A cocktail piano technique that I want to share with you is one that can really have you sounding great immediately once you grasp it. It's simply a matter of knowing and playing (with the left hand) the 1 and 7 of every chord in the tune. Yes, this involves your having an understanding of 7th chords. If you don't feel as though you have a handle on 7th chords at this point, then simply allow this to serve as a vehicle that inspires you to learn more about them. There is a tutorial in our store that focuses specifically on 7th chords.
What are the 1 and 7 of Fmaj7?
If you said F and E, you are correct. Now, start considering every 7th chord that you know. Since the distance between the 1 and 7 is significant, form the habit of playing them with your pinkie and thumb of your left hand (in this example, the F is played with the pinkie and the E is played with the thumb).
Okay, let's play a little game. When you click this link, you will be taken to a a description page for the first in my Sneak Peeks series. What I would like you to do is to visit that page and then scroll down to the area that contains a link to a few excerpts of that session. Next, play through the video excerpts as many times as you like and, as you do so, become aware of those moments when the left hand is playing the 1 and 7 of the chord. If you pay attention closely, you'll see how this cocktail piano technique is scattered among some other left hand accompaniment ideas.
Okay, here is a little something else for you to focus on. Find a piece of sheet music that shows you the chord symbols above the melody. It can be a lead sheet or other. Place that music up on your piano music stand and play through the chords, playing only the 1 and 7 with your left hand.
When you reach a point of feeling confident playing the 1 and 7 with a good number of 7th chords, consider placing your attention on doing some interesting things with this. Let's say you are playing a piano ballad and you are using the sustain pedal to a significant degree. While you are laying that 7th chord and while you have the sustain pedal depressed, first play the 1... then play the 7... do it delicately. Then, with the pedal down, play the 7 first followed by the 1... Listen... really listen to how subtle differences can compliment that melody in different ways. If you make this a practice, you'll be well on your way toward making a ballad flow with confidence.
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