Be Prepared for Any Impromptu Music Situation by Learning these Golden Chord Progressions

My brother and colleague shared this Youtube video called 4 chords, 36 songs by Axis of Awesome with me. I laughed so hard I just HAD to show my intermediate and senior students. Here's a performance of it:

The way I see it, if one were to memorize this chord progression, in addition to the Canon in D and Heart & Soul progressions, in every key; one could improvise, fake and impress everyone the next time s/he is coerced (er, asked) to play and has nothing else performance ready.

If you could also throw in snippets of any of the songs from the video every few minutes, you'd have the audience eating from the palm of your hand. You might as well turn this into a practical ear training exercise and try and pick out the notes to some of the tunes by ear. That way, you'll never forget the notes.

Plus, if you ever start up a band, you'd be set. After all, these three progressions are in...well, as Axis of Awesome says, they're in every pop hit.

Don't believe me? Check out Pachelbel Rant:

And finally, Heart & Soul Chords in other songs:

By the way, these chords are sometimes called the "50s chord progression".

If you're itching to try this, here are the chords:

The Four Chords: |: I V vi IV :| V(7) I || Canon in D: |: I V vi iii IV I IV V :| I || Heart & Soul: |: I vi ii V :| I ||

For those that need to see the chords with the jazz or pop/rock symbols, they are (in the key of C):

The Four Chords: |: C G Am F :| G(7) C || Canon in D: |: D A Bm F#m G D G A :| D || Heart & Soul: |: C Am Dm G :| C ||

Happy jamming!

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Improv by Eric Lewis Sparks Memories & Inspiration

I still remember the first time at university when classmate Lael Johnston performed a piece for prepared piano by John Cage at one Studio Master Class. All the piano students were shocked that bits of rubber, nuts and bolts, felt and more were wedged into the strings of a 9-foot Steinway concert grand. Lael assured us that no parts of the piano were permanently damaged. The fascinating thing was that the Steinway sounded exactly like an Indonesian gamelan.

This clip below of jazz pianist Eric Lewis brought all those memories back. Eric doesn't use rubber, nuts or bolts, but his hand technique on the piano strings is pretty impressive and creative. Around the 6'30" mark, he has a very funky groove.

It gives me ideas of things to do with any students who are easily bored or need something exciting to re-energize their playing. However, like Lael, I'll have to assure my students' parents that no piano parts should be permanently damaged in the process of unleashing their child's creativity.

Here's the clip:

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


Aebersold's Scale Syllabus a Lifesaver for Classical Geeks learning Jazz

Practicing has been frustrating as of late. On a theoretical level, I know what I'd like my jazz pieces to sound like. However, I've been stuck in a rut as the old practicing techniques applied in learning a Beethoven sonata does not fully apply. Studying the form helps as does studying the harmonic structure, but that's where the similarities end. How on earth am I supposed to figure out what fills, comping patterns and modes I should use in All the Things You Are? More specifically, how am I supposed to practice? I've dutifully listened to recordings for ideas but after listening to recordings of Vince Guaraldi and Keith Jarrett, my mind becomes stuck in "Yikes! I'll NEVER get this!" mode. I'm starting to sort out what inversions I want for the chords, gradually getting used to playing rootless chords. And that's where I've been stuck. My solos haven't been sounding much better and figuring out my comping patterns is haphazard.

With a colleague/friend's wedding coming up next month, I need to buckle down and finalize my plan for the jazz pieces. Derek's got it easy - he knows all the songs we're playing and has played them on piano and bass, while our other friend/colleague Melodie has sung them all. But our little trio will be in sad shape unless I get out of my rut quickly.

Derek has mentioned using a "scale syllabus" at my last two lessons. He's also dropped hints here and there that I should really start using my How to Play Jazz and Improvise book by Jamey Aebersold (so many books, so little time). Tonight, I finally added 2 + 2 together and got it! There in black in white on page 53 IS the scale syllabus!

Volume 1 - How To Play Jazz & Improvise look insideListen! Volume 1 - How To Play Jazz & Improvise By Jamey Aebersold. For any C, Eb, Bb, bass instrument or voice. Play-Along series with accompaniment CD. Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Long series. Beginner, intermediate. Book & CD. 104 pages. Published by Jamey Aebersold Jazz (JA.V01DS)Smp_stars30 (22) ...more info

Now I don't need to think so hard about which modes/scales will work on a G#7b5 chord or a C7b6 chord. What a beautiful chart it is to behold. I just need to add scale degrees so I can get the patterns more quickly. The Whole & Half Step Construction is nice, but my classically-trained mind understands 1 b3 4 5 b7 8 for the Minor Pentatonic scale more quickly than -3 W W -3 W. Practicing tonight went much more smoothly. I'm fast becoming a fan of the Minor Pentatonic ad Bebop minor scales.

Jamey has come up with a whole series of books on how to play jazz. You can find them on his website, along with a free download of the scale syllabus. Now you too can have what I'm now calling my Lifesaver Cheat Sheet.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB. All rights reserved.

