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OK, in today’s tutorial I want to look at some easy piano chords and how you can use them to play some famous songs and even learn some improvisation skills on the piano. I got the idea for this tutorial from a Buzzfeed post I saw recently – it listed 73 songs you can play with just four chords. Now, that got me thinking, because most of my recent piano tutorials have been on fairly advanced concepts, so I thought it was time to get back to basics and do a tutorial that offers a way in for you guys who are kind of relative beginners on the piano and maybe new to my channel. So what I’m going to do is take a look at those four piano chords That you can use to play, well, actually far more than 73 songs – probably hundreds. OK, we’re going to look at the chords in the key of C major. There’s the scale of C major. It’s the simplest scale, the simplest key on the piano keyboard. We’ll think about other keys a bit later, but for now C major is where it’s all at. The four chords that we’re going to use are C, F, G and A minor Yeah? That’s the chords of C major, F major, G major and A minor. C uses the notes C, E and G F uses F, A and C G uses G, B and D and A minor uses A, C and E. You’ll notice that all the notes of those chords from from that C major scale. That’s because all chords are basically made of scales – that’s a really important idea in music theory. I’m assuming, by the way, that you don’t actually have a ton of knowledge, and I’m going to talk about all the basic concepts you need right here. If you want a bit more in-depth information or you want to know more about music theory, or see other piano tutorials that I’ve done, do click on the link to subscribe to my channel. You might also find my book, How To Really Play The Piano, pretty useful, but I’ll talk more about that a little bit later. So now we’ve got those four basic chords but they sound pretty dull like that. We want to turn them into something… a bit more kind of interesting, a bit more useful, a bit more musical. How do we do that? So the first thing we need to do is put them in some sort of order – what we might call a “chord progression”. For now, the order we’re going to use is C, G, A minor, F. That’s C, G, A minor, F. If you’re watching this at the piano, you might just want to pause there and get your fingers round that chord progression. C, G, A minor, F. Now, a key thing to understand is that we don’t have to play those chords in those shapes, because the piano offers us hundreds ways of playing any one chord. If you’re coming from an instrument like the guitar, that can be pretty scary because on a guitar there are maybe, you know, there are maybe three or four ways of playing a chord like C – half a dozen if you’re a good player, and some are harder than others. But on the piano, as I said, there are hundreds of ways of playing each chord. OK, so those are all different ways of playing the chord of C. We call them different “inversions” and “voicings” and basically what you do is just take the three notes of that chord – C, E and G – and play them in pretty much any combination. Different combinations will have different effects. Sometimes you can even miss one of the notes out and play, you know, just Cs and Es, but most of the time you’ll need to use all three notes so the chord keeps what we call its “identity”. In other words, so it’s clear what chord it actually is. Have a play around just with that chord of C, playing it in as many different ways as you can on the piano keyboard, OK? You know, spend five, ten, fifteen minutes just getting your head around, and your fingers around, that chord of C. You’ll notice a couple of things: first off, it’s not a good idea to cluster too many notes close together down in the lower octaves of the piano keyboard, because that sounds kind of muddy and messy. Rather, keep the tight clusters in your right hand and try to keep the left hand spread out, maybe playing just one or two notes, maybe the same two notes an octave apart, like that. But for now, just one note in the left hand will be fine, just to give our progression a little bit of a bass, a little bit of a bass bite if you like. So there we are: all Cs, Es and Gs in various different different permutations. The other thing you’ll notice is that the very lowest note you play in the bass has a big effect on the chord. That’s what we call the root note of the chord, and most of the time, it’ll be the same note that the chord is named after. So C if the chord is C, F if the chord is F and so on. A if the chord is A minor. If you use different note in the bass you get a different effect. OK, you can probably hear that. So there’s C with C in the bass… C with E in the bass… C with G in the bass. That can be useful, as we’ll see, but you don’t want to be doing it all the time. The kind of default assumption is that we play as the root note the note that the chord is named after. OK, so a lot of information there. The next thing to do is take all those chords in that order – C, G, A minor, F – and play them in lots of different inversions at the piano keyboard. C, G, A minor, F – C, G, A minor, F. OK, I realise I’m probably going out of shot down here, but, you know, you get the idea. Just get your fingers around those chords for now. Don’t worry about timing or rhythm or anything like that, just sit down at the piano and play those chords in lots of different ways. C, G, A minor, F – C, G, A minor, F. Something I talk about a lot in my piano tutorials is the importance of experimenting and playing around. Playing piano is a complex motor skill, and to do it your brain needs to lay down a lot of new circuitry. You actually need to grow new bits of brain. That takes a little bit of time and a little bit of training and the best way you can help your brain to do it is by doing what I’ve just talked about: sitting down at the piano and practising. But practising musn’t be mindless. You don’t gain anything by playing the same old stuff over and over again once you’re comfortable with it. It means always pushing your boundaries, thinking, experimenting and having fun. So really go at those chords, until that progression just begins to fall under your fingers. And after a little while you might find that, by itself, the progression is beginning to do some quite interesting things. Just as your brain begins to experiment So you’re getting more interesting and more natural shapes, like this. Notice how I’m kind of locking the chords around each other and playing them in inversions that are close together. Just look again at what I did there: C, G, A minor, F, C, G, A minor, F. And in the left hand I’m occasionally using a note that isn’t the note the chord is named after. So C, G – but with a B in the bass – A minor, F. That gives a more interesting sound, and, crucially, a more