Some of the most fun I have ever had as a singer/pianist is recreating my favorite pop songs. Seriously, it is such a blast to sit down and figure out how to make an entire band arrangement sound full right on the piano. Today’s tutorial is going to show you my 3 easy steps to create authentic pop piano arrangements!
But first: a quick story!
One of my first steady gigs as a young professional was doing singalong piano bar on cruise ships. Not only did I make great money floating around the Caribbean, but it was there that I truly got hooked by approximating my favorite songs on piano.
I’m a big believer in faking – an incredible trick where you make your own approximated accompaniments using the chords. This eliminates the need to reach complicated piano music and can often sound better!
The first thing to remember is that as pianists we only have two hands to do EVERYTHING, so we have to figure out what we need to keep and what we need to toss in order to make the song sound as authentic as possible. The goal of this process get playing the song as soon as possible and not get hung up on the details. We want to be accurate, but we also want to be efficient! Life is too short to practice one song for too long.
Three Steps to Authentic Pop Piano Arrangements
Step One: Learn the Song
This seems so obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people gloss over this step. One you have chosen a song (preferably nothing too hard!), see if you can dig up either the sheet music or a lead sheet. If you want to make it super easy, just go to one of those lyrics and chord sites and download a basic chart.
Once you have the chords in front of you, you need to LEARN THEM. Practice just playing them through in your right hand until you can play them in time. Then add your left hand playing a bass note. When you are ready, add your vocals. You want to take your time with this step, so that you are secure before you move on.
Step Two: Learn the Hook
The hook is a line or riff that makes the song immediately recognizable. It is a theme that shows up throughout the song that gives the song a sense of purpose. The hook could be anything; a bass line, a lead guitar line, a horn part or a piano part.
In this video I give several examples of hooks.
The groove as a hook
Once you have identified the hook, you need to take some time to learn it by ear. Once you are able to play it, you just have to insert it wherever it turns up in the song. This is going to give unity to the song and your audience will feel like you are serving up everything in the song!
Step Three: Approximate the groove
Now it is time to figure out the groove. The groove is the way that the rhythm section (piano/guitar, bass, drums) are articulating an underlying rhythm. The individual members of the rhythm section usually intersect to create a recognizable rhythmic pattern. You just have to approximate it.
Once you have added the groove, you are ready to play! Practice with the metronome a bit to make sure you are playing in time and don’t forget to add the vocals! Have fun!
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