Piano Hacks: Tricks to Sound Awesome on the Piano

Lisa Witt, David Bennett  /  Improvisation  /  Nov 17, 2023

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The piano can take a lifetime to master. But! Knowing a few “piano hacks” can instantly make anyone sound really, really good. So, if you’ve just started learning but want some flashy skills, keep reading (or watching!). Learning cool tricks won’t just make you look impressive at parties; they’ll also keep you motivated and set you up for success for when you learn more advanced skills.

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The Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale is a five-note scale that’s popular around the world. All the black keys make up a pentatonic scale, and they form a unique, distinct sound.

Piano keyboard diagram with black keys colored in red. Piano hacks.

The magical thing about the pentatonic scale is that it sounds good whether you play it chaotically or in a more organized way. Try a random glissando up and down the keyboard. Then try playing chords and melodies with the black keys (don’t overthink this, just explore). 

Things naturally harmonize in the pentatonic scale, and because there are no semitones, pentatonic notes don’t clash.

Understand the Pentatonic Scale: It’s one of our favorite piano hacks, and if you want to delve into the theory behind the scale and more ways to use it, check out these lessons:

Pedal Tone

This one is simple: play different chords with your right hand while playing a consistent bass note with your left. That left-hand note is called a pedal point or pedal tone.

Magically, it works well with any chord! Yep, even an Eb major chord over the C.

Now, some chords will create more tension with the pedal tone. But this tension creates a richer, more sophisticated chord.

If a chord you’re playing over the pedal tone sounds a little too crunchy for your taste, try moving to a chord near it. You might just resolve the crunchiness!

Inverted Pedal Tone

This is essentially the same idea but flipped around. Play a pedal tone with your right hand, high up on the keyboard, and play different chords with your left hand.

Grace Notes

A grace note is a short note played just before a main note. In standard notation, you’ll see it as a tiny note.

The grace note is usually the note right next to the main note, either a whole or half step away. Grace notes create tension that is instantly resolved and they make notes and chords sound more interesting.

Overview of hands playing piano with standard notation underneath showing grace notes. Piano hacks.

For example, say you’re playing a C major triad (C-E-G). Now try playing E-flat as a grace note right before E. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? The E-flat essentially resolves into the C major triad.

You can slip into that C major triad from the E-flat using the same finger. Jazz and blues pianists love using this technique.

You can do this with melodies too. Grace notes imitates how a singer might slide into certain notes of a melody. Just try not to overdo it 😉

Improvise With the C Major Scale

This is one of our favorite piano hacks of all time. The concept behind this is pretty simple: notes from the same scale sound good together.

Let’s use C major as an example. Play a C major triad with your right hand (C-E-G). You can also just play C-G if full triads don’t feel comfortable yet.

Then, play any white note with your left hand. Any white note! Explore, play around, and see what you can come up with!

Why does this work? All the white notes on the piano keyboard belong to C major. So when we play white notes with a C major chord, they’ll always sound good.

Try this with a chord progression! Take this concept to the next level by using chord progressions. For example, try playing a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in one hand and improvising with notes from the C major scale in your other hand.

We hope you enjoyed these secret piano hacks! Now go and impress your friends. But more importantly, have fun.

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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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