Every month, Justin Sandercoe of justinguitar.com lends GT his insight as one of the world’s most successful guitar teachers. This month: Play piano in 15 minutes!
Food For Thought, Session Shenanigans, 60 Seconds, Jam Tracks, Phil’s OML and more.
Play piano in 15 minutes! I love those misleading ads one sees all over the internet. But for strummers out there with even a rudimentary music theory knowledge, it is a very easy step to transfer basic concepts to the piano - and with many benefits. If you can get yourself in front of a piano or keyboard this micro course will get you up and running, and playing a load of songs in just a few minutes.
The white notes on the piano are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C and the black notes are the sharps and flats. Remember that E-F and B-C are just a semitone apart so they are the ones that are without a sharp between them. You’ll notice that the sharps are grouped in twos and threes – well, B and C are located to the left of the groups of two. If we only use the white notes we are playing in the key of C Major, which is all we’ll be working in today.
One of the cool things about theory applied to piano is that it’s a lot more obvious than on guitar. Basic triad chords for example are R, 3rd and 5th, and this on piano is simply, play a note (Root), miss a note (2), play a note (3rd), miss a note (4), play a note (5th) - it’s right there in front of you! There are many fingering options but to start use your right hand, thumb on the root, middle finger on the 3rd and pinky on the 5th. This will help you to ‘miss’ the notes that would have been under your index and ring fingers (note that I’m avoiding finger numbers here because they’re different from guitar!).
So start that triad shape with your thumb on the note C, do the ‘play a note, miss a note, play a note miss a note’ thing and you have a C Major chord (C-E-G). Keep the same shape but move it all up one note so thumb is on the D and you have a D Minor chord (D-F-A). This follows the diatonic chord sequence for the key of C which is: C Major, D Minor, E Minor, F Major, G Major, A minor, B Diminished and then back to C. We number these chords using Roman numerals for convenience.
The rhythm I recommend you start with is playing a root note of the chord (just the one note) in the left hand somewhere to the left of where you plan to play the chord, and then the triad with the right hand, do that all twice and you have the bass on beats 1 and 3 and the chord on 2 and 4. How much quicker was that to learn than the same thing on guitar?
A chord pattern that works for gazillions of songs is the good ol’ I-V-VI-IV (1-5-6-4) so doing each of those for a bar and you got yourself the ability to play hundreds of songs at parties and show off your new awesome piano skills. Some (simplified) songs you might like to sing over this would be: I’m Yours (Jason Mraz), Let It Be (The Beatles), When I Come Around (Green Day), Wherever You Will Go (The Calling).
If you fancy trying something a bit more old-school, try using the I-VI-II-V (1-6-2-5) chord sequence which is the foundation of many more songs like: I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin) or The Rainbow Connection (Muppets).
The so-called ’50s progression - I-VI-IV-V (1-6-4-5) - is used in Stand By Me (Ben E King), All I Have To Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers) and tons of others. These are simplified somewhat and I had to leave bits out, but the idea is to get you started and give you some food for thought. Next month we’ll see how you can use these ideas to help your guitar playing, and get a little more creative. For now, tinkle those ivories and have some fun!
next month we’ll use these ideas to help your guitar playing, and get a little more creative
Justin shows how easy it is to get started playing piano