Jamming with a rhythm section is the best way for any piano player to begin to learn the techniques and tricks to play with other musicians. It’s a great way learn to see rhythm and space as creative tools and not just annoying practice conditions.
This first tip pertains to rhythm. When you’re playing with a band, take a moment to ask who is driving the rhythm? Just because you can play a ton of rhythmic stuff on the piano, doesn’t mean that you should. If you’re playing a bunch of fast, complex rhythms (particularly in the left hand), you could very well be stepping on the drummer’s toes. So check in with your drummer. Ask them to break down their part to see just how much they’re doing. Find those pockets where you can fill in some of that empty rhythmic space. Maybe you’ll find that it’s actually best to play whole notes and half notes where you were once tempted to play 8th and 16th notes!
Now that you know how to listen to rhythm, focus your ears on the clarity of the sound you guys are making. One of the biggest pitfalls a keys player has to avoid is playing within the range of the bass player. Because the piano has such an enormous octave span, you can run the risk of playing in the territory range of the other instruments. The lower bass registers are the ones you really have to keep in mind of. The last thing you want is to be playing a ton down in the bass register while the bassist is trying to do his bassline.
It’s generally best to keep your playing not much lower than the middle C range if you’ve got a bassist with you. Obviously that’s not a hard and fast rule…you can (and should) experiment within all ranges of the keyboard, but keep your ears open.
The final tip I want to bring to your attention is musical consistency. One of the things any musician needs to do is iron out a part to play that contributes to the coherence of the music at large. In the first example in this lesson video, I’m just playing randomly with no cohesion to my playing. The result makes the music sound scattered and unfocused, because there’s no specific melody for the ear to latch onto.
The second example, I trimmed down my playing to just a few choice notes in the right hand, giving the ear something concrete to listen to and helping all of the other instruments have room for their own voice. When you’re coming up with a part on the piano, think about what notes you’re using in your chord progression, and if there’s a way to blend those chords together with a melody that uses common tones in the progression. That’s always a good start for coming up with a reliable melodic idea!
If you find a good group of pals to jam with, each of these tips will be no problem to accomplish. Just always remember that communication is key, and to keep your ears open as you play!
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