a real book? Both fake books and real books are collections of lead sheets, that is, pieces presented simply as melodies and chord symbols. Some jazz musicians use these collections at gigs to have a wide array of tunes at their disposal. The term "fake book" is used as a broad category for these colle...

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May/June 2018: Create and Motivate


Combining scales and chords Here are three exercises that benefit all musicians regardless of their preferred style or approach to making music: 1. Scales 2. Chord drills 3. Scales and chords together The last two columns offered interesting ways to practice the first two. Now, here's a way to combine scales and chords into one ...

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Create and Motivate: Developing seventh-chord fluency

The ability to recognize and play chords without hesitation benefits all pianists. For improvisers, chord fluency enables practical skills such as learning tunes by ear, transforming lead sheets to arrangements, jamming with others, and creating one's own part in bands. For those who prefer to play written music, facility with chords improves learn...

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Developing triad chord fluency


Like language students who have memorized vocabulary but are not yet conversant, pianists who have learned to construct chords may not yet be "chord fluent." So how do we help our students move beyond music theory worksheets to being able to interpret chord symbols and identify underlying harmonies in literature more easily? One approach involves a...

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Apps for teaching: Tools for triggering creativity with pop music

Why integrate popular or "non-classical" music into piano lessons? Retain students Integrating pop music into your curriculum can meet students "where they are." Encouraging them to learn what's on their Spotify or iTunes playlist may draw them to practicing more, which results in progress. Progress motivates, and will keep them on the bench. Devel...

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Beyond major and minor: A composer’s understanding of chords and scales

​Major and minor. Together these form a basic polarity in Western music. Major scales and chords are usually characterized as "happy," while minor ones are saddled with the label "sad." After composing, improvising, arranging, and teaching for more than forty years with these musical materials, I have come to a different way of understanding them. ...

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Pencil Practice 101

Recognizing chord symbols is one of the biggest obstacles faced by beginning improvisers learning to play from lead sheets. Just as foreign language students write conjugations to become better speakers, pianists can improve their chord fluency with pencil practice away from the piano. Writing chords by key Follow these steps together with your stu...

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Comping 103—Waltz-time broken chords

​ Here's a riddle: What do you break to fix? Answer: bland blocked chords. ​Whether improvising teacher accompaniments or helping students dress up ho-hum arrangements, broken chords are a very useful trick to have in your bag. Broken chords sound great with lyrical, long-note melodies that beg for a busier accompaniment. They are also particu...

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Comping 101 - Accompanying Students


Accompanying students is an enjoyable way to transfer musicality from veteran to rookie efficiently without so much "teacher talk."  For students, it  • tightens up their sense of time;  • helps them listen while playing;  • enables them to feel more like "real musicians";  • prepares them to play in ensembles;  • and ...

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Preparation, Presentation, and Reinforcement: Triads and Inversions

 Many teachers are absolute sticklers for proper fingering in triads and inversions. I am one of these teachers. Witnessing an incorrect fingering creates an unreasonable anxiety, quite possibly out of proportion with the fingering infraction. Knowing this about myself, and less selfishly, knowing the importance of establishing "friendly habit...

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Diminished seventh chords, and, pardon the expression, half-diminished seventh chords in jazz and popular music

Diminished seventh chords In jazz and popular music, diminished chords are invariably played as four-note chords, rather than triads, whether the chord symbol says Cdim (C °) or Cdim7 (C ° 7). A diminished seventh chord consists of a diminished triad plus a diminished seventh above the root of the triad: However, enharmonic spellings are fre-q...

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Playing Contemporary Pop

A piece of music can be centered around a key note, but have less of a feeling of a "western" chord progression. Contemporary pop pieces often use ambiguous chords and their harmonic structures can be based on modes rather than scales. If you start with a scale of C, you can build modes on each note of the scale, like this: Each...

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Chord Substitution

One thing that has always drawn me to jazz is the harmony. It is fascinating to hear how a single chord change can define one artist's interpretation of Autumn Leaves or Night and Day from another artist's interpretation. Applied judiciously, these harmonic variations will add touches of color to your own arranging and performing. When one chord is...

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Playing Indie Pop

Indie Pop is a genre of rock music that emerged in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, characterized by upbeat, melodic progressions. This article will take you through the basics of the indie pop style, beginning with simple structures familiar to all piano students.  Here is a scale of G major:  We can build three-note chords on each note ...

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Scalin' the chords

When I was about twelve years of age, my parents took me to a restaurant that featured a live jazz trio. I was amazed to see the pianist playing without written music. Unaware of the awkwardness I might cause by interrupting a performing musician, I approached the stage and asked him how he did it. His succinct reply changed my life. Without missin...

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How Do You Teach Fluent Chord Reading?

Countless times, teachers hear something similar to "I don't want Johnny to be a concert pianist, I just want him to be able to play hymns." Usually, we take the time to explain that hymn playing-or any chord reading for both hands together-represents one of the hardest kinds of reading any student has to learn to do. Regardless,&nbs...

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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