Hacking Pop Interpretation

I was always wondering: how do they do it? The pro piano players who take pop songs and create wonderful, authentic instrumental versions of them that sound awesome on their own without vocals. I remember jealously listening to those pieces and thinking — damn, I’ll never be able to do this — and then going back to my block triads with octave bass. It’s okay, son, don’t go too hard on yourself—

Well guess what! I won’t say I’ve mastered it, but I hacked it, and now it’s just a question of practice hours, baby. I call this exercise “Pop Jam” — the idea is dead simple:

  • Find chords on the Interwebs (or in the Real Book if you’re into jazz standards)
  • Play through the whole chart once with block chords and simplest bass on Earth
  • Then replace block chords with shell voicings and connect them using minimal movement principle and thus achieving sweet ass voice leading
  • Add broken 10ths in left hand
  • Break shells in right hand into arpeggios (or some semblance of)
  • Add other intervals and ascending / descending movements in left hand (1-5-10, 10-9-3-1, whatever)
  • Use diatonic passages in right hand instead of shells
  • Throw in super low bass in left hand in key moments
  • Combine everything
  • Perform it until it’s suddenly 4 AM

Here are some parts of this approach illustrated with an example of Katy Perry’s vintage banger Fireworks (first four bars):

Screenshot 2019-03-10 at 12.55.23

Here’s what it sounds like:

It’s barely recognisable, I know. Of course it is, because it’s a freaking interpretation! 😄

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