This usual harmonic rhythm of change every 2 to 4 beats creates gaps in the music where nothing is happening. Guitar players often fill in these gaps with rhythmic strumming patterns. Piano players, however, cannot strum their instrument. We need to use other techniques to fill in the empty space in the music. We can strike the keys in a repeating pattern (similar to strumming), but this often results in a playing style that is simple, predictable and musically boring. The music is taken to another level when we create an arrangement that includes a variety of techniques crafted together.
Before creating a piano song arrangement, we must consider the context that the arrangement will be used in. When playing with a band, it is often desirable to leave open gaps in the arrangement and not fill up each moment. This leaves space for the other instruments to play. If everyone in the band is filling every gap with their own full arrangement, they will be playing on top of each other and the music will sound cluttered. Instead, each musician should take turns filling in the gaps while the others leave room. Even when we are just accompanying a singer on the piano, we need to be sensitive to what the singer is doing. We should leave open space when the singer is performing a complex melodic passage (or adding a run). Then we can fill in the moments where the singer leaves open space. We may even choose to leave the space open if the mood calls for that kind of playing.
When playing by ourselves, piano players can take the liberty to fill in more of the empty space. We should still be sensitive to what is going on in the music and the flow of the performance, though. Most songs (like all forms of entertainment) follow a natural progression of development. They usually start off simple and pure. Then things begin to develop and grow as the song progresses. Finally, we reach a climax (the biggest part of the song) which is followed by a resolution. We should keep the overall shape of this musical arch in mind when creating a song arrangement. A simpler arrangement in the first verse, followed by increasing complexity will help to accent the development of the song.
Melodies are the most powerful and memorable tool available to a musician. Some songs throughout history contain instrumental melodic introductions or run that are even more identifiable and memorable than the chorus (people hear that line and automatically know what song it is). As we mentioned last time, there are times when a gospel piano player breaks away from the chords of the song in order to play melodic fills and runs. These lines are often played in octaves or split octaves. In our musical example there is an octave run that leads into the bridge. Then there is a split octave run on the third line of the bridge. These runs help to emphasize main lines in the melody, or lead to new parts of the song.
In addition to this, short melodies can also be used to fill in the distance traveled from chord to chord. These melodies are often played in the right hand, but they can also exist in the left. An interchange between hands can create interesting patterns that add presence and variety.
Another technique often used to fill out an arrangement is the use of multiple inversions of the same chord. This allows the hands to travel up and down the piano covering a greater distance. These chord inversions can be arpeggiated, or played in block formats. The motion between inversions can also be filled in with melodic ideas.
There are many left hand techniques that can be used to fill out an arrangement. Some of these include a walking bass line, stride patterns, octave displacement and arpeggios. Some of these techniques are typical of particular styles and tempos of song, and do not necessarily fit in the style of our example song. They will be demonstrated in future lessons. This song lends itself to higher register left hand voicings that are complimented with octave displacement (repeating the bass of the chord an octave or two lower). When the root of the chord is in the bottom of the voicing, we can play the fifth followed by the root an octave lower. When the third is in the bottom of the voicing, we can play the root followed by the third an octave lower. This downward left hand movement can be contrasted by either static left hand voicings, or arpeggios traveling up.
There are also additional right hand techniques that do not necessarily lend themselves to the style of this musical example. No song compliments every type of embellishment technique. Instead, these different techniques often help to accentuate the individual style of the song. Future examples will highlight other styles and embellishment techniques.
This Learning Music With Ray video discusses the use of melodic motifs, left hand motion and other techniques to create song arrangements. These techniques help to fill in the gaps of empty space between our chord voicings. In it, I continue with our study of the original song He Makes All Things New. I play through each section of the song using my example of a musical arrangement. I also provide a detailed breakdown of each section of the song, explaining how it was derived from the chord voicings and what techniques were used to fill in the gaps.