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Piano Lesson: How To Play From A Fake Book

Jan 24, 2008
A fake book can be a source of many inspiring piano exercises. It contains a lot of melodies written in a concise format that includes only the melody and chord names. Let us take a look at how you can use these melodies to become a better pianist!

First of all we will take a look at how melodies are notated in a fake book. Usually you will find the melody of a song in sheet music notation together with chord suggestions above the notes. This economical way of notating makes it possible to fill a fake book with a lot of melodies.

The advantage of this way of notating melodies is that you can have a fake book as a reference book with a lot of melodies at your disposal.

The drawback is that you do not have a written out arrangement of the song for piano. You have to figure out how to play the song by yourself. Actually this can be an advantage that will help you develop as a pianist letting you interpret the song's performance as you feel is appropriate.

One little melody in a fake book can give you many exercises in different areas of your piano playing and help you in your development as a musician. Here are a few examples:

1. Learn to play chords together with a melody. For example, play chords with your left hand and melody with your right hand, play bass notes with your left hand and combine melody and chord notes with your right hand, play various combinations of bass notes, chord notes and melody notes with both hands.

2. Learn to find the right chords to use when playing a melody. In a fake book you will find chord suggestions that can easily be supplemented with more chords making the voicings and chord progressions more exciting.

3. Learn to improvise by using the melody as a starting point. This is often called melodic improvisation. You can also use the chords or the fitting scales as a foundation for your improvisation. This is called chordal improvisation and scale improvisation.

4. Learn to play the songs in the piano fake book in different keys thus developing your ability to play by ear and understand the piano keyboard by transposing songs you have learned.

Actually you can use a song in a fake book as the basis for your development as a pianist if your goal is to be a good piano player in the area of improvised piano music.

Let us take an example from a fake book. You have a song of your choice in front of you with melody, chord suggestions and nothing more. What can you do to use this song as a starting point for a piano practice session?

We suppose that the song starts with the chord C-major and then in the next bar you will find the chord F-major. Here are some suggestions on what to practice drawn from these two bars of music.

1. Work on chord voicings. Practice playing C-major triads with your left hand in the three inversions. That means that you play the chord C-major with the three notes involved, C, E and G, in three combinations, that is, CEG, EGC or GCE. Do the same with the chord F-major. Practice also to move from C to F in various combinations.

2. Work on playing the melody in different ways. Single right hand notes, playing right hand octaves, playing the melody with your left hand and chords with your right hand and more.

3. Work on adding more chords. For example, taking the C-chord to F could go via Gm7 and C7 thus creating the following chord sequence, C, Gm7, C7, F. Much can be done to spice the song by adding more chords to the ones in the fake book.

4. Add notes to the chords you use in your song. A C-major chord can easily be substituted with a Cmaj7 chord or a Cmaj9 and you can find more interesting chords if you focus on one chord at a time. Of course you can work on playing these new chords in different combinations and inversions too.

5. Use the song as a foundation for improvisation. Learn a melody passage by heart. Play this passage over and over again with small changes in the melody thus practicing melodic improvisation. Or use the chords. The chord C-major suggests two major scales to use when improvising. You can use a C-major scale or a C-major pentatonic scale for example.

To sum up you can use one single song in a fake book as the basis for piano exercises in many areas of your development as a pianist and at the same time you build up a repertoire with popular melodies for your own benefit and the enjoyment of other people.
About the Author
Peter Edvinsson is a pianist, composer and music teacher. He invites you to download your free piano sheet music at http://www.capotastomusic.com
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