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Learn Piano Chords Using a Fake Book

As a piano teacher, I love to teach piano chords by using Fake Books. Every piano player, whether they are a beginning note reader, or a professional piano player, can benefit from using a Fake Book. In this article I will teach you the basics of the method Fake Books are collections of well-known songs. Each song has the melody line in the treble clef, the lyrics, and chord symbols. Unlike most song sheets, there is no bass clef. It is your job to figure out which chords to play in the left hand using the chord symbols. That is why these books are called "Fake Books." You are making the audience believe you have a real piece of sheet music in front of you when in fact you are improvising your own accompaniment. I recommend starting out with the Fake Book titled, "Your First Fake Book C Edition" arranged by Alexander Citron and published by Hal Leonard. All of the songs in this book are in the key of C which makes it a lot easier for beginners. It also uses simplified melodies, fewer and easier chords, and less complicated rhythms compared to other Fake Books. I have my students start off with the song, "This Land Is Your Land" since most students are familiar with the melody. Begin by playing through the melody with your right hand. You want to make sure you are comfortable with the melody notes before adding your left hand chords. Next, look at the chord symbols above the melody. In "This Land Is Your Land" there are the following chords: F, C, G7, C7, F and N.C.. If you are familiar with chords, go ahead and play through the chords with your left hand. If you are not familiar with chords, here are the chords you will need for this song: F Chord: F-A-C C Chord: C-E-G G7 Chord: G-B-D-F C7 Chord: C-E-G-B flat N.C. stands for no chord. Here is a guide for playing chords: Major Chords (Formula: Root, up four half steps, up three half steps) The capital letter you see in each chord symbol is the root (lowest note) of the chord. Put your left hand fifth finger on this key. If you are playing an F Chord, the pinky of your left hand will be on an F key. Your middle finger will go four half steps up from the root of the chord. Half steps are the keys closest to each other and include both the white and black keys. In the case of

an F Chord, the middle finger would be on an A. Your thumb will go three half steps up from the middle finger, which would be a C. Play all three fingers together on the F-A-C keys and that is an F Chord. Minor Chords (Formula: Root, up three half steps, up four half steps) If you see a capital letter followed by a lowercase "m" that means the chord is minor. For C Minor the chord symbol would look like Cm. Minor chords typically sound darker and more mysterious. To play a minor chord, place your left hand fifth finger on the root (in this case C). The middle finger will be three half steps up from the root - which would be E flat. Your thumb will play the key four half steps up from the middle finger - which is G. Play all three fingers together on the C-E flat-G keys and you have a C minor chord. Sixth Chords Once you are familiar with the major and minor chords you can start adding in additional notes. If you see the number 6 after a major or minor chord symbol, you add the key a whole step up from the top note of the chord. So if you see the symbol "C6" you would play the four notes CE-G-A together. If the chord was minor, the chord symbol would be Cm6. Then you would play C-E flat-G-A. Seventh Chords Dominant Seventh Chords are formed by starting with your major chord and adding a note three half steps up from the top note. This ends up being seven notes up from the root of the chord. If the Chord symbol says C7, then you would play the four notes C-E-G-B flat together. Diminished If you see "dim" in a chord symbol, such as Ddim, it stands for diminished. To get a diminished chord start with a minor chord and lower the top note of the chord a half step. For instance, a Ddim chord would be D-F-A flat. Augmented When you see a plus mark after a chord it means the chord is augmented. An example of this symbol is C+. For augmented chords start with a major chord and raise the top note a half step. A C+ chord would consist of C-E-G sharp. Inversions Inversions are when you play a chord, but the order of the notes are changed. For instance, if the chord symbol is C/E, you would play a C chord, but you would play the E on the bottom of the chord. So the chord would be played as E-G-C instead of C-E-G. Inversions allow for smoother transitions between chords.

Confused? If so, just stick with the basic Major and Minor chords. It's good to get a good handle on these basic chords before adding in the four-note chords and inversions. Once you can play the chords with your left hand, try playing both hands together. Every time you see a chord symbol above a melody note, play the block chord on the same beat. Hold the chord down until the next chord symbol. As you get more advanced you can start adding accompaniment patterns in your left hand such as Waltz patterns, Alberti bass patterns, march patterns, rolled chords and arpeggios. It is also fun to add harmony notes to your right hand. Just use notes from the chord symbol to fill in additional harmony notes to the melody. It will typically sound best to have the melody as the top note, but experiment a little to see what sounds good. The best advice I can give you is to practice, practice, practice! It may take a while to get your songs to flow enough to "fake out" your audience, but once you do you'll love your Fake Book! Published by Julie Lind - piano teacher, mother, composer and writer.


Dear Mr. Chappell: What suggestions do you have for using a fake book? I am a beginner at this. Beginner

Dear Beginner: Heres the Jeffrey Chappell step-by-step method for approaching a fake book lead sheet: 1. Play the melody with your right hand. 2. Play the melody with your right hand plus the roots of the chords with your left hand. 3. Play the melody with your right hand plus the chords, in root position, with your left hand.

