10 Fun Ways to Spice Up Your Piano Playing

Play Me, I'm Yours Austin - piano 5 - photo 07, Apr 16, 2011Love to play the piano, but want to take a break from scales and Hanon exercises for a bit? Here are some ideas from New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E...

 

It happens to all of us: we get in ruts. Whether you’re bored with your practicing routine or your repertoire, we’ve all been there. But instead of giving up on playing the piano, take action! Here are 10 fun ways to spice up your playing.

1. Put your own spin on it! Try taking a straight song and swing it. Here’s a great example of a swinging Bach piece:

2. If you’re already playing some jazz, why not change up the melody? Write your own on top of the chords and see what you come up with. (You can do this with any style, really. Even scales.)

3. If it’s major, make it minor, and revel in its darkness.

4. Test your chops and transpose the whole song. Take it down a half step, or up a fourth, and see how the piece changes just by transposing it. Does it become lighter? More inspiring? You can discover the reason why the composer wrote it in the original key.

5. Change the tempo. I do this with my singers a lot as well. Take a piece and slow it down so that each note is held until the exact pitch is found. It’s tedious but a wonderful way to internalize the notes. The same is true for fingering for piano. Once you’ve got it super slow, try speeding the piece up as fast as you can and see how you do.

6. Play a song outside your comfort zone. Like Rachmaninoff? Try playing an arrangement of an Eminem song (like this guy). Like pop? Try Mozart, or learning “Fur Elise” so you can say “No, this is how it’s done” when your friends plonk through the first few notes at a bar.

7. Write your own piece. Even if you don’t consider yourself a composer or songwriter, take a very basic chord progression (I-IV-V-I or swap out the I of the vi. Another common pop progression is I-vi-V-IV) and see what kinds of melodies, chordal voicing, and rhythms you can come up with. You have your own taste, and no one’s going to know what you want but YOU.

8. Create a mash-up. We’ve all seen “Glee”. Mash-ups are totally in right now. Try combining two songs that have nothing in common, like “Fur Elise” and that Eminem song — OR try combining all those pop songs that have the same four chords (including the new one you just wrote!). Here’s one of “Roar” with “Eye of the Tiger”:

9. Take a piano lesson! If you aren’t already taking piano lessons, having someone give you new ideas, new exercises, and new repertoire ideas can be just the thing you need to see a new side your piano playing.

10. Get a mentor group! I tell this to all of my career coaching clients. When you have a mentor or coach, you get new ideas and accountability. Yes, your piano teacher definitely counts as this, but it also doesn’t have to be so formal. Go find other piano players in your area and create a group — like a book club except you’ll have a challenge to impress each other with fun new arrangements or something that will have you practicing, performing, and shedding light on what else is possible!

Last thing: have fun! If you’re taking yourself too seriously, take a step back and reexamine why wanted to play the piano. When you remember what you love about music, the piano, playing, and performing, then you’ll really have no problems diving back into it!

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!

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Photo by Ed Yourdon

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