Piano method for bass player

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Michal Herman, Oct 28, 2018.

  1. Michal Herman

    Michal Herman

    May 31, 2013
    Hi fellow bassists.
    I have heard many voices, that for a musician it is useful to know how to play the piano.
    I bought a keyboard and from time to time I am practicing laying down chords for jazz standards backing tracks (with some experimenting with inversions and voicings) but nothing more.
    Can you recommend any book/method/course for a person, that want to get to know piano better, but only as a "support" instrument?
    I am more jazz-oriented bassist if this makes any difference.
    reddog likes this.
  2. donotfret


    Jun 11, 2018
    I think for what you want there is nothing better than Mark Levine's Jazz Piano Book. I'd say it covers at least 90% of standard jazz piano comping. What I like is that you get recipes on how to use voicings over changes, but also lots of examples of recordings that demonstrate it. Many of those are also written down, so they are easy to analyse. The way the chapters about voicings and those about scales are brought together is also great and will help you to get a better understanding.

    It won't help you to work on technique though. If at some point you decide to work on that, the best option in my opinion is "Rational principles of pianoforte technique" by Alfred Cortot.
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  3. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I recommend "Beginning Piano for Adults" by Bastien and Bastien.

    The Bastiens are well known in piano pedagogy.

    This book is aimed at giving adult beginners a general capability in playing piano. I believe (it's been a while since I looked at the book) it has the usual reading music, theory, rhythmic notation stuff at the beginning, but you can pick and choose from that what you need.

    The book will probably not do anything for the jazz aspect of piano playing, but I think you need at least some kind of basic generic piano capability before getting into the study of jazz voicings etc.

    Probably a combination of practicing the mechanics of piano with the Bastien book, and practicing doing "jazz things" o nthe piano with the Levine book, would be a great plan.

    I took the usual childhood/teenage piano lessons, did not enjoy playing piano, dropped it, but I have used knowledge of the keyboard as well as my retained basic technique during my entire life as a musician (I'm in my late fifites now). So I strongly encourage you.

    Honestly I cannot imagine gaining a mastery of chords, scales, voicings, etc., without being able to lay them out visually in front of me on a multinote instrument, and the one we have as Western musicians is the piano. You could make one of the mallet instruments work, I suppose, but all the standard ones have a layout derived from the piano. Guitar has limits on voicings imposed by the necessity to be able to fit your fingers to the chord; plus the patterns are different in different octaves, and you can't have more than 6 notes in play at any time whereas (at least in theory) you can have up to 10 notes at a time on piano.

    Plus, the single most likely instrument to be available wherever you go, is a piano.
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  4. dperrott

    dperrott Commercial User

    Oct 3, 2005
    Jersey City
    I like David Berkman's Jazz Harmony book. It's not a "piano method" but worked for me. In the back he has voicings and exercises. It only focuses on harmony with basic voicings so I thought it was very practical as a bass player. Its his harmony course in book form. Its laid out so well I learned a lot. I looked at the Levine book but I hate to admit but my piano reading sucks. Made it tedious for me. Plus I'm not concerned with soloing on piano. I just want to be able to play arranger piano.
    longfinger likes this.
  5. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    I am currently a piano/voice student and I sit in on jazz performance classes (veteran bass player).

    If you are starting from scratch and want quick results, the Bastien or Alfred's methods are pretty straight forward and can be done self-taught. The Alfred Chord Method series is good there.

    However, real piano playing requires LH/RH independence to be developed. The old Thompson Methods Books are good for that.

    Jazz Hanon is good for learning chord progressions.

    The REAL DEAL for technique is learning classical piano with an instructor. Learning classical before branching out into jazz seems to be a proven route (much like Simandl before Ron Carter). Spend 6 months learning elementary technique, then move to Bach which will build both your technique and your ear for melody and counterpoint. Start with the Inventions and then go to the WTC. Everything in WTC is tough except for the famous Prelude in C Major. Warning...Classical piano is a black hole from which you may never want to return.

    Good Luck!!!
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  6. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    BTW, How fast and how much piano you learn is a function of your willingness to commit to daily effective practice. If you play at it, you will learn very little. I signed up for a college course with grades plus a private instructor. Being chained to the oar in piano and voice has its benefits.

    At my early level, its mostly about muscle memory and I am amazed that if I practice effectively, I can do something easily after a day or two of practice. (Unlike bowing).
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2018
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  7. vilshofen


    Dec 27, 2007
    Here's the ticket, Michal. I had a jazz group with the pianist co-writer, Noureddine, and most of the music samples are his original materials, not just quotes from the repertoire. At 265 pages, it'll keep you hopping.
    I would also second donotfret's suggestion above, the Mark Levine book (there are two, the other being The Jazz Theory Book).
  8. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Unless I read too quickly through the previous replies, no one said "get a teacher" - if it's good advice for bass, it's good advice for piano, too.

    I didn't start playing piano until college, and while I haven't taken lessons all the time during the <ahem, ahem> decades since college, I've taken a few months or a year or two as a piano student as I've felt the need during my adult life to date. I began taking the secondary piano classes all the music majors had to take, and later, because I was clearly a diligent student and making good progress, the school was nice enough to give me a 1/2 hour private lesson with a graduate piano major instead of the class. I took one summer and practiced piano 2-3 hours a day and made huge strides.

    In my 40's, I played well enough that I taught that group piano class at the local community college. At around age 50, I played well enough to start accompanying my wife, a school music teacher, for rehearsals and shows. A few years after that, I began subbing as a church organist, and a few years ago, I took my first job as a church organist and music director. D@#$ed straight I'm proud of what I've accomplished, but I never would have gotten to where I am without good piano teachers.

