Creative Piano Techniques: The Next 4 Months (Part 2/6)

Here, I’m continuing the presentation of my piano lessons with the next 3 months, refer here to the first article.

Of course, this is quite a lot of material to learn, it is quite technical at times, and it’s something to be digested over the course of months. On a first read, you might only get to appreciate the nice music selection!

Year 1, Months 2 to 5:

Lesson 5: ii-V-I Cycles (October 13th, 2015)

1- Major scales: add Eb; Minor scales: add Ebm. Add sixteenth notes, hands together.

2- Minor blues scales: add Bbm, which has a different fingering from the previous minor blues scales: 1-2-3-2-3-1 for Bb, Db, Eb, E, F, Ab, Bb.

3- Fine tune your (right) pedal technique, listening carefully to your sound:

  • Keep the foot to the floor
  • Release the foot simultaneously to the struck chord
  • Return the foot to the floor, not too fast

4- Adele, Someone Like You:

  • Play chords + pedal, very slowly
  • Play the RH arpeggios with fingers 1-3-5.
  • String together parts A, B, C

5- ii-V-I Cycles, another essential exercise for every pianist: using the table you constructed in the previous lesson, learn to play the 12 different ii-V-I progressions in two cycles of 6 chords, down by one whole step after each progression:

  • Start the first cycle in C, with Dm9 – G13 – Cmaj9. After playing the 3 chords, play Cm9, which becomes the ii of the next chord progression. Continue until you cycle through the 6 progressions and return to C. We will call this cycle 1 throughout the course, while the next is cycle 2. Note that each cycle can be played in position A or position B.
  • Start the second cycle in G, i.e. with Am9 – D13 – Gmaj9.

This exercise is very important to start to familiarize yourself with every chord, a bit like a chess player memorizes positions on the chess board. Your brain will tune itself to recognize the chords and the progressions, so that they become second nature.

Lesson 6: Harmony Tables (October 20th, 2015)

1- Major scales: C, F, Bb, G, D, A, Eb, E; minor scales: Am, Em, Dm. For 8th and 8ths triplets, practice hands together. For 16th notes, practice one hand at a time. Listen carefully for evenness.

2- Minor blues scales: Am, Cm, Em, Gm, Bbm, Dm. Note that major blues scales are obtained by going up 1 and a half step from the minor scales, and therefore, once you know the minor blues scales, you also know the major blues scales, i.e., C major blues is just the Am blues scales started from the C note.

3- Adele, Someone Like You:

  • Play in accompaniment format: bass (LH) + chords (RH) + pedal, at 52 for the quarter note speed, for the main sections A, B, C
  • Play in trio mode: chords (LH) + arpeggios (RH), for the transition section

4- Practice the two positions for the 2 cycles of progressions

5- Study the major and minor Harmony tables:

  • Starting in C, build the chords/arpeggios 3-5-7-9 over each note of the C major, play them and listen for the sound quality, i.e. which harmony it forms. I.e. hear the sounds corresponding, by playing the bass in the left hand, and the chords 3-5-7-9 in the right hand, to obtain the sounds of: Imaj9, iim9, iiimb9, IVmaj9, V9, vim9 and viimb9b5
  • Similarly, but starting from A for ease, build the chords over each note of the harmonic A minor scale. To recall the minor scales: the Am natural scale consists of the white notes on the piano, starting from A. To get the harmonic minor scale, you raise the 7th degree (G#) both in the ascending and the descending scales. The chords will be: immaj9, iimb9b5, IIIbmaj9#5, ivm9, Vb9, VIbmaj9, VIIdim9b5. You can repeat the exercise for the natural minor and harmonic minor scales!

This is of course quite complex, and will take you time to absorb, as you see these exotic chords appear in various pieces later on.

Lesson 7: Starting Adele, Hello (October 27th, 2015)

1- Major scales; C, F, Bb, G, D, A, Eb, E; minor scales: Am, Em, Dm, Gm.

2- Blues scales: add Be, same fingering as Bbm.

3- Adele, Someone Like You:

  • New concept: play each section several times over in a loop, to better anchor them down
  • Embellishment on the repeat of part B, with D as the bass note, at each quarter note, play F#, A, F#; G#, A, E; F# A, F#. )

4- Keep practicing major ii-V-I cycles in positions A and B, with the metronome at a very slow tempo.

5- Adele, Hello: new song, learn the chords. However, just learning the chords was easy, and for the next step, we’ll get really started on this one only several lessons later.

Lesson 8: Let it Snow! (November 10th, 2015)

1- Major scales: add Ab; minor: add Bb. At 54 per quarter note.

2- Minor blues: add Ebm, also with 1-2-3-1-2-3 fingering.

3- Adele

  • Finally put together the sections as heard in a recording
  • Start learning the chords of Part D, the last section

4- Continue with the 2 cycles of chord progressions in positions A and B.

5- Christmas time is approaching, let’s start Let it Snow!: Learn the chords.

Lesson 9: You Know I’m No Good (November 17th, 2015)

1- Major scales, add Db still at 54 = quarter note.

2- Add Abm, with fingering 2-1-2-1-2-3-4-1-2- etc.

3- Adele, Someone Like You: Part D: E/B (1), F#m/C# (1) D (F), Be, A/C# (1), D (F), E/D (F)

4- Let it Snow: accompaniment mode:

  • RH: chords with 9th; try to use positions A or B from the chord progressions as much as you can
  • LH: bass, to practice alone; learn a line of suitable bass notes

5- Amy Winehouse, You Know I’m No Good: Learn the chords.

