Accompanying Students 101

Improvising accompaniments to play along with your students has many benefits: For students: 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. Reduces anxiety since (in their minds) their teacher is too busy playing to notice their unintended notes. For teachers: Transfers musicality without so much “teacher talk.” Enables “feeling” subtle student timing errors (despite what they may think). Makes for more engaging lessons than just sitting and listening. Keeps your own fingers well oiled by squeezing a little playing time into the teaching day. Reinforces the teacher/student bond through a fun shared activity. For these reasons, many instructional books include teacher parts. But even in the absence of written duets, you can still improvise accompaniments or “comp” in the parlance of jazz musicians. Here’s how: Comping Steps Unless chord symbols are included, start … Read more…

Improvising Outros

Add one last touch to your lead sheet masterpiece with a stylish ending.  “Outros” (the opposite of intro) may be as creative or clichéd as the tunes they close. Here are some common approaches to keep in mind as you explore possibilities. Apply the Brakes Some arrangements stop suddenly for a surprise effect but it is more common to ease listeners into endings. Like a train slowing down as it approaches the station, playing ritardando near the end of a tune hints that you’re about to finish.  You can emphasize this effect by repeating the last few measures.  Then confirm arrival with a fermata on the final I chord. This is the end… really… I mean it… Playing the last chord over and over delays the inevitable. Range Change Add pizzazz by repeating the last chord concerto-style in a couple of ranges. Flying Hands Play the last chord hand-over-hand Liberace-style … Read more…

Improvising Easy Introductions

A good musical introduction creates anticipation for the listener by suggesting the key and style of a tune about to be played. Ready? Set, Go! The easiest way to set up a tune is to play a V7 intro chord. This works because it takes advantage of our expectations about functional harmony. Since most tunes begin with a I chord, a V7 chord played just before leads our ears right into the melody through its natural resolution. Listen to how the C7 in the Birthday Song seems to say, “Here we go.” Drum Roll Please… Stretch the V7 intro chord “Liberace” style with hand-over-hand arpeggios to pump up the audience. Corny and overstated? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. Students love it because it sounds impressive without being difficult. This example adds drama suggesting, “Ladies and gentleman, the show is about to begin.” The Following Preview… State the last few measures of a tune … Read more…

Stretching a Lead Sheet

By Bradley Sowash (Originally written for Clavier Companion Magazine.) So your students can play the melody and chords in a lead sheet (if not, see Steps to Learning a Lead Sheet)…now what? Played at a medium tempo, this classic tune lasts about 30 seconds. How could this be stretched it into a complete performance? For inspiration, we can turn to legendary trumpet man and singer, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. When asked about his ability to spin seemingly effortless variations on every tune he played, he explained, *The first chorus [refrain] I plays the melody. The second chorus I plays the melody round the melody [embellishes], and the third chorus I routines [improvises]. Although he doesn’t mention it here, Armstrong typically ended his renditions by returning to the melody in some enhanced fashion. Here then, is Satchmo’s “road map” through a tune adapted to the L-E-A-D acronym. L-E-A-D Form 1. Lay it … Read more…

Steps to Learning a Lead Sheet

Lead sheets are a simplified form of music notation designed to present the essentials of a tune while still leaving room for creative interpretation. Lead sheets consist of two main parts: Written melody Chord symbols Interpreting lead sheets works best if you know the tune. Hopefully, this one is familiar. Steps to Learning a Lead Sheet Get the basic right hand melody and left hand chords down pat. Use common inversions for good voice leading and playing ease. Add a left hand style appropriate to your student’s ability level. It could be a simple rhythmic pattern or something more elaborate such as an Alberti bass. Embellish the melody by adding a few notes here and there… …or get all fancy with the likes of these Baroque flourishes. To stretch a lead sheet into a complete performance, follow the same steps you used to learn it. First, play the basic tune … Read more…

Improve your keyboard creativity in live, interactive online group lessons. Click to learn more.
Hello. Add your message here.