Rock piano is not about scales, chords, arpeggios or riffs - it is about the relationship between your right and left hand.
If your hands are playing something different, there is one thing they do need to agree on, and that is time!
Practice To A Beat
The only way to really understand time is to practice with a click - a metronome. Actually, it doesn't have to be a boring sterile click, you can use a beat track, anything so long as time is locked down and your hands have something to agree on.
If you practice to the click you will be surprised at how quickly your chops develop.
The audio track below has a basic click and I'll walk you through setting up the basic rocking rhythm and eventually show how that can expand into a blues rock piece.
Click the play button and have a read - then go and try it out yourself on your own keyboard. If you've got questions, send them my way, I'll be happy to answer.
Learn the basic "rocking" rhythm
You are going to create a 3 finger chord with your right hand and then "rock" it back and forth while keeping time with your left hand.
Set your metronome or beat track to 101 beats per minute - if you have a digital metronome you can set the signature to 8 / 4.
The Right Hand
Start out in C major so you don't have to worry about any black keys. With your right hand, place your thumb on middle C, your index finger on E and your little finger on G (This is also known as placing your fingers on the 1,3 and 5 of the C major scale.)
Listen to the metronome and count out loud, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.
On the 1 count, play the E and the G (index and little finger) - on the 2 count play the C (thumb) - on the 3 count, play the E and G - on the 4 count, play the C
Do this until it is super smooth, where you're not jerking from one set of notes to the other, where each side of the rock is the same length and volume as the other.
Once you have the rocking motion down with your right hand, add the left hand.
The Left Hand
Place your left hand thumb on the first C below middle C and then using the same 8 count, play the C on the 1, the 4 and the 5.
Listen to how that sounds with the audio track above.
Initially for most people this feels pretty weird but after a couple of passes - it starts to make sense. Once you understand how it feels - then practice it - a lot.
The more you play it - the more it makes sense - you start to think about finger velocity, about tone, about expanding the octave, about syncopating the left hand, about playing in different keys, etc, but this core rhythm is at the heart of everything.
Learn The Blues Scale
Rock and roll comes from the blues - and the blues is awesome. In C - the notes in the right hand are:
C, Eb, F, F#,G, Bb,C
With the blues you tend to have the left hand keeping time and structure while the right hand plays the melody and does all the fancy stuff. The most basic introduction to the blues would be a classic 12 bar blues.
12 bar blues
If the bar consists of 4 beats, then you have 12 bars in total (that would 48 beats for those of you with dodgy math) Here are the 12 bars of the C major blues scale:
C, C, C, C,
F, F, C, C,
G, F, C, G,
The Left Hand Shape
If we take just one of those bars - say the first one, what it really looks like is this:
| C C C C |
But just playing the C would be rather boring, so we're going to add one more note and then we're going to move that note! Exciting huh!?
With your left hand, place your little finger on the C below middle C, then place the thumb of your left hand on the G. Play them both together. (That's called a 5th!) Now move your thumb to the A - the next note up from the G but keep your little finger on the bottom C. Play them both together! Now, move your thumb to the Bb, while still keeping your little finger on the C. Play them together! And then finally, bring your thumb back to the A and play both together.
If you listen to the audio track again you'll hear how for each beat of the bar the left hand is playing something that looks a little like this:
| G A Bb A | G A Bb A | G A Bb A | G A Bb A |
| C C C C | C C C C | C C C C | C C C C |
Basically your left hand is making like a crab, moving the thumb up and down the board while your little finger stays on the C.
You can repeat this shape when you move to the F. This time the little finger stays on the F, but the thumb goes to middle C, then to D, then to Eb, then back to D. Then repeat.
After a quick four beats of C again you hop up to the G.
Your little finger stays on the G while your thumb is now moving from D to E to F and back to E.
And that's it - pretty much a standard left hand blues pattern that you can take out for a spin!
How To Practice
Get the beat track or metronome going and start out with the left hand first. Play several rounds of the 12 bars until you get a good "chugging" rhythm going. