How to instantly make your piano playing sound more professional


Uh...first, turn around. (Library of Congress)The great thing about playing pop and rock songs by ear is that the sound and feel of your playing is up to you. I guess that's also the bad thing about it - there's no written score to guide you and infuse your playing with appealing licks and time-tested chord voicings. Here, I'd like to share a simple left-hand technique that will make you sound a lot better right away.

When you first learn how to play chords, you might be used to playing them in root position (in other words, with the root note - the note that the chord is named after - on the bottom). There's nothing wrong with that. What's icky is what I call a "clump" - stacked-up thirds in the lower midrange of the piano.

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So what do we do about this? I told you it was simple:

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All we've done is expanded the voicing, dropping the third of the chord (E). Don't worry, there's no law that says you have to use every note in the chord.

You'll find that this gives you a more expansive sound, especially if you try it an octave or two down from where you might be used to putting your left hand.

This chord voicing also encourages movement in the left hand. You might find yourself rolling across the chord from one note to another, or alternating between the root and fifth to create a simple bass line.

You might already be doing this:

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If so, you might consider adding the fifth back in to make the chord fuller. It's just a matter of taste.

Try this root-fifth-root voicing with any chord. A side benefit is that, with practice in various songs, you will memorize the important root-fifth relationships in several keys.

What song are you going to try first?