How to play piano from a chord sheet

If you have difficulty playing piano from a chord sheet, you’re not alone. Most pop, rock, jazz, and folk piano players create their own accompaniments and piano parts from chord progressions, but learning this for yourself can seem daunting, especially if you have a strictly classical background.

In fact, though, it’s actually very easy to get started: You just need a “doorway” in.

To begin, download a free copy of my Pop Ballad Accompaniment ebook. (Just enter your email to the right of this post and you’ll get access to your copy.)

The ebook will show you how to look at a chord sheet and play professional-sounding accompaniments right from the beginning. Pop and rock ballads are a good starting point because the chords are usually fairly simple and they’re played at a slow tempo. Applying the techniques I show in the musical examples is pretty easy, once you know how.

Since many of you have classical training, let’s start by relating chords to how classical composers think about music:

Pretend that you’re Mozart for a minute. As a composer, you know that one way to use
a chord is simply to repeat it in a steady rhythm, without changing the
position in any way. You have an idea for a melody that’s in the key of A
minor and want to play a basic, root position A minor chord in your left
hand. So just as I show on the first page of the ebook, you simply repeat
that chord over and over for a measure. And what do you get? The beginning
of Mozart’s great piano sonata in A minor!

And then, in most of the subsequent measures, you’ll see how Mozart uses
the smooth voice-leading technique that I show in the ebook as well. Of
course neither Mozart nor myself invented these techniques. Everyone uses

You can too.

Begin learning the first page of my pop ballad ebook. It’s just the same thing that Mozart did, isn’t it? Repeating chords. Learn this accompaniment to the great pop ballad The Rose and then go on to the next page or two, to see some more possibilities. After you learn how to play The Rose like this, the next step is to use your newfound ability to create your own accompaniments on songs of your own choice.

To take this next step, choose a pop ballad that doesn’t have a lot of chords. The ‘A’ section of Hey Jude is a good one to start with. The chords are: G/D/D7/G/C/G/D7/G.
Each for one full measure.

Now you just have to go through the first few pages of my ebook and use
these chords instead of the chords to The Rose. After a little practice
you’ll find yourself playing the song much like Paul McCartney does on the
Beatles recording of Hey Jude.

The best thing about playing from chords is that it gets easier over time, not harder. Hey Jude is Hey Jude and it’ll always be easy to play. As you get better and become more comfortable playing from chords, all these pop songs just get easier and easier. Many of them use the same chords and same types of accompaniment so if you can play 5 songs like this, you can play 5,000.

Have fun and “let the music flow!”

Here are some free piano improv lessons you may also enjoy.

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