Is it OK to play “guitar” songs on piano?

I remember once teaching a teenage piano student who loved both rock and jazz. He was equally happy playing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Bill Evan’s “Waltz For Debby.” He usually enjoyed the pieces I recommended he learn, with one exception. Whenever I suggested a song that he associated with the guitar, he’d say, “Nah, I don’t want to play that. That’s a guitar song.”

A guitar song!

He was entitled to his opinion, of course, and there was so much great music we could work on that I didn’t press the issue. But in the back of my mind, I thought that he would have loved to learning songs like Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and Pat Metheny’s “American Garage.”

Even though we hear the “final” version of a song on the recording, the musical artists themselves are usually surprisingly open to various interpretations of their own material. While reading Keith Richard’s autobiography “Life,” for instance, I was shocked to read that The Rolling Stones themselves wanted to include horns on their guitar-oriented hit “Satisfaction!” In the jazz world, this type of orchestrational variation is commonplace. Guitarist Joe Pass would play songs made popular by pianist Oscar Peterson and vice versa.

Music is music, and musicians enjoy different interpretations of their material.

Case in point: guitarist Pat Metheny’s “Bright Size Life.”

Even though the tune is in The Real Book, I’ve tended to gloss over it in the past, partly because of the wide intervals in the melody, which are more idiomatic for the guitar than for the piano. So when the tune came up next in my Journey Through The Real Book video series on YouTube, I approached it with a little trepidation. “Would the song sound good on piano?” You bet!

As I spent more and more time with the tune, the logic of the chord progression became clearer to me. And, to my delight, Metheny’s wide intervallic leaps began to feel more natural as well. I ended up loving “Bright Size Life,” and plan to include it in my concert repertoire from now on.

Here’s my piano version. I hope you enjoy it and that my performance inspires you to learn this wonderful tune for yourself!

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