Sophisticated left hand patterns: how to avoid the “arpeggiator” sound

I’ve got some new exciting left hand patterns for y’all! Let’s dive right into it. You know I’m a great fan of arpeggiated broken 10ths, right? This is the pattern that stride pianists of the 30s-40s have been using in their ultra-fast left-hand rolls when they got bored by stride bass and triads. 10ts are nothing less but 3rds transposed up an octave — but they sound much sexier, airier and just cooler. Think of them as 3rds with the make-up on. Or 3rds in lingerie. Okay, I guess I made it clear enough, let’s not explore this analogy further—

So, the 30s guys used to play them fast and mostly harmonically, meaning — as chords (that require a hell of a finger span), but the real magic happens when you play them melodically, i. e. when you arpeggiate them. You can then add other diatonic intervals and discover whole new universes of left hand patterns. By the way, if you’re lazy, I have a ton of exercises on this very topic for you.

Just like any other chords, 10th “chords” have “inversions”. And just like any inversions, 10th inversions have — ahem — permutations. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of chord permutation, read this post. Inverted 10ths come very handy when you want to diversify your left hand playing style. For example, if you have a pattern that goes: Cm7 — Bbm7 — Ab∆7 — Eb∆7, it would be a bit repetitive and stale to use the same broken 10th pattern for all four bars. By alternating inversions and combining them with normal 7th chord arpeggios (and arpeggiated chord shells) you can create the fabric that flows very smoothly, blending between chords in intricate and subtle ways, as opposed to robotic switches when you just repeat the same pattern in a different harmonic context.

Let’s take a closer look at inverted broken 10ths:

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This is the classic 1-5-10 pattern for the Cm chord: starting on root (C), then on the fifth (G) and on the 10th (Eb one octave above).

Here’s how you can construct a unique left hand pattern using three different ingredients: inverted 10ths, 7th arpeggio in two permutations and the shell voicing.

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And that’s just one chord! So, even if you’re going to be staying in Cm for a couple of bars, by having your left hand pattern flow like this, you’re much less likely to sound stale and static.

Here’s the C Phygian piece using some combinations of the aforementioned patterns to create smooth connections between the chords and make the whole thing sound richer and more interesting. The progression is the same: Cm7 — Bbm7 — Ab∆7 — Eb∆7, right hand plays simple arpeggiated triads.

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I hope my new score highlighting approach improves legibility of the ideas that I’m trying to communicate here, and not vice versa 😆 Let me know if the old one was better! So, back to the piece — as you can see, I’m alternating here between the three ingredients we’ve already seen before, trying to create the uninterrupted line by starting each new bar on the closest note possible to the last note of the previous bar. It’s very much like walking bass lines, right, bass geeks? 🤓 Seriously, I guess I have to credit Todd Johnson and Scott Devine and many other bass instructors here for making me internalise this principle of voice leading — make it flow, make it flow.

Check out how it sounds:

 

Okay, that should be it for today, I hope it was helpful! See you later and — harmonise till it hurts! 🤙🏻

 

Dorian superposition and the bottomless pit of melodies

So, let’s talk about modal superposition, shall we? I guess there were a lot of relatively technical (to avoid the word boring) posts in the recent time where I was mostly talking about scale practice and left hand patterns and whatnot — let’s take a break from that and look at composition.

I adore modes. They’re pure math that lends itself very well to the creative process (which is normally the opposite). They help you widen your composition framework and explore new areas. The cool thing about them is that you don’t have to master them in order to start using them. It’s kind of counter-intuitive as most jazz books assume that you’re familiar with Dorian scale in every key to such extent where you can improvise and harmonise without any effort. That scares a lot of people (me included), so they get stuck and spend years diligently running all the scales and memorising chord qualities, never really getting to the actual application. But that’s wrong!