Lesson 10: Checking the Scales Quality (November 24th, 2015)

1- Major scales: add B; minor scales: add F#m.

2- Blues scales: add Dbm, with 2-1-2-1-2-3-4.

For all your scales, make a success table, writing down whether you can perform each of them accurately at 56 = quarter note. Work on the weakest ones.

3- Adele, Someone Like You: the whole song at 60 = quarter note.

4- Let it snow! Two exercises:

  • In accompaniment mode, follow the chosen path.
  • Play around with finding a walking bass, with chromatic approaches, only with LH.

5- You Know I’m No Good: play chords without using 7th or 9th, in accompaniment mode, quarter note = 100. Use inversions that minimized finger changes. Use a deep synthesizer sound, like “Rhodes”

Lesson 11: All the Major Scales! (December 1st, 2015)

1- Strong with checking the scales quality, jump ahead and practice all 12 major scales, at 54 = quarter note.

2- Adele, Someone Like You: hammering down on specific difficulties to make perfect

  • evenness of notes
  • practice RH without pedal

3- Let it Snow: focus on looping first part in accompaniment mode

4- You Know I’m No Good:

  • Accompaniment mode, with chorus
  • Learn the melody, but in a simplified manner, leaving out the complexities in the rhythm, for accompaniment purposes

Lesson 12: Focus on Let it Snow for Christmas (December 9th, 2015)

1- All the minor scales too, increase speed to 58 = quarter note.

2- Minor blues: add Am and F#m, with fingering 2-1-2-3-4-1-2.

3- Adele, Someone Like You: Whole piece, at 54 = quarter note, stay relaxed, especially shoulders.
4- Let it Snow:

  • loop 1st part
  • practice 2nd part with only LH
  • practice 3-7 in RH. This means that RH fingers 1 and 5 play chord notes 3 and 7.

5- You Know I’m No Good: Increase speed to 80 = quarter note.

Lesson 13: Blues Notes (December 16th, 2019)

1- Let it Snow at 44 = quarter note. Learn part B and reach the end of the song.

2- Adele, Someone Like You: speed at 56. Practice this way: RH = arpeggios, LH = power chord, no pedal. Careful to stay with the metronome!

3- Blues scales: all of them!

4- Practice a type of quick chromatic embellishment notes, with the 4#. This consists in playing a chord consisting of a top note, the fundamental, and a lower note, the 4th or 5th, then quickly slide this 4th or 5th up or down by a half tone to obtain a “blue note”, the augmented 4th. This will be used in various contexts later on.

5- Major and minor scales: try all in 16th notes.

6- You Know I’m No Good at 58 = quarter note.

Lesson 14: Winter by Tori Amos (December 23rd, 2015)

1- Let it Snow: complete song

2- Adele, Someone Like You: at 58, with pedal, and keep working on learning the whole shape of the song

3- You Know I’m no Good: increase speed to 72.

4- Tori Amos, Winter: read the LH and practice to arpeggiate the chords. Of course, analyze the chords, as always for a new song.

5- Beethoven Moonlight sonata, 1st movement: Begin learning the arpeggios.

6- Blues scales: focus on Cm and Am for use later on.

Lesson 15: Moonlight Sonata; Blues Form (January 5th, 2016)

1- Revisit the progression cycles in Positions A and B.
2- Practice arpeggios in C and Am, very slowly, at quarter note = 40.

3- Continue with all the scales: with tables of successful scales at speeds up to 66 = quarter note

4- You Know I’m no Good: keep increasing the speed; practice with vocal distraction, to keep your focus.

5- Winter:

  • tap the rhythm.
  • Begin the RH at 50 = quarter note.

6- Moonlight sonata: solidify the first page, and pay attention to nuances.

7- Blues form: work in accompaniment format

  • RH = 3rd+5th, 3rd+5th + 7th or 3rd+9th+7th
  • LH = fundamental + 5th
  • Basic blues form in 4/4 signature (note: a void means the chord is repeated):| I7 | IV7 | I7 | |

    | IV7 | | I7 | |

    | V7 | IV7 | I7 | V7 |

8- Satin Doll:

  • Start learning just the LH
  • Start the theme

Lesson 16: Satin Doll (January 12th, 2016)

1- For progression cycles, keep working to become more at ease

2- Arpeggios in C, Am, G, 8th notes and 8th notes triples at 40 = quarter note. Note the lateral movements required to execute with good ergonomics.

3- Scales: focus on the difficult ones only.

4- Winter: solidify the first 6 measures

5- Satin Doll: work according to 2 formats:

  • 1: RH = themeLH = bass (fundamental only)
  • 2: RH = chords in Position ALH = bass

All chords to be played including the 9th.

6- Blues form: RH = 3 + 7

LH = bass (1+ 5)

Conclusion

We can see the great amount of progress over the first 5 months, from just one popular song by Adele, to a nice portfolio of styles: one classical piece, one blues form, some jazz standards, several popular songs.

The lessons illustrate how each piece is tackled from different vantage points, some of them just exercises that are not part of the final version, but most of them eventually contributing to achieve the final version. The several months spent on mostly one piece by Adele showed how much persistence is required to reach a good result.

In forthcoming posts, I will continue the lessons, which are getting of course increasingly complicated. Hopefully, you can leave me some feedback to help improve the pedagogy!

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