Kinetics is just a fancy name for what your fingers are doing. In using this term, I'm not referring to specific finger placement (this is more important in Classical piano) but rather the general patterns that you train your fingers to follow. This is particularly important for the left hand. Incorporating arpeggiated chords and simple bass runs into your playing is one of the best ways to achieve a more fluid sound.
Other players often ask me how they should place their fingers, and I'm forced to admit that I honestly haven't the faintest idea. (This proves that I'm a renegade musician.) I've always just done whatever made it easiest to get from point A to point B. Usually it's not any more complicated than that. Sometimes, if you're working on something specific, you may have to stop and try some different strategies so you don't run out of fingers or wind up with your ring finger tripping over your pinkie. But intricate phrases like that are rare in everyday worship music.
If I'm forced to distill my haphazard approach into something more concrete, a few simple techniques and principles come to the surface.
- When playing intervals,* you'll generally want to use the closest two fingers that can reach the notes comfortably. This frees up the fingers on the edges of your hand so you can move around easier. For instance, don't play 5ths with your thumb and pinkie. Play them either with your thumb and ring finger or with your pointer finger and pinkie, depending on where you want to go next: up or down. (It's also quite natural to play 5ths with your thumb and pointer finger.)
- You will notice that it's very hard to play notes in quick succession using the same finger. (Try playing one note repeatedly with your pointer finger as fast as you can, and then see how fast you can alternate (or "trill") between two adjacent notes with your pointer and middle finger. See what I mean?) You will save yourself much grief by "using your fingers as a team." The goal is to move your hand as little as possible, because it takes longer to move your hand than it does to move your fingers and there is more potential for error.
- Don't be shy about using your hands in close proximity to play patterns or harmonies that would be difficult otherwise. Also, periodically reaching over your left arm with your right hand to catch a bass note is perfectly acceptable, and gives people the illusion that you know what you're doing.
The main advice I want to give you on kinetics is to just do what works. The more you play, the more nimble and responsive your fingers will become and the more control you will have.
Lots of pianists are completely mystified by improvisation. When you're used to following someone else's musical initiative, it can be scary to strike out on your own. But it is improvisation that transforms music from a humdrum routine into a kaleidoscope of possibility.
There are two main types of improvisation that I want to talk about: melodic improvisation and raw improvisation. Melodic improvisation involves making up simple melodies or embellishments that fit with the chord progression. Great, you say, how do I know what "fits"?
We've already seen that chords are "note-groupings." To avoid dissonance, play notes that are part of the particular chord being played. These are not the only notes you can play, (with a little practice, you'll be able to use notes that are not part of the chord to add more color and contrast,) but generally speaking they are the ones that should be emphasized and played on downbeats. After that, it's just a matter of using your ear to craft an improvisational melody that complements the mood of the music and moves fluidly.
Raw improvisation involves making music from scratch, chords and all. For most of us, this takes considerable practice, and requires either an advanced understanding of music theory or an exceptional ear. Playing improvisation that is soothing without being bland and interesting without being bizarre is not learned overnight. For now, make it a point to observe the relationships between chords and don't be afraid to experiment with different sequences and combinations to learn what sounds good.
Putting it into Practice:
- Practice arpeggiating major and minor chords with your left hand in 1-3-5-3-1 and 1-5-8-5-1 patterns. Don't worry about any right hand melody or other embellishment. The idea is to get comfortable with these patterns so you can maintain them with very little concentration.
- Practice stepping up scales playing octaves with your left pinkie and thumb. Choose a scale and go up and then down in a 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 pattern. Using this method (stepping octaves) to transition between chords is a great way to add depth and drama.
- Once you're comfortable keeping an arpeggio going with your left hand while switching between different chords, go ahead and add in a melody with the right hand. You will find that a continuous arpeggio doesn't always sound the best, so experiment with a mix of arpeggios, partial arpeggios (1-3-5), and full chords to determine what works. Every song will be different, so trust your ear.
- Practice melodic improvisation in stages. Begin by simply altering melodies that you know. Then progress to creating brand-new melodies that fit with familiar chord progressions.
*The distance between two notes is called an "interval," and different pairs of notes are referred to collectively as "intervals," and specifically as 3rds (such as C and E), 4ths (Such as F and Bb), 5ths (such as G and D), etc. 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths are the most common, because they are the primary harmonies.
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