You can start applying modes right away. The key is, it’s not about taking a particular Dorian scale and blasting it over a minor 7th chord at lightspeed. Instead, it’s more about picking E Dorian key and then adjusting your tools to match its colour.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

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Here, I chose to play the 3rd degree of the harmonised Dorian scale (the III∆7 chord) in different shell voicings over the tonic (which is the i7, in this case, represented by a simple 5th chord). The same pattern is played in 3 keys: E, A and D Dorian.

I guess I’ve already mentioned the usefulness of jazz chord voicings like 7-3-5 or 3-7-9 or 3-7-6 — you name it — but I’ll do it once again: they are great material for improvisation, and they are extremely simple to play, because all you have to do is just arpeggiate the shapes you’re already familiar with (if you’re not, practice them harmonically first, I’ve got tons of workouts for that plus there are jazz books).

So, by superimposing G∆7 (Dorian III∆7) over Em7 (Dorian i7) we get a really nice and interesting sound — and that’s already a starting point for a song or improvisation. Cool, right? You don’t need to master Dorian mode in all 12 keys (or — 30 keys, you geeks) to start coming up with great ideas.

Let’s improve the piece above and add some more patterns to it:

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It’s the same melody, only the left hand now plays full minor 7th arpeggio and switches to chord shells every second bar. See what I’ve done here? The right hand uses the arpeggiated version of the chord shells as the material for the melody, and the left hand plays the same shells harmonically as an accompaniment. Check out how it sounds:

 

Fun fact: one of the tracks from my coming piano EP is based on this workout, so — stay tuned if you’d like to hear the full version! 🤓 (In the meantime, you might want to check out my new album that landed just two days ago.)

That’s it for today, wishing you a nice and productive week, practice hard, harmonise till it hurts, talk to you next time! 🤙🏻

Album release, new modal studies coming soon and more

Hey, how is it going folks? A lot of things are happening currently, so I thought it would make sense to write a quick update about it all.

First of all, some new exciting modal studies are coming, I’ve just finished cleaning up sheet music and am going to post them soon — stay tuned 🤙🏻

Second of all, I’ve just dropped a new album that is a compilation of my work during the last year. It was an intense period of my life with me finishing my music studies in California and then flying to Germany, briefly hovering over Europe in a suspended state of which-direction-am-I-going-ness, and finally hopping on my bike to cycle around the Leipzig downtown and city channels. It resulted in a collection of instrumental pieces that don’t necessarily have to coexist on an EP or LP or any kind of release really, but, as it often happens, having zoomed out far enough, I could see the big picture in which they fit very well together.

So, here it is. If you want to give it a spin, feel free to check out the release on the Bandcamp and leave me your feedback.

 

I’m also working on a new piano EP, which is currently in the post-production stage. So, a lot of new stuff on the horizon! Hope you’re enjoying your weekend and not forgetting about practice! 🤓 À plus tard!

On madness and beauty of harmonic minor

Are we going to talk about them dissonances? Yes, of course, we are! I was focusing on left hand patterns during the last weeks and kind put my scale studies on power-saving mode (i. e. 20 minutes of relatively mindless recap in all keys in the beginning of the practice section as opposed to 2 hours of focused dissection in each key 😄). But I am planning to add some of harmonic and melodic minor exercises back in my routine as soon as I have a good grasp on the new left hand stuff. Can’t lose the momentum right now!

So, the harmonic minor modes. People tend to view them as harsh or dissonant or exotic or — insert your own word choice for “too f’d up to practice“. I view them as composer modes. My point being, they are so colourful that whenever you start practicing them and running them around the cycle of 4ths or circle of 5ths, you eventually end up composing a new piece. Yes, the natural 7th may sound creepy, and minor-major 7th chords are weird, but as soon as the natural 7th resolves to the root and minor-major chord steps back to reveal subtle clean minor, it suddenly clicks in your head and you see the beauty of it. To put it in a more entertaining way: the synthetic minor modes are so fucked up that their non-fucked up parts shine thousand times brighter as they would in a more balanced situation. Think of them as a completely drugged out actor who is somehow still capable to deliver the best Hamlet monologue ever — and then immediately pass out in the dressing room. Not that I’m saying that psychostimulants are a good thing, I’m just saying that Harmonic minor could be an entry poi— Okay, you got the idea, right? 🤓

I’m going to stop talking now and share a couple of scale exercises that might help you see the beauty of it more clearly by reducing the role of dissonances. No, I’m not going to make any more analogies that involve substances of abuse.

