Mastering “perfect background piano"

Hi, I’m wondering if you could provide some thoughts on how to master playing background music in restaurants … pedal use - and other tips for this type of venue… I think most people want to be able to talk and not have it too loud…

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Hi Christy,

Good question!

As you quite rightly point out, volume is important. Your role is to provide a backdrop of music and so make sure people can easily talk over your playing. Remember you are not the ‘star of the show’ in this setting.

Here’s a few other things I have learnt from cocktail piano work:

1) Unless you are on a stage, people are not really listening!

From my experience, people only really pay attention to what you are playing when you are on a stage (ie. in a concert/ performance setting).

If it is a background music gig, the vast majority of people will not be listening to what you are playing.

An old teacher of mine said this to me, and many years ago I decided to try it out myself…

For a background music gig, instead of playing complicated arrangements, I pulled out my fakebook and played through standards I hadn’t played before, simply using roots, 3rds and 7ths, and sometimes just the melody with the root underneath.

Afterwards, I received the same feedback I’d usually get… “lovely playing” , “sounding great” etc… which led me to the conclusion that people are not listening intentively to what you play.

Understanding and accepting that most people are not listening to every note you play can take the pressure off, and make the experience much more relaxing and enjoyable for you.

2) Pop Songs and Non-Jazz-Standard Repertoire Work Great!

Whilst I enjoy playing jazz standards the most, you will find that a typical audience will react well to popular songs and modern piano composers.

Ludovico Einaudi’s music is great for a background setting: - his music is quite simple to play and creates a lovely backdrop of music in my opinion.

I often hear pianists play songs like this for background music too:

The point is, you don’t need to stick to the jazz standard repertoire.

You will find that most members of the public will connect with these popular songs, even moreso than jazz standards.

Something to keep in mind.

3) Creating A Continuous Stream Of Music

One of the goals is to create a continuos stream of music. The 1625 progression is an effective tool to achieve this. Check out the following course:

We introduce the concept of the 1625 and how this can be used for introductions. We also introduce the 436251 progression which is a longer version of the 1625 and we explore the different quality of chord types for each chord in the progression.

A big tip would be to stretch out your jazz piano arrangements with introductions and outros. The 1625 progression is great for introductions, endings and also to transition between tunes.

You can group tunes together that are in the same key, for example, we have covered a lot of tunes in Eb Major:

  • Tenderly
  • Misty
  • Over The Rainbow
  • When I Fall In Love
  • I Fall In Love Too Easily
  • These Foolish Things
  • Like Someone in Love
  • There Will Never Be Another You

When you want to change songs, instead of stopping at the end, when you hit the 1 chord (Eb Major - as most tunes tend to end on the 1) treat this as the 1 in the 1625 and use the 1625 progression to take you into the next tune.

You can circle around on it for as long as you like as the 5 takes you back to the 1.

Most of these tunes also start on the 1 chord (Eb Major) and so the 1625 will set you up beautifully.

If anything else springs to mind I will post it here.

Of course, if anyone else has any thoughts, your input it’s most welcome!

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Thank you Hayden!! Your feedback and suggestions are extremely helpful. It all makes sense now that the more difficult pieces aren’t needed… which as you say takes the pressure off. Your song suggestions are valuable ones and give me an idea of crowd preference. Playing softly is a skill I am striving to master. Your course offers so much information, and is so well laid out. I feel like a sponge soaking it all in (trying anyway). :+1:

My pleasure Christy.

I think the key point is that you should be comfortable with whatever you are playing.

If you play things you find difficult, this will make the experience stressful for yourself. When in reality, there is no need for this as the audience is not listening intently to you anyway.

After my realisation of this, I looked at these kind of gigs as an opportunity to ‘get paid to practice’ :grin: Rather than an opportunity for me to show off the best of my piano skills.

It does depend on the exact situation and audience, but your average member of the public would not be able to discern the difference between a simple Root-3-7 arrangement, and a more complex arrangement incorporating altered harmony, extended harmony, sus chords, substitutions, reharmonisations etc (in fact, they may prefer the former!! :grinning:)… so ask yourself is it really necessary to play a challenging jazz piano arrangement?

By all means, if you are 100% comfortable with it, then do it, but if not then don’t cause yourself unnecessary stress!

Thank you!

There’s lots more to come… I’m very busy working with the 2 new tutors at the moment.

They are both very talented and their lessons will complement and enhance the PianoGroove platform which I’m very excited about.

Wonderful resources you’re including! Very well rounded lessons/applications :raised_hand_with_fingers_splayed:

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