An audience member recently emailed me to ask, “How do you know what to play in between piano chords?”
The question has to do with filling the space, adding rhythm and interest to the performance.
In the latest video, using the songs “Holy Spirit” and “Great Are You Lord,” I outlined three possible approaches: chords-only, improvised melodies, and chords plus melodies.
Approach 1: Chords-only
One option for playing in between chords is to play rhythms with chord tones. While playing “Holy Spirit,” I accomplished this by playing less than the full chord (just a note or two) at first, then filling out the chord with the other notes later in the measure. This creates rhythmic opportunities without simply arpeggiating the chord.
My chords-approach took on a different form in “Great Are You Lord.” This song is in 6/8 meter and more rhythmic. In this song, I did play most or all of the chord at first, then repeat whatever note my thumb played in rhythmic alternation with the left hand notes.
It’s important to note that my left-hand approach did not change with any of the options. I stuck with my usual root-and-fifth, or root-fifth-octave approach, regardless of what I was doing with my right hand.
Approach 2: Improvised melodies
Just because chords are indicated in the music doesn’t mean you have to stick to chords in your right hand. If you outline the progression in your left hand, your right hand is free to improvise melodically all around the scale.
The key is to know the different scale notes so well that you know what they will sound like before you play them. To test this, try singing your improvised melody at the same time you play it!
Approach 3: Piano Chords + Melodies
This is where I usually play. Along with the left hand, my right hand will typically outline the chords in some way, but it flows in and out of chords and improvised melodies. The key here is to develop both chord and melodic skills so completely that you can switch without thinking about it. When this happens, your technique allows you to fluently express nearly any musical idea you can conceive.
If you could use some instruction and help in developing your piano chords and/or melodies, Fluent Piano can help! Each course – FP Chords and FP Melodic – will help develop these exact skills. These courses offer efficient, straight-line development to get you where you want to be as a musician.