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! 🤙🏻

Practice session: harmonic minor and rootless broken 10ths

Scale studies

  • All Hm1 scales

Left hand

  • Broken 10ths recap: Dorian DNA (i7 — IV) in all keys
  • Descending motion focus: rootless broken 10ths
  • Having some classical time: all minor 7th arpeggios in descending motion

What do I mean by “rootless broken 10ths”? 🥴

These are normal broken 10ths with some diatonic line (going from Cm to Fm):

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Here, I’ve just replaced 1s (C) with the 9ths (D) to get a super sexy sound of a 9th played below. Give it a try (and ignore the second measure):

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Session timing: 1h 45m

Practicing arpeggios and extensions in modal context

I love combining different workouts in one so that I don’t spend two hours just doing arpeggios and then another two hours trying to make them work with right hand patterns. My approach is to work on both hands at the same time by putting emphasis on one of them and keeping the second busy with something super simple and minimally technical, yet still meaningful in terms of theory. But, there’s also a possibility to pack one more thing in an exercise — and that’s when you make it modal!

For this one a picked the classic Mixolydian progression: I7 — bVII∆7 and played it it using 7th chord arpeggios with left hand and doubled intervals in the right.

Stuff I improve while practicing this:

  • Modal DNA
  • Arpeggios
  • Diatonic intervals

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Sure enough, you can transpose it to any key or apply to any modal progression like Dorian i — IV7 or Phrygian i — bII∆7, etc.

Practicing extensions & inversions without boring yourself to death

Today I wanted to share another approach to practicing such seemingly technical and tiresome stuff as chord inversions and extended intervals. I keep trying to make all my routine musical and as close to real life situation as I can. It may be useful to spend 5 hours throwing all inversions of all 7th chords in all keys in all modes around the circle of 5ths, but sometimes you just want your exercises to be a bit more musical. You know what I mean? So I did that.

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This is, in fact, a combination workout. Left hand plays all the inversions of a block chord, right hand plays diatonic interval or extension of choice (in this case major 7th) in two octaves. I’m still going around the good ol’ cycle of 4ths, but it sounds already like a piece and has much less of that endless ii — V — I feeling in it.

The beauty of it is that the moment you start getting bored, you can pick a different interval, just like that:

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…and Bob’s your uncle — now you’ve got completely different flavour as 9ths blend with inversions in the left hand.

But the cycle of 4ths motion is still there, so it’s just a question of time before you will have had enough of it, right? 😄 That’s where modal progressions come in! And don’t forget that you can also alternate intervals in the right hand. Here I took C Dorian progression that sounded particularly nice to me: i — bIII — v — ii and applied the same technique while playing it. It sounds definitely like a piece, and in no way like a dull exercise.

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Obviously, then there’s Real Book and all the good stuff. You got it—

Piano day (1h 40m)

Voicings + left hand

Scale studies

  • All Locrian scales

Comping

  • Comping over Worth the Wait in D to the walking bass & drums backing track in iReal
    • Avoiding roots and block in LH
    • Voice leading / smooth shells transition in RH
    • A little bit of soloing
    • Trying to avoid clashes w/ bass