Rock & Roll Piano Tricks


While learning any instrument will require considerable time and effort to master, there are a few ways to accelerate the process. The piano has a few techniques that it predominately relies on to achieve a characteristic rock-and-roll feel. Learning how to define these stylistic techniques will arm you with some tricks that will improve your sound, while enabling you to rock out on those 88 keys.

The I-IV-V Progression

  • These three numbers refer to notes located in a given scale. A scale is a series of notes, which are all interrelated to each other according to their position to the first tone (also known as the tonic). To play a classic rock and roll progression, choose the first, fourth, and fifth notes of any scale to produce a great groove; for example, using the C scale (C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C - which uses only white keys on the piano) for this progression would include chords based on C, F, and G. The C chord consists of C, E and G; the F chord is made up of F, A and C; the G chord is made up of G, B and D.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

  • This scale is built on five notes, which is indicated by the name "pentatonic," literally five -- from the Greek "penta" -- tones. The minor third interval from the root gives it its minor quality. This scale in A minor is easily found on the piano because it consists of all white keys, A, C, D, E, G. Play these notes to get a distinctively rock-and-roll feel with a bluesy bite. Countless rock-guitar solos are structured around this simple scale, especially in A minor. Many pentatonic scales exist in various musical traditions worldwide; this particular one is the basis of a classic rock-and-roll sound.

Power Chords

  • A power chord consists of the tonic and fifth tones from any scale. For example, to play a C power chord, you only need to play a C as the root, and a G as the fifth, since the scale of C is C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. (Notice that G is the fifth note in this series.) The trick of using these chords in playing rock-and-roll piano is to build progressions using only power chords instead of fully fleshed chords. In other words, instead of progressing among Major C, minor F and Major G chords, rock out with a power chord version of a C, F, and G. Because you're not playing the third note of each chord, the sound is stripped of its major and minor components, rendering the chords more hollow and gritty feeling -- an essential part of rock and roll. In fact, most rock songs are use these gritty-feeling chords.

The Trill

  • The trill is performed by quickly alternating between two adjacent keys on the piano. It is a rolling type of sound, continuous when done properly. It is great in conjunction with the pentatonic scale, especially when trilling between the note appearing between the fourth and fifth tone in the scale, oftentimes referred to as the blue note. When playing rock and roll, use the trill to pull tension during your solos (think Jimmy Paige or Jimi Hendrix).

The Blue Note and the Blues Scale

  • Know how to use the evocative dissonance of the blue note. The blues scale was developed as African music and Western music mingled in America. Slave tunes used a tone located outside of the typical teachings of Western music. To deal with this, Western musicians designated the odd "blue tone" or "blue note" as a flattened fifth, which was the best way to describe it in Western technical music terms. This flattened fifth adds bluesy flair to the pentatonic scale as a passing tone. it is a great way to spice up your rock and roll piano repertoire. To use this trick, play a rocking melody using the pentatonic scale, but, instead of moving directly between the fourth or fifth tone, pass through the flattened fifth, which appears between the two notes of the normal pentatonic scale. This hexatonic scale ("hexa" meaning six) is normally referred to as the blues scale, which much rock and roll is built on.

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