The Zen Of Chords

You can have a lot of fun, and get a lot of mileage out of just knowing chords and chord progressions. Let’s face it, some people have no absolutely no interest in being a hot keyboard player, and are perfectly content with doing simple accompaniments for themselves or others. I’m sure you can think of dozens of hit songs that are just vamping-chord or arpeggio based arrangements. This syle works best with Pop and light rock tunes. “Imagine” by John Lennon, “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, “All Of Me” by John Legend. “Someone Like You” by Adelle. The list is endless, but it shows that a simple acoustic piano vamp has always struck a chord (sorry…) with the listening public.

If you learn some interval fills (3rds, 6ths, and octaves), and occasional scale snippets, you can sound really primo. A rock ballad that uses these types of motifs is “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger. The same song uses a chord pad on organ later in the song so these are real world examples. Learning a little syncopation in your right hand, combined with some walking bass lines in your left can take you pretty far in accompaniment styles for older rock- and it is still largely chord-based playing. I have 2 old books in my music library that I learned a lot from.”The Pop Piano Book” by Mark Harrison, and “Rock Keyboard Styles: Pop/MOR/ and Country” by Larry Muhoberac. I have no idea if these are still in print, but if not, used copies are worth tracking down used if you can find them.

If you intend to eschew lead breaks and improvisations, and  want to stick with just Piano Keys - Major Triad Chordsrhythm/arpeggiated piano accompaniments, you really owe it to yourself to learn everything you can about things like inversions, chord progressions, voice-leading, and harmony. This alone can expand your musical horizens, and is of course, invaluable for things like songwriting. Many a good song has been born after one tried out a new chord change or progression they had just learned

I love playing chord piano. You can do a lot with 10 fingers, and with different finger configurations, make the chord harmony light and open or as dense as you’d like

I remember several studio gigs where I had asked the keyboard guy to use his best judgment on doing a chord pad behind the rest of the instruments. The tracks would always come out rich and full, and when we isolated the keyboard track, it never ceased to amaze me how much the keyboard was responsible for that richness, even though what was actually played was dead simple. Of course these guys were expert at inversions and voice leading, so what they chose to play was consciously aimed at complimenting the song, so the seemingly “simple” part was sometimes
quite clever harmonically

If you go the chord route, I hope your studies go well. There’s a big wide world of chord accompaniment styles to master. Get busy.