natural bass line. That’s the sort of thing that, as I say, if you sit down and play around and experiment you should find begins to fall under your fingers, but you know, do play around with it. OK, so once you’ve got your head around those chords, it’s time to start counting, to start imposing some timing and some rhythm on this chord progression. The way to do that at first is just to play single chords while counting a steady four-beat pulse, like this [counts] Notice again how I’m keeping the lower notes in the left hand just super-simple and adding the richness and the thickness in the right-hand chords. I’m also using a tiny bit of sustain pedal now and then to stick things together a bit. Talking about sustain is a tiny bit beyond the scope of this tutorial, so I’ll add a link to a tutorial that I do have on it. Now, if this were the chord progression for a song, you’d now be at the stage where you could begin to sing the melody over the top if you wanted to. So in a sense you’re already you know, reaching the point where you can use these four chords to play loads of those four-chord songs on the piano. But you probably want to enrich things a little bit. So if you were playing these chords as part of a progression from a song, what you’d be playing right now is what we call a “comp”. That’s a kind of shorthand for “piano accompaniment”. Now, just playing simple chords to time is the simplest kind of comp there is. And if you’re playing slow ballads or whatever, it’s absolutely fine. You know, it can be a really cool comp just to play single chords. But there are various ways you can make your comps more complex and more interesting. I’ve got quite a few tutorials on the subject of how to do just that, and I will include some links. But you’ll probably find that if you play around and experiment long enough, some of those techniques will just begin to fall under your fingers as you get more and more comfortable with the chords. Let me just give you a few pointers on some that you can try. A really simple one is split chords. OK, you can see what I’m doing there: just taking the right hand chord and splitting it into the upper two notes and the lower note and just rocking on it like that. If you can master that then there are loads of songs you can play, you know, things like John Lennon’s “Imagine”, various bits and pieces of Coldplay ballads often use that kind of split chord approach. Again, sit down and play around with it and experiment, and see if you can make the rhythms a bit more complex. So there I’m rocking across both hands. It’s kind of like getting the right strum on a guitar. If you play the guitar you’ll know that the thing you have to do for any particular song is get your right hand rhythm correct – get one that suits the song you’re playing. If you’re feeling really confident you can break up those chords even more and begin to play… …what we call arpeggios and broken chords, where we’re taking the chords to bits and playing them a note at a time. As I say, you need to put the hours in, get really comfortable with having those chords under your fingers, and after a while you’ll find your piano skills begin to grow and develop. But it takes work, it takes time. As I said, you’re literally growing new bits of brain to do this. OK, before you go and practise this stuff there are a couple of final things to mention. First of all, knowing four chords lets you accompany lots of songs on the piano, but it doesn’t give you the melodies of those songs. So you can sing as long as you play the chords, but you don’t have enough information to create a piano solo. The easiest thing to do – and it’s really good practice – is to pick a song and try figuring out the melody for yourself at the piano keyboard. Now if you’re new to it that might seem impossibly difficult, but actually it’s pretty easy – because the melody of any song will include lots of notes from the chords. Not all of them will be chord notes – there’ll be what we call passing notes and suspensions – but if you’ve mastered the chords of a song, you’re actually usually only a short distance from the melody. It’s just about picking around and finding it. Do have a go at working tunes out at home, because it’s great practice. It can feel like a huge mental effort first, but that’s a good thing. Any time you’re at the piano and you feel like your brain is breaking because something you’re trying is so difficult, that’s when you’re really learning – you’re building those new pathways and connections. Secondly, at the moment you’re only playing those chords in the key of C, so you can play all of those four-chord songs, but only in one key, which would get pretty boring after a while. And if you find the chords for a song you like online, say, they might not be in C. You can just figure them out in C, of course, say if the chord progression is in F then the chords you’d be dealing with would be F, C, D minor and B flat, and you can kind of work out how they correspond, so F would be C and D minor would be A minor and all the rest. A better thing to do would be to actually learn chords in different keys. Because then you can really vary your playing and really break it up. So that’s rather beyond the scope of this video, but explore my channel, take a look at my book, which we’ll talk about in a second, and learn the different keys, a few different scales – really handy things – and some of those different chords. You might like to kick off by looking at the stuff I’ve got on my channel on really basic harmony, then there’s loads of stuff available online; thirdly, you might like to get some sort of book or course. I don’t have a really basic piano book out yet for people who don’t read any music at all, but there are quite a few out there. Probably the best one is “The Complete Piano Player” by Kenneth Baker. But if you do have a bit more of a grasp of the basics, if you can read a little bit of simple music, Do have a look at my book, “How To Really Play The Piano”. So, if you’ve had a few piano lessons in the past but you’re not quite sure or you can’t quite remember, or you were never taught how to use chords and things, you will find it all in here, starting with improvisation, learning about chords, learning to improvise through the medium of 12-bar blues, which is one of the simplest ways into improvisation. Loads of stuff on harmony. So do give it a look. It’s available as a print edition for 14 pounds 95 or a digital download for 9 pounds 95. Even if you’re not going to get the book, there are loads and loads of free tutorials on my channel, there’s about 120 of them, so please do subscribe, comment, get in touch, give me a shout, let me know if this kind of thing is interesting. OK – more next week, I hope – there we go, happy piano playing. [ENDS]

Reynold King

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