The Piano: A One Man Band Instrument

by Robyn Yamada, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada

The improvisational pianist is a complete combo.  For example, inside the heart of every improvisational pianist lies a versatile bassist.  It is  imperative that one is always thinking about where the structural line is going and leading the rest of the “combo” through the changes.  There are endless possibilities in creating a good bass line – the structural foundation, really.  The mid-range of the piano (middle C to high C) becomes the guitarist, i.e. mainly used for comping chord changes over the bass line and creating a basic rhythm.  It’s what I like to think of as the jello that holds everything together.  Also, the drum section happens in the mid range.  The comping of the changes is very percussive in nature and sets the rhythm and tempo of the piece.  The upper register of the piano is used for the color instruments (lead guitar, fiddle, flute, horns).  In short, leads should not be played in the mid-range but above high C.  Lead lines played in the mid-range have a tendency to get muddy.  The melody of the piece should be in the mid-range, with fills and solos moved up for clarity and distinction from the main melody.  This concept remains consistent when working with a vocalist.

In summation, the piano as a solo instrument, when approached with a combo in mind, can be used very effectively.  The bass remains below middle C, the rhythm instruments should be played between middle C and high C, and the color instruments belong above high C.

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