    Everyone needs chops on whatever they play, and my opinion is that if you've got good music in your head from playing one instrument, you just need chops and practice time to bring that to another instrument. FWIW, a few days a week, I sit and read through a fake book, not just comping chords but trying to play the whole thing - at least somewhat interesting bass lines, chords, and melody, and sometimes improvising. Hey, did I say I'm d@#$ed proud of what I can do on the piano? :) :)

    Get thee to a piano teacher.

    OK, so I missed that one. :)

    I don't recommend this approach - if you want to play better, learn to play better - you can decide to do less in any given musical situation but you can't just decide to do more.

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  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I think the calls for a teacher are well spoken. The piano is such a potential wealth of knowledge, such a tremendous resource, that it is wise to get at least a basic foundation in how to physically approach it. Ideally, a person would be able to find a teacher that could help them with the physical approach to the piano and reading grand staff music, and who could also help them with actualizing whatever harmonic repertoire the music they are most interested in calls for.

    My greatest musical mentor ever was a classical piano teacher. In addition to teaching me how to approach the piano and how to approach melody, harmony, reading, and how to better understand the concept of orchestral balance in layered music, she also was happy to work with me to improve my application of jazz voicings and offered a lot of great non-traditional fingering advice for improvised music even though she wasn't an improviser at all.

    For most jazz bass players, I would recommend developing the ability to create 4 note rootless voicings at will, which unlocks the harmonic possibilities of the music they are approaching. It's one thing to vaguely understand the harmonic implications of a song in theory, and another thing entirely to be able to sit down at the piano and turn that into concrete sound. Even though I haven't played piano professionally in over 20 years since I switched to bass, I still use it in teaching every single day and would be a much less effective teacher without the immediacy of complete harmonic context it can provide.

    When I am learning a new piece of music and struggling over a part of it, my first strategy is always to sit down and create a sound file of the difficult passage at the piano, then load it into an audio app on the iPad and turn it into a loop that I can practice over. It's really a godsend that helps me unify the theoretical/conceptual side of music (NOT my natural state) with the aural approach to music (my natural state) and (hopefully) makes me a more complete player in the end.
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  10. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    Excellent advice.....People take heed.

    I am following in your footsteps..just 20 years behind. I am a "beginner at piano". I take a Group "baby" class 2x/week and a private instructor 1x /week. Like you, I found that if you practice every day and know how to harness your muscle memory efficiently, you can make great strides in a matter of months.

    I love piano...but am getting hooked to where I spend most of my time playing piano instead of bass. I did some woodshedding with the metronome set on 2 and 4 to get my bass back in shape for a recital. When I walked into baby piano I got yelled at "DONT SWING THOSE NOTES!!!"
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  11. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002
    this thread is pertinent to my interests as Im thinking of picking up a keyboard for the same reasons as the O.P. (actually had one years ago here but ended up selling it when there was a money crunch).

    O.P. what keyboard did you get?
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  12. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    You didn’t ask me, but ...

    I recommend the Yamaha P- series. The P-71 is the current - I think it still is - offfering for a lower cost, and the P-125 the more expensive. I like this place, kraftmusic.com, no connection but it’s where I buy and where I’ve sent several students who are also very happy with service and price. These are good enough for even college piano performance majors to put some of their time on. I started on a borrowed P-something, owned a P-85 that survived a few years in my son’s apartment and lived in our house long after that, and bought a P-125 about a year ago that’s great.

    Yamaha NP- series aren’t as much like a real piano and have fewer keys if space is an issue.

  13. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    I have a Yamaha P85 (?) and am very happy with it. Not sure of number as i am on the road. Whatever you get, make sure it has weighted keys.

    Also a Walther upright.
  14. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002

    thanks..P125 looks good and is reasonably priced. The KB I had before was an S90, which was probably overkill for my needs.
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    The Casio Privia PX-160 is also a nice keyboard with great sounds and weighted keys.
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  16. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    @Chris Fitzgerald, we have a local place here that repairs keyboards and they have expressed a distinct preference for Yamaha over Casio. Apparently repairing a Yamaha keyboard is better/easier - can get parts, etc.

    Of course, if you don't ever get your keyboard repaired, it doesn't matter, and the Casio keyboards work and sound fine. I've been to the place below a few times, with a sticky key and things like that. The church where I play organ has a "digital piano" from 1997 these folks take care of - looks very much like a spinet, and its innards are along the lines of a Rhodes. It was a donation to the church, an expensive one at the time, and they are committed to keeping it working, which these folks do.

    Three Wave Music

    If you look at the pictures, the guy's got just tons of keyboards in every conceivable shape and size. No connection, just a satisfied customer.

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  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    All good - also no connection. My brother has a Casio privia, though and when I saw it it was way nicer than I expected.
  18. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    Correction: I have a P120 circa 2003.
  19. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002
    i was looking at the p85 the other night, looks like a nice electronic kb/piano.

    of course, me being me and liking expensive things the Arius series is nice as well...
  20. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I started by borrowing (from a fellow bass player) a P-70 - she still has it, it still works well, and they're all good piano substitutes, IMHO. My P-85 from about 2007 is also still going strong in the home of a piano student of mine. Also funny to me that there is now a P-71, which is a lower-cost model. What was the 70 is now up to the 125.

    Of course, none of them _is_ a piano, but that series is the happy price/performance point for me.