In this lesson I’ll be talking a little more about translating different instrument parts to the piano, and thus: how you can make your very own piano-part for any song (even those that haven’t got any piano in it) using chords and -especially- choosing your patterns wisely.
To make sure (or at least enhance the chance) that you’ll all be able to follow what I’m talking about, I’ll be using the very, very beautiful song ‘Blackbird’ by Paul McCartney, which is played entirely on a solo acoustic guitar, to keep you out of the maze of many different instruments to listen to and copy.
This way I hope you’ll all be able to hear what I’m talking about, when referring to the original version.
Although ‘Blackbird’ has a lot (!) of different chords, some of them a little more advanced (remember you can always ‘strip the level of the song down’ to your level of playing, by leaving out all the chord extension notes such as 7’s, 9’s, 6’s etc. and just playing the major or minor chord that is written without any of the additions in the chord symbol), nailing this song actually comes down to nailing the main pattern, that carries this entire version of the song.
In other words: although this song might seem very difficult to some of you, actually the only thing you have to do is change to the correct chord / voicing at the correct moment, while continuously playing the same pattern.
Simple eh? You’d be surprised for how many songs this exact rule works.
First, let’s take a look at the possible end result:
Patterns and their magic.
This song is a perfect demonstration of how a pattern (which in itself also defines the ‘rhythm’ and ‘groove’ of a song) can form a very large and important part, namely the ‘feel’, of a song.
Keeping the pattern steady and shifting it to different harmonies can create a beautiful carpet-like instrumental part. This is very often the way guitar parts (like ‘Blackbird’) are written.
Acing the pattern = learning the song.
So step one to learn this seemingly hard-to-play version, would be to pick one of the chords, (I’d suggest to pick the ‘main’ and the first one, G for this) and first practice the pattern. Once you can play it in a steady groove, just switch your fingers to the next voicing and keep on playing the same pattern.
Step two: learn and memorise all different chords and voicings and ‘voila’! (ok, for this song that is indeed quite a task in itself, but hey, not a whole lot of pop-songs have this many different chords/voicings, so this can almost only get easier!).
Nailing the main groove.
The basic part of the pattern this whole version is built on, is my own interpretation of Paul McCarney’s mellow, steady rocking, ‘one-and-two-and-three-and-four‘ – groove.
What the hell does that mean, you ask? Well, put yourself in my position right now, and try to explain a rhythmic feel in words, Jeeez! :). Just kiddin.
What I mean is that in this groove all eighth-beats are played, but with emphasis on all quarter-beats. (without any more funnyman-business, listening to grooves in fact does always work way better than reading text that tries to catch it in words. So please listen to the original of ‘Blackbird’ for a better understanding of what I mean).
To translate this feel to the piano, play the chord G by voicing it with notes ‘g’ (the 1/root of the chord) and ‘d’ (the 5 of the chord) in your left hand alternating: one after another, ‘g’-‘d’-‘g’-‘d’ etc., in a steady pace, while emphasising all ‘g’s’ (which all fall on the quarter beats, one,two,three,four).
Play the ‘g’ (1) with your pinky and the ‘d’ (5) with your thumb.
Keeping this alternation between two different bass notes, being the root and in this case the ‘5’ (on other chords it will often be a different number or extension to the chord, because of the fact this upper note will often remain on the same note for a couple of chords in a row (‘g’ in most cases), changing the relation to the root) of the chord steady throughout the entire song, is the base of the groove of the entire song.
Just make sure you play ‘one-and-two-and-three-and-four’ i.e. all the eight beats with your left hand, with the notes indicated in the voicing-pictures.
Next, add your right hand by playing the chord G (in any voicing of your liking, that is not the point at this moment) on all ‘one’s’. So on every first count of all measures. Easy, right?
As you will try and learn the song, you’ll see that on most of the chords (the ones last one quarter-beat), this is actually it!
For chords that last two or more quarter beats, the pattern is extended.
To learn this, there is a next (final) step:
This pattern revolves around a ‘bottom note – upper two notes’ pattern with your right hand, as learned in the course, added to the ‘alternating eighth-beats’ pattern played with the left hand.
How it works in words:
All eight beats, alternating between the bottom note (the root of the chord) on all quarter beats, and the top note (depending on the chord it will be the ‘5’, ‘4’, ‘3’, ‘2’ or ‘7’ of the chord, just follow the notes indicated with the blue dots (indicating they’re played later)) on all the other eighth beats.
The whole voicing (as indicated) on the ‘one’ (first quarter beat), then the lowest note of the right hand voicing, on the sixteenth-beat that comes right after the second eighth-beat (the first time you play the upper note of the left hand voicing, on the G chord this would be the ‘d’).
This thus is the fourth sixteenth-beat, which falls right between the first ‘d’ and the second ‘g’ in your left hand.
Next, again the whole voicing is played on the sixth sixteenth-beat, which is the beat that falls right between the second bottom note (on the G chord the ‘g’) i.e. the ‘two’, or second quarter-beat, and the second upper note (on the G chord the ‘d’): the fourth eighth-beat.
Holy mac! What a description. This sounds terribly difficult like this, doesn’t it? Technical terms and all.. gotta love ’em!
I had to write it down, for more than one reason (credibility, being a pretty big one of ’em), but I’d suggest you just watch this video and try to copy (SLOWLY!).
Alright, actually that is it! Well, you still gotta learn those chords, of course ;).
As said, the rest of the song is all just about shifting your hands to the correct voicings (as indicated on the pictures) and keeping this pattern steady, so just follow the video and all will be good. If not, please leave a comment with your question!
Make sure your left hand keeps on playing all eighth-beats. This is in fact even more important than playing the exact correct notes. You could alternate between all ‘1’s’ and ‘5’s’ or between octaves for that matter, to simplify the voicings. Really doesn’t matter that much. Just keep ’em alternating and keep ’em steady!
Final insight into the voicings:
Do you see how many times the note ‘g’ is played, especially as the top note in the left hand voicings? While it’s ‘function’ (it’s relation to the root) constantly changes (for instance, on C it is the ‘5’ on D it is the ‘4’ on A it is the ‘7’), ‘g’, the root note of the song, keeps coming back in almost all the many different harmonies, all the time adding a sort of ‘familiar’ feeling.
The whole song ‘evolving’ around this note, is one of the main and many beauties of this song. Music theory meets feeling and wonderful songwriting quality at it’s very best.
Please don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘share’ and please leave a comment below!
Happy playing and see ya next time.