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Yeah, this is a normal (considering you follow this blog for some time, haha!) scale dissection over moving degrees, but in this case, due to the choice of note grouping and arpeggiation in the left hand, it really starts to sound interesting. There are only two notes sounding together at the same time, therefore — less mud, therefore — more fun practicing!

What I’m doing here is just running up the scale in a weird pattern: 4 notes up, then 2 down, then again 4 up starting where I left off (see my marks on the sheet). After reaching the V7 chord, I start descending in the same fashion, but in reverse.

If this exercise looks too confusing (especially after my explanation), here’s another one — it’s much more straightforward and lightweight but does pretty much the same job.

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i∆7 — V7 is one of the signature progressions of the Harmonic minor, so it makes sense to practice the scale over it. But practicing the scale in linear scalar motion is boring, so why not break it in 3rds and make your brain feel slightly confused for the next couple of hours? 😄

That’s it for today, I hope it was not too heady and I also attribute all swearing in this post to the dissonant quality of the scale in question. Practice hard, see you next time! 🤙🏻

Comment j’apprends

Long time no see, huh! Sorry about the relatively long gap between the posts — I am currently rehearsing the tracks for my new EP, and it takes pretty much all of my time (which is the issue that might — and should — be addressed by proper practice 🤓)! Anyway — today I wanted to share a part of my workflow concerning the jazz books: how I use them, adapt them to my (sometimes not-so-jazzy) needs and make them work together with other practice routines that I have.

Here’s one of my long-time favourites: Jazz Piano Voicing Skills by Dan Haerle, one of the world’s most renowned jazz educators and pianist (he’s retired from his university job, but he’s still touring with his trio, by the way!). It’s the book that opened the Pandora’s box of 13th chords voicings — all that 7-3-5, 3-7-9, 7-3-6, all the polychord and fourthy stuff that I keep going on about here — it’s from Mr. Haerle. If you’re just starting your journey from the block chords to the new horizons, I would recommend getting this book, closing your browser tab and just diving in it for a couple of months — it will take your playing to the next level, no shit 🤭

So, back to today’s topic — here’s an excerpt from the book:

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All exercises there are called “skills”, and what they are is basically different types of 7th or 13th chords moving around the cycle of fourths while using the smart voice leading to ensure minimum finger movement. Sometimes the quality of the chord will also change, but in this case, it’s just the dominant chords with suspended 4ths, the left hand plays the root, and the right plays 7-9-4 → 4-7-9 pattern. You can also see that the marks that I leave in my paper books look exactly the same as the ones I have in my own sheet music here 😆

Okay, so, this is a great exercise, but after a while, it kind of gets too simple, particularly because of the left hand only playing the tonic. How can we improve that?

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Of course! Instead of playing just the tonic — I’m going to play the full block chord with the left hand, which will give me the full dominant polychord sound and a very satisfying sentiment of being smarter than the jazz book. But chords are boring. Let’s arpeggiate things!

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Just doing the same thing, only I added some eighth notes and shells to the left hand pattern. Only using the notes of the corresponding dominant 7th chords (C7 & F7) here. What’s next? Extensions, obviously! How about extending the left-hand pattern one octave lower and adding major 10ths?

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I’ve probably said it too much already, but just for the record — broken 10ths in piano is like ollie in skateboarding: once you’ve mastered them, you have access to all the crazy tricks out there. I have all kinds of posts on 10ths here, check them out if you want.

