Want a quick and easy way to know what key a song is in? Don’t bother trying to figure out the key signature. Instead, look at the last measure of the song. What ever a song’s final chord is also the name of the key. Always.
Also: The final note of a song’s melody will usually be the key as well. But not always.
And: The FIRST chord of a song is usually the name of the key too. But, again, not always.
Although the piano makes for a great solo instrument, it has many other uses as well. One common use for the piano is for accompanying singers. Here’s a simple suggestion for piano accompaniment.
First and foremost, remember that when accompanying a singer, the piano player should NEVER play the melody. The melody is the singer’s domain, and singers often resent piano players who “play on top of them.”
So what’s the formula for accompaniment? A good basic rule to remember is to use your right hand to play chords, and use your left hand to play the root of the chord.
Extra effect: Stretch the left hand out to double the root of the chord (play the root twice). Use your left hand thumb to play the top root and the little finger to play the lower root. Experiment with different locations in the lower keyboard register until you get the sound you want.
Extra: This configuration is useful if you’re playing piano in a band as part of the rhythm section.
Ever get the feeling most blues songs sound similar to one another? It’s true. While many factors contribute to the blues sound, it’s important to know that chord progressions for all blues songs are practically identical.
A typical blues verse consists of 12 measures (or bars). In the key of C the chords for the 12 measures of a blues song would be C C C C F F C C G7 F C C . Memorize this one chord pattern, and you have the structure of virtually all blues tunes! There are hundreds of thousands of these tunes. Perhaps millions.
This is why the blues is such a popular style for musicians to improvise or jam with. It’s a universally known and accepted common ground.
However, it’s not always that straightforward. For example, there are countless little variations on the 12 bar theme. Often a chord is changed here or there to create a little diversity from song to song.
And, of course, the chords are different when you play in different keys.
But the 12 bar blues form, as noted above, would be good for every piano player to memorize.
As we mentioned in the previous week’s fact, there are variations to the basic 12 bar blues form. One of the most straightforward variations is to play all the chords as (dominant) seventh chords. Thus, instead of the pattern from last week (C C C C F F C C G7 F C C), you could play C7 C7 C7 C7 F7 F7 C7 C7 G7 F7 C7 C7.
Try it and hear for yourself whether it sounds familiar. Conventional music theory (coming from the great conservatories of Europe mostly) holds that it’s rare to start a piece on a seventh chord, and it’s unheard of to finish a piece on a seventh chord. The very nature of seventh chords is to inform the ear that it needs to be resolved.
But blues breaks many of the rules that came before. What’s wrong for some types of music is right for another.
Many famous songs are blues based and have seventh chords all the way through. Example: “Woolly Boolly” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and “She’s a Woman” by the Beatles.
The beauty of the 12 bar blues form is that if you learn this one chord progression, you’ve learned (virtually) the changes to all blues songs. However, the 12 bar form is used in many other types of music as well. Boogie-Woogie for example. Almost all boogie-woogie tunes follow the 12 bar progression.
Rhythm and Blues, of course, is another example. Just listen to “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles or “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”
Many rock n’ roll songs from then Fifties follow this form. “Blues Suede Shoes,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “The Twist,” “The Stroll,” “Kansas City.”
Many of the great jazz composers used this form. “One O’clock Jump” (Basie), “Two O’clock Jump” (Harry James), “C Jam Blues” (Ellington), “All Blues” (Miles Davis), “Straight, No Chaser” (Thelonius Monk), “Misterioso” (Monk).
There, see how many songs you already know? Just from learning this one chord progression?