Piano improvising and arranging is an
art but definitely not a science. There aren't any
steadfast rules for creating an arrangement, nothing to
dictate the limitless potential of your imagination.
Musicians learn to arrange by simply arranging – and
improvise by improvising -- over and over again. It's a
big game of trial and error. But it’s also a scientific
method: you keep the experiments that work, and abandon
those that don’t work.
That being said, there are a few
things that can help you in the knowledge of piano
improvization. Don't think of these as rules, but rather
points on a roadmap guiding you through the vast world of
arrangement and improvisation possibilities.
- The first step, of course, is to
learn as much as you can about chords and how they work.
Once you get a handle on piano chords and the chord
symbols that represent them, you can then learn how to
break those chords up in various patterns.
- Learn several different chording
patterns, such as open voicing, arpeggios, upward
inversions, western bass, Alberti bass, swing bass or
boogie bass. This course guides you through these
techniques, in addition to others, and teaches you to
understand when they're the most appropriate.
- Learn some right hand fillers, like
octaves (and the multitude of harmonic possibilities
associated with octaves), tremelos, grace notes, twangs,
runs, and turnarounds. Again, this course teaches you
these fills and several others.
- Study pre-arranged sheet music.
Your local music shop will have tons of music books
containing several arrangements; read and play through
these in detail. Seeing what other people have done with
various pieces of music will help you understand the art
of arrangement and also introduce you to new techniques!
- Dig into different musical styles,
like ragtime, blues or country-western. Pick up some
compilation CDs focusing on a particular style of music or
purchase some sheet music specializing in the style.
Understanding the fundamental elements of various styles
will help you learn to arrange any song in that particular
style -- or just add a few stylized elements to any
- Jump online and type in “chord
piano” or “piano chords” into your search browser, and you
will come up with a zillion choices where you can learn
all you need to know about chords in a reasonably short
time. It’s not rocket science, and once you learn a few
piano chords, you probably will become addicted to chords
and their application to your piano playing.
Duane Shinn is the author of over
500 music books and products such as DVD's, CD's, musical
games for kids, chord charts, musical software, and piano
lesson instructional courses for adults. He holds advanced
degrees from Southern Oregon University and was the
founder of Piano University in Southern Oregon. He can be
He is the author of the popular free 101-week e-mail
newsletter titled "Amazing Secrets Of Exciting Piano
Chords & Sizzling Piano Chord Progressions" with over
56,650 current subscribers. Those interested may obtain a
free subscription by going to
Lessons at PlayPiano.com