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Learning to play solo


give_us_a_song

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Hello everyone, I'm new round here! And need some of your sage advice!

 

I've been playing keyboards in your standard wedding/bar pop covers band (gigging roughly weekly) for a while and beginning to get a bit bored with playing the same stuff. My role in the band is to just really fill out the sound, nothing fancy.

 

I'd like to try build up a solo piano set but I'm running into a problem...

 

Trying to play the same stuff I play with the band doesn't work out for me. The rhythm is clunky and boring, and my bass parts are simplistic. So much of the rhythmic interest supplied by the drums and bass in the band is missing and I don't know how to replace it (I know, practice is probably the only answer).

 

My question is what's the best way to learn to fill out that lost rhythm? What did you find worked for you? Transcribing recordings, starting with standards/lead sheets, etc. Are there any songs you'd recommend beginning with?

 

Any advice you can pass on would be really appreciated.

 

Thanks a million guys.

 

 

 

 

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What kind of solo piano do you want to play? I ask because, to me, most "rock" songs, with some exceptions, sound lame when played on solo piano.

 

If you're willing to broaden your horizons, there is lots of sheet music and transcriptions out there that will provide the arrangement. Pick up a book of Scott Joplin rags. Find some jazz standards. You could get started with that, and that will help you to learn to play in more of solo piano "style".

 

Here's a link to a web site with a couple of really nice transcriptions.

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I'm kind in the same boat as you. Here's what has helped me:

 

"The Steinway Library of Piano Music- Simply Elegant Paino"

 

"Popular Performer Series" by Alfred publishing.

 

Learn the arrangements in these books- try to analyze them too, and also get the lead sheets. You will start picking up certain pianistic tricks that you can apply to other tunes.

 

Get a teacher too if you can- I wish I coud... I did get to take some lessons from a "pop solo" player. In exchange I taught her about latin music. Maybe you could find a solo pianist that wants to learn about playing in cover band. just a thought...

 

hope that helps- good luck and welcome to the forum!

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To sound good as a solo act the key is to pick your material and arrangements carefully. There are many songs that just don't do well with solo piano...and of course there are many that do. Try the ones you want to play and see how they sound....if they sound good use 'em....that's best way to build up your set list.
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Listen to lots of solo piano recordings, find ones you like, and then copy the style they play in (or get a teacher to help you).

 

If you're going down a jazzy/bluesy route, you can add stride left hand and boogie woogie styles to fill out the rhythm.

 

And there's lots of rock solo piano stuff to listen to on YouTube.

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I've been in the same boat. I'll tell you what worked for me. Start thinking of your hands as two players(not women or you'll never get anything done and walk with a limp) Right hand singer or choir, left hand bass or rhythm guitar(or both). Learning to play the piano percussive, took years for me to grasp. Some people(Billy Joel ex.) started out with that understanding. You'll be amazed how many tunes can work if you arrange them under this light. I hope this is helpful.

 

 

"A good mix is subjective to one's cilia." http://hitnmiss.yolasite.com
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Yeah to all above, I had a problem years ago, moons ago like that. I had stopped touring and was asked all the time who I had been playing with because I could play anything and it sounded great. I played with bands just for the money and not because they were very good. One year I worked with a dozen different bands. This is the Houston area mind you and there should be more great keyboardists but there are not. To repeat, you either listen to a lot of soloist cds/dvds, watch the boardist on TV. Get a Liberace DVD and watch him, he will blow your mind and does not miss a note, Liberace is in the guinace world records for playing the most notes in one minute. Sorry about the spelling. Watch and listen to the re runs of Lawrence Welk Show, he had the very best pianists on his show, I still watch them and practice what they do. They do have music degrees in performance. If thats not enough, find a good advanced piano teacher and be prepared to pay, I've done all of these and learned and continue to learn every day. Play to impress yourself and no one else and enjoy and have fun playing.
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necessity is the mother of invention

 

Yep. That's how I made the transition from bands to solo. I found a quiet out of the way lounge that took me in without any experience at this, paid me practically nothing ($75/night) and was patient enough with me to let me figure it all out.

 

I used all the suggestions above (except the teacher one) but what really worked was that I was pushed to get it together by that gig.

 

Whatever I ran through here at home I could try out in a club a few hours later. And I had to - I started out with nothing but about 40 songs gleaned from my band days.

 

That club was the greatest learning experience I've ever had as a musician.

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Thanks everyone for your suggestions, I'll try as many of the ideas as I can over the weekend, including looking round for a lesson or two. It's reassuring to know that at least some of you have been in the same situation I've found myself in (and got past it!).