Oscar Peterson Remembered

Canadian jazz legend, pianist, composer, Grammy Award winner, humanitarian and Order of Canada recipient Oscar Peterson passed away on December 23. He was of 82. The following are links to some articles and tributes to the great Mr. Peterson:

Oscar Peterson's website, containing news, biographical, band, journal, discography, photos, audios and more. Wikipedia article on Oscar Peterson CBC tribute to Oscar Peterson The Press Association's article, Tributes Pour In for Oscar Peterson Collections Canada website The Toronto Star's memoriam The Canadian Encyclopedia Loss of a Legend - CTV Tribute

"C Jam Blues" never sounded so fine!

This is one of the Oscar Peterson CD's in my music collection:

Scales Help at

[February 5, 2013 update: is no more. Instead, check out this article on on the "10 Jazz Scales You Should Know"] I stumbled upon this site while trying to makes heads or tails out of the Lydian Dominant mode (jazz musicians are probably shaking their heads at this as they know very well what Lydian Dominant is). is a very thorough site, containing scale formulas, chord analyses, note names and audio clips of everything from our standard major and minor scales to the Bebop Dominant and Hindu scales.

My student R, who likes to compose, is excited about writing in some of these different keys while my student A is currently on a modal kick with her repertoire, so she is pumped about learning how to play modes. The funny thing is, neither student is in Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms syllabus. Both girls are in the traditional stream of ConCan and RCM respectively.

As for my students who need to learn the Lydian Dominant mode for their Contemporary Idioms exam, they're just relieved to have the scale formula in an easy to understand format (as am I).

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms Syllabus

Last year, Conservatory Canada released their Contemporary Idioms syllabus. I must admit, I was slow to get on the bandwagon at first, partially because I wanted to hear comments from other teachers and partially because I wanted to take my time looking over the requirements. A few weeks ago, I sat in on one of ConCan's workshops on the syllabus. Unfortunately, I could only attend one out of the four sessions.

Derek Stoll and Steven Fielder made the workshop exciting, interactive and dynamic. It's an exciting program. I imagine teachers are seeing this as a way to keep some students from quitting in frustration because "piano is boring" or because they "hate their songs".

Students study a variety of the contemporary genres: rock, ballad/blues, jazz, swing, Latin, traditional/folk and ragtime. Unlike the traditional conservatory systems, memory isn't stressed. However, students don't get off quite that easily. They need to learn their chords extremely well because they are expected to sight-read and improvise off a lead sheet (or jazz chart). They have to determine which style is appropriate for these selections (e.g., swing pattern, waltz, Latin).

In addition, the technical requirements are very challenging. My older students and I are finding that after years of playing the good old major, harmonic and melodic minor scales, our fingers and brains are running circles with the old church modes and jazz melodic minor scales. We'll get it though, with a lot of patience and practice! Thankfully, we agreed to use this year to learn the new requirements and to simply explore the program. Next year, they'll be more comfortable to take the test.

I actually don't mind learning all these "new" scales. I've been itching to play different technical exercises. Although adding a new program into my studio means the investment of more music (so close to RCM's upcoming release of their new syllabus and books), I am drooling over all these songs that I can add to my gigging repertoire.

My 10 or so students who are trying out the program are enjoying it so far. Some of them are a little frightened about improvising in a certain style or the new technical requirements or reading from a lead sheet but overall, the switch has re-energized their playing and practice. One mother commented that her daughter is practicing "all the time" now, which wasn't the case last year.

The program is not without glitches. I heard there were a few bumps during the last exam session. ConCan was quick to update their syllabus online to reflect the feedback they received from students and teachers. I wrote them yesterday, requesting they ensure the next edition of the syllabus includes the correct book titles as Rideau Music and I have had a tough time tracking down some of the books. They responded to me right away, assurring me that they will make the necessary corrections.

It's a bit of a challenge to figure out how the eight-level system compares to the traditional 10-grade system. ConCan clarified things a bit for me there as well. Level 1 corresponds to Grade 1 in the RCM and CoCan Syllabi. Level 4 is about Grade 5/6, while Level 8 is the equivalent to Grade 10 in the traditional programs. I have heard some teachers say that they're not going to teach beyond Level 4 (some up to Level 6). Lucky me, I have three in Level 4/5, three in Level 7 and one in Level 8.

The program isn't for all teachers or all students, but that can also be said for all the conservatory systems and beginner method books. Some students are clearly "Royal Conservatory" or "Conservatory Canada" material. Then, there are the students who could thrive in either system. And then, there's the group of students who are "just playing for fun".

Regardless of which stream is best for a student, we can incorporate elements from the other programs to enhance our students' musical education.

It is wonderful to see how the resources and programs are evolving to meet the needs and interests of students and teachers.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Musings on the First Week of of the Fall Term

Since everyone is adjusting to their fall schedule, my main priorities this week were to reconnect with returning students, to get to know new students and assess who did their homework (and who needs extra review). I gave all the kids some origami that I made over the summer. Their first homework assignment is to compose or improvise a short song about one or both of their origami. It will be a musical carnival of the animals, with songs about whales, seals, fish and various birds.