Next stop?

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Here, I’ve added one of my new favourite bass patterns that is based on so called “8-to-the-bar bass” that has been used a lot by stride pianists like Willie Smith. I learned it recently from the brilliant book Jazz Piano: The Left Hand by Riccardo Scivales. I’m definitely going to write a separate post to this topic, as it is extremely interesting. But for today, I think that’s it. I love jazz books (although I am not necessarily a jazz pianist), and this the way I incorporate them in my practice routine. Hope you found it helpful too! Thanks for reading and — till later! 🎹

Perpetuation — new track & sheet music

Salut! I’ve been busy recently rehearsing and recording a new piece that is called Perpetuation and is inspired by the déplacements that I undertook in recent time.

I often feel that there is a certain — poorly identifiable — substrate that somehow lurks behind everyday pictures. Although at times it does come very close to the surface of the wordable world where you could harpoon it with one right term — especially on those sunny summer weekends when you sit around on an empty tennis court or walk down the street to the supermarket — yet, it never really reveals itself fully, thus leaving you with a bunch of almost-there definitions. I know you know what I am talking about, and that’s exactly why I am going to shut up now and give you the link to the track and sheet music to download 🎼

See you in a practice session!

Download full score as PDF

How to practice basic sh*t and sound fancy while doing it

Got an intense workout for you today! In case you’re still struggling with inversions — maybe they’re something you’ve brushed over earlier and now it seems almost embarrassing to go back and invest time in such a BASIC thing that, obviously, every two-year-old can play without a second thought (right?). I mean, that’s my case. I’ve always been too cool for triad inversions, that’s why I still mess them up in the middle of the piece and that’s why I’ve come up with this workout that would hopefully also help other people who are in the similar awkward situation. Want to practice basic shit and sound cool? Here’s the way.

Before I proceed to the sheet music — just a side note: this is, in fact, the third workout in the series that I started last year, so feel free to check the previous variations (they might sound a bit less fancy, but should be easier to play):

Inversions & Extensions I
Inversions & Extensions II

Now on to the new one:

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Here I’m combining two technical skills to take the dull, mechanistic element from the seemingly boring routine and make it sound musical and actually make practice enjoyable. That’s the goal of this blog, in case you didn’t know! 😄 In this exercise, the right hand plays moving inversions of the major triads: root — 1st — 2nd — root again, while the left plays the melodic pattern consisting of diatonic intervals. I’ve chosen major 3rds, 6ths, 7ths as the “colour” tones and added my favourite extension: the 10th (the 3rd octave up, in other words) that is known to instantly make everything sexy and jazzy. Just playing this figure over moving inversions already sounds like music, and not like aimless inversion drill.

What’s next?

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Yeah! I took the whole thing and played it around the cycle of 4ths (here I randomly start on E major and go to D major for demonstration purposes; you can go all the way from C if you wish). The main enrichment here is that instead of one diatonic pattern (10-3-6-7), I’m playing two, emphasising the 7ths and the 6ths. It introduces some diversity (right when you need it) and is actually so fun to play that you would be willing to cycle it all day! Take a listen:

There are, of course, countless ways to embellish and extend this routine, but I’ll just briefly cover one more:

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What should you do when adding major 10ths does not make your line any sexier? That’s right: add more major 10ths in bass! Here, I am not changing the right hand pattern, but rather employing a new device in the left hand to make the overall sound less monotone and piano practice-y. It works! Here’s an audio fragment:

Okay, that’s it for today, I hope it was helpful! Feel free to comment and add your suggestions or share practice tips. I’m also trying to make the posts a little more— er— clickable, shall I say? — by adding the audio clips of the passages that I list here, so you could get an idea of what’s going on right away, before even trying it at the keyboard. Let me know if it’s helpful. And — harmonise ’till it hurts! 🤙🏻