 

I think it was definitely a bit naive of me to think that it should be easy to play without thinking carefully about the suitability of the songs I was playing or making a more in depth study of the masters.

 

I suppose the repertoire I was thinking about was older classics/standards Nina Simone/Nat King Cole/Ray Charles...Has anyone any advice to share on learning to play in these styles?

 

By the way, I tried the two voices idea today and it definitely sounded a bit more interesting, improving a fraction already! (in my own ear at least) Thanks.

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I suppose the repertoire I was thinking about was older classics/standards Nina Simone/Nat King Cole/Ray Charles...Has anyone any advice to share on learning to play in these styles

 

My own approach for material like that was to listen to the original, and other player's takes, on the song that I was working up. Then copy the parts I liked the best I could.

 

But I am not an interpreter. That's why I've been a bar musician all my life.

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Yeah to all above, I had a problem years ago, moons ago like that. I had stopped touring and was asked all the time who I had been playing with because I could play anything and it sounded great. I played with bands just for the money and not because they were very good. One year I worked with a dozen different bands. This is the Houston area mind you and there should be more great keyboardists but there are not. To repeat, you either listen to a lot of soloist cds/dvds, watch the boardist on TV. Get a Liberace DVD and watch him, he will blow your mind and does not miss a note, Liberace is in the guinace world records for playing the most notes in one minute. Sorry about the spelling. Watch and listen to the re runs of Lawrence Welk Show, he had the very best pianists on his show, I still watch them and practice what they do. They do have music degrees in performance. If thats not enough, find a good advanced piano teacher and be prepared to pay, I've done all of these and learned and continue to learn every day. Play to impress yourself and no one else and enjoy and have fun playing.

 

Not to be toooo generalizing here, but somehow I'm having trouble putting your avatar together with what you watch on TV.

 

Just sayin'.

 

 

 

 

____________________________________
Rod

victoria bc

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"Not to be toooo generalizing here, but somehow I'm having trouble putting your avatar together with what you watch on TV.

 

Just sayin'."

 

 

Me too! I haven't really checked about Liberace- I just heard lots of fuuny things about him.

 

I do enjoy watching the Lawrence Welk Show too. Very corney stuff but those guys were total pros.

 

BTW, does anyboady know how much of that show was play-back? Sometimes it looks/sounds 100% live and sometimes it seems like it is play back.

 

 

 

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I became a lot better solo player after joining the Army. I think two things happened:

 

1.I played my ass off! It just made everthing easier. Playing 25-30 hours a week will do that. Scales, sight reading, charts, sight singing classes...

 

2. I had a pretty cool teacher while I was there. He spent little time correcting my technique. He would instead tell me stories and suggest stylistic things that were totally different from my own experience. He had me playing"Night and Day" as a laid-back Rhumba and he showed me how to reharmonize "All the things You Are". The chords changed the whole thing. I played the melody over half notes and it sounded great. Didn't need anything else. That taught me to slow down and listen.

 

I think speed and technique is important but you can certainly play slow and sparse and still sound good (Count Basie?).

"Music should never be harmless."

 

Robbie Robertson

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Learning to play the piano percussive, took years for me to grasp. Some people(Billy Joel ex.) started out with that understanding. You'll be amazed how many tunes can work if you arrange them under this light. I hope this is helpful.

 

That brings up another point. Playing "solo" piano and accompanying yourself (or others) singing are two different beasts entirely. It took me more years than I care to admit to figure this out and simplify my arrangements to support rather than compete with the vocals.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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The funny thing is I was going to post a similar question over here to pick some brains.

 

First, let's take into account what Wastrel said. Will you be playing solo instrumental piano, or will you be singing along? "Two different beasts".

 

I'm all for private lessons but make sure you get them from someone who has experience playing solo piano in nightclubs. If you get traditional lessons you'll have to wait until you pass grade 99 before they tell you, "Sorry, we don't teach popular music, we only teach you how to read sheet music". :D

 

Having said that, piano is the only instrument for which copious copies of standard notation for solo arrangements can be found. If you are a good note reader definitely invest some coin in something with a title like "100 Best Rock Songs for Piano" and reap the benefit of someone else's arrangements.

 

It doesn't matter which polyphonic instrument you play; when it comes to playing solo it's all about the arrangement.

 

One general approach is the one bluzeyone gives: LH bass/rhythm guitar and RH melody/harmony. Want to see how that works on bass? (Of course you do. ;) ) Stu Hamm's solo bass arrangement of "Linus and Lucy". Stu is literally using his left hand to play the bass line and his right to play the melody (until he gets to the strummy part). Playing the same notes on piano would be the "simplified" arrangement of the piece.