4. Play the melody with your right hand plus the chords with your left hand, using root position as well as inversions to facilitate smooth connections. (Tip: For descending fifth progressions, all the connections will be step-wise, making things easier. And there are bunches of descending fifth progressions in fake book tunes.) Thats it. Congratulate yourself. Youre playing a tune from a fake book. If you want to do more, consider the following: 5. Include chord tones in the right hand as well as the left hand. Your left fifth finger will always play the root of the chord, and you will play the interval of either an octave, seventh, or fifth in that hand. Your thumb and second finger in your right hand will fill in other notes of the chord while the remaining fingers will play the melody. 6. Heres a quick approach to a jazz voicing (distribution of chord tones): Left fifth finger takes the root of the chord; right fifth finger takes the melody note; add either the third or seventh of the chord in the left hand; then add the seventh or third (whichever the left hand didnt take) in the right hand. If the melody note already is the seventh or third of the chord, use the fifth as one of the inner notes.

Piano Dopers - Help with fake book playing

I had a lesson last night and combined with some prior knowledge, I am learning chording. We have a good fake book with lots of familar songs, and I'm practicing all my chords.'s boring. There's a song I know and love, there's 4 chords given, and I play them in various combinations 8 or 9 times. Whoopee.... Hubby says to use the chord as a starting point, then noodle around to fill in the rest. I conceptually understand, but have no idea how to put this into practice. I could start with say, a G chord, then "noodle" all day, but it still doesn't sound like anything. Is this just a product of having no experience and uncertainty about song structure? Any ideas on how to practice noodling? *************************************-A fake book gives you a sketch of a song, or at least all the important parts like melody and chords. Many pianists will play with the harmonies, expand chords, throw in substitutions, etc., but that's more advanced than what we're looking at right now. Like you said, you need to practice and learn some basic styles of accompaniment with your left hand. One simple accompaniment appropriate to more down-tempo songs might be broken chords in your left hand. So, if you have a G chord, you might play somethiing like G1-D2-G2B2-D3-G3-D3 as eighth notes under the melody (for a chord held for a full measure). If you, say,

have a G-C progression where the G is two beats and the C is two beats, you might do G1-D2G2-B2-C2-G2-C3-E3 (sorry for the awkward notation, it's hard explaining in text.) So right there you have broken chord accompaniment. And there's plenty of permutations of this basic left-hand backing, but that's probable one of the easier places to start. A famous classicalera broken chord accompaniment is the Alberti bass, whose simplest permutation is the first note of the chord, followed by the fifth note, then third, then fifth, all in eight notes. This gets kind of boring quickly and sounds pretty dated (think Mozart's well-known Sonata in C). And it doesn't really always go root-five-third-five. For a dominant seventh chord (the G7 in the key of C), the Alberti bass part might be D-G-F-G, but but it maintains that low note-high note-middle notehigh note shape to it. Another easy accompaniment technique is open chord voicing. In this, the left hand plays the root and fifth of the chord (and sometimes doubles the third up an octave, so a C chord would be C-G-E, with the E a tenth above the C). The right hand plays the melody, the third, and the seventh (if included). If the chord is extended beyond a 7th (9th, 11th, 13th), oftentimes, the left hand would drop the fifth and play the seventh, and you'd stick some of these extended "color" notes into the right hand. Then there's techniques like stride, closed voicing, drop 2 voicing, walking bass, etc. I think the two techniques: broken chords and open voicing are probably one of the easier places to start, but it always helps either having somewhere there to show you how good it could sound when done well or find a good book that teaches these techniques. It's rather difficult explaining in words.


09-04-2009 01:48 PM

Originally Posted by Sateryn76 (Post 11519391) Also - I have some prior experience from Piano for Dummies (fabulous teaching tool, BTW), and am eager to play from real sheet music. Will the chording work interfere with the actual sheet music work, or will they complement each other in the end. It just seems like my brain is trying to do two things at once, and failing at both. I missed this part. I think they will complement each other in the end. The chording work will help you recognize chord progression patterns in songs and may well help with your memorization of pieces. I assume you already know how to read music if you're playing from a fake book, is this correct? Here, for example, is a simple arrangement of Greensleeves using one type of broken chord lefthand accompaniment. To give you an idea of what this would look like in your fake book, cover up the bass clef. The chords would be notated: Code:
Em - G - | D - - - | Em - - - | B - - - | Em - G - | D - - - | C/E - B - | Em

- - -

And that left handed part is one simple way of playing it. Once you get the hang of chord progressions, you'll realize that you could also add a couple chords to the progression above to add a little more harmonic interest. This is still simple, but try playing the above melody adding a couple slightly different chords, using the exact same left handed pattern to practice (play BF#-A for the B7 chord below) Code:
Em - G - | D - Bm - | C - Am - | B7 - - - | Em - G - | D - Bm - | C/E - B7 | Em - - -

This is not so much a lesson to teach you how to do harmonic substitution (that's a bit well more advanced), but rather to give you a sheet music example of one of the techniques above and offering a simple way to have you practicing other chords, while still maintaining a clear blueprint to work from.