Want to play rock piano? Here are some tips…

by Bill on June 13, 2010

…none of which are really very complicated. Basically, if you want to play rock piano it’s a question of having (and working on) a good rhythmic sense and really knowing your chord shapes. Here’s a short video explaining exactly what I mean:

It’s worth saying that the kind of rock piano I’m dealing with here is really a comping style - I’m assuming that you’re going to playing keyboard or piano in a band, or maybe singing a melody line over the top. You can incorporate melody into this style and make it work as piano solo, but in most contexts this kind of stuff is played to accompany either a vocal line or a full band.

One of the best ways of picking up how rock piano really works is to watch some professionals playing. Tunes like Elton John’s Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting or Ben Folds’ Not The Same (which I use as the example in the video) are both quite hard rocking piano songs. Notice that both make very heavy use of chunky, block chords. Ben Fold’s Landed is quite a slow rocker, and some of the piano part - especially the intro - is quite elaborate and ballad-like. But listen to the chorus and you’ll hear a fair bit of the hand-rocking technique I talk about in the vid.

By the way, that chord sequence I’m playing in the second half of the video goes like this:

E | B | C#m | A |

It’s a pretty good one to practise on. However, like I say, your best bet is probably to get hold of (or work out) the chord sequences to some songs you particularly like and start playing around with them on the piano. Bear in mind that if you buy commercial sheet music you should focus on the melody line and chords. Ignore the piano arrangement, because the chances are it will be heavily simplified to the point of being either useless or completely unplayable. The trick with rock piano, as I’ve said, is to master your chord shapes and develop a good sense of rhythm - don’t get bogged down trying to play an arranger’s third-rate piano adaptation.

I’ll probably post a few other bits and pieces explaining how to play rock piano in the next month or so, because quite a few people seem to be interested in this style of playing. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this, or any other style of piano playing, stick them in the comment thread!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Abi Baur July 15, 2010 at 5:19 pm

This is a fantastic website!!! i put ‘jazz comping’ into the youtube search, and watched all your videos which are really clear & helpful. I had piano lessons years ago and used to play classical pieces from music, but nobody ever showed me how to make a chord! Since playing in a wedding & function band i have tried to find good tips on piano comping in rock and pop songs with difficulty …….. until i found your videos. Many many thanks, and i will be buying your book!

Bill July 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Hey Abi - thanks for the kind comments!

Glad the videos have been of use to you, and I hope you like the book. Any questions you have, or any specific subjects you want covering in future piano vids (I haven’t made any for a couple of weeks, and need to get moving on some new ones…) just give me a shout!

Richelle August 21, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Great tips. Like the person above, I didn’t learn this in piano lessons which baffles me. Only learned classical and gospel but I have to say the gospel and hymns really has helped me to transition to rock chords and rhythm much easier. Now I play solo gigs for various festivals, etc. and write my own music and at first they all sounded country or ballad heavy contemporary music. I’m trying to get away from that as much as I can to make my music more marketable. So this will definitely be something I incorporate. Thanks.

Evan April 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Great tips. I’ve wondered for a while what my playing style is, because I’m trained as a keyboard player, as in I use mainly inversions of chords rather than triads, and my friend has such a diverse playing style that in some songs, he uses octaves in the left hand and block chords in the right. I liked that style, and it’s stuck with me! It’s really good to know that my style is what I need for what I want to play - rock. Thanks for the reassurance and my own songs, mainly rock and some metal, have benefited from this, as the keyboard is now not such a redundant part due to the rhythmic benefits too. I’ll definitely look into buying your book. I’ll incorporate the concept of rhythm you suggested into my songs a lot more. Thanks Bill.

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