 

The cool thing about piano is you can do things like play a bass note on the down beat and hold it with a pedal while your LH moves up to play chords in between the down beats. This still leaves your RH free to play melody/harmony.

 

Or you can play RH melody and harmony/chords with LH.

 

If you're singing, you're singing the melody and your RH is now free to do other thing like play chords (with maybe LH bass). It's really more of a duet with your voice as a second instrument.

 

Here's the "trick", though. If you're playing a rock piece originally recorded with several guitar tracks you don't have to pick one to play. Instead you play the key notes from each part. You may have to leave a bunch of notes out. Not to worry; as long as the key parts are present the audience will recognize (and hopefully appreciate) the song. This is the power of arrangement.

 

Need more hands? How about foot pedals.

 

(Nothing that hasn't been posted here before.)

 

She's cheating on the last one, though, isn't she? The drum tracks are pre-recorded and she just advances them with her foot pedal. Hey, guitar players are using loopers and/or backing tracks now; it's all fair game. However, only use the technology if you have a clear conscience applying it to "live" music.

 

[edit: I call it cheating as well on "YYZ" that she plays Geddy's bass solo with her RH. It's a bass solo. Where are her LH chops?]

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So here's the question I had for the jazzers.

 

Today's jazz trio (piano, bass and drums) usually has upright bass (URB) thumping out a walking bass line most of the time (unless the bassist is soloing). When playing the same kind of music as a solo piano arrangement, do you play the same kind of walking bass line with LH? (Or would that be too limiting?)

 

Do you end up simplifying the bass line or ignore it completely (and just use LH to comp chords or whatever as you would in a trio)?

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So here's the question I had for the jazzers.

 

Today's jazz trio (piano, bass and drums) usually has upright bass (URB) thumping out a walking bass line most of the time (unless the bassist is soloing). When playing the same kind of music as a solo piano arrangement, do you play the same kind of walking bass line with LH? (Or would that be too limiting?)

 

Do you end up simplifying the bass line or ignore it completely (and just use LH to comp chords or whatever as you would in a trio)?

 

I'd probably play a walking bass if it was that kind of tune, while playing both melody and chords with the right hand. You want to become good enough at walking bass lines that you don't have to concentrate on it. When you reach that point of proficiency, it will seem like your left hand is walking automatically. Which of course is not true. You're devoting some part of your brain to what it's doing, but in "auto-pilot" mode it sometimes feels like the left hand has a mind of its own.

 

There's lots of great solo piano recordings to listen to and try to emulate. Red Garland's solo recordings have been inspiring to me.

Gigging: Crumar Mojo 61, Hammond SKPro

Home: Vintage Vibe 64

 

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I am good at walking bass but I don't like to play it these days on solo gigs. I do it sometimes if I am accompanying anopther person though.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." 

Harry teaches jazz piano online using Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, or Google Meet.

 

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Funny, I think of stride has being much harder work. Maybe it depends what you're used to. Walking bass has always felt very natural and easy to me. I'm working hard at becoming a better stride player.

Gigging: Crumar Mojo 61, Hammond SKPro

Home: Vintage Vibe 64

 

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My teacher took a lesson with Henry Hay when he went to New York a while back. He picked up some tips which he passed on to me.

 

I'm in the same boat as you, my first solo cocktail gig is in a month.

 

First of all, Henry believes a solo player should never, ever walk a bass line. Your swing should be strong enough that you don't need to resort to imitating another instrument. Of course, that's just one opinion. My teacher still walks. But just something to think about.

 

This next one, I am finding particularly rewarding. Pick a tune, any tune. Grab the lead sheet. Don't look at the melody. I mean it. Block chords in the left hand. Then the right hand. Then play the root in the left and play 1-2-3-5 in the right, 8th notes. Since those are very "white" notes, continue with 5-13-7-9. Carry on playing the roots in your left hand an playing patterns over the chord tones. You can make choices for certain notes, say flatting the nine or not. Keep going like this, applying every possible combination, including things like Hanon exercises, drop 2 and 3 voicings, etc. Everything is good. When you're done with that, flip your hands and repeat all those exercises in your left hand. Finally, play the root in your left hand and play the melody in your right. Since you've explored every single sonic and harmonic possibility (Well, that's never really true, but whatever.), you should be able to hear the harmony regardless that you're only playing two notes. Then, you can start to apply things you taught yourself through those exercises and arrange the tune for yourself. Since you know the changes so well, soloing will be a piece of cake.

 

Once you've learned that tune inside-out, any other tune with similar changes or the same chords will be easy, because you'll already have done the major woodshedding!

 

I've also learned the hard way that transcription and listening are essential. I don't do nearly enough.

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