Don’t Think Like A Pianist (ft. Jay Oliver)

Jay Oliver  /  Musicianship  /  UPDATED Jan 10, 2023

It sounds counter-intuitive, right? How can NOT thinking like a pianist make me a better pianist?

I know that’s what I though.

Then I saw this lesson from Jay Oliver, and it all made sense.

Get out of the rut

As piano players, we’re often guilty of getting stuck in comfortable ruts and patterns.

I know I am.

Think about it — chords and melody in the right hand. Bass in the left. Sometimes we’ll play fifths, sometimes octaves.

If we’re CRAZY we might even play arpeggios 🙂

But it’s usually the same.

Which leads me to a controversial point…

Guitarists have something to offer!

It’s hard for me to admit, but it’s true. In Jay’s lesson, he shows how using guitar-style chord voicings can radically change the sound and feel of your playing — for the better.

You do this by switching things up and playing the rhythm in the right hand with an open shape. In this lesson we’re in the key of G and Jay just plays the 1-5-1 (G-D-D) in his right hand, rocking back and forth.

It’s a beautiful and sparse, open sound that leaves room for the left hand.

And this is where we use the guitar voicings.

You don’t need a bass note

A lot of guitar chords don’t have the root note as their bass note. They often use inversions to create unique sounds.

We have a lot of lessons on inversions for your right hand, but what’s different about this lesson is that you’ll be using inversions in your left to create the feel and movement of the chord progression.

That way you can take common chord progressions and completely change the way they sound. In the lesson, Jay uses the 1-4-1-5 chords (G-C-G-D). Simple chords, but it sounds amazing and fresh.

Because he’s not thinking like a pianist.

If you want to get more advanced…

The possibilities are endless. In the second half of the lesson, Jay introduces some chords that are OUTSIDE the key of G major. These are called non-diatonic chords. We have a lesson on diatonic chords here.

In this example, Jay introduces an F major chord, and then an Eb Maj 7. There are very good theoretical reasons why these chords work, but that’s not the point of this lesson.

The point here is to show you how new and different the STYLE sounds when you start borrowing techniques from other instruments.

The chord voicings are common guitar voicings, and we can even add some drum technique with rhythm and syncopation

And the result…

Is that you’ve created something on the piano that most piano players won’t ever try.

You’ve stopped thinking like a pianist, and by doing so …

You’ve become a better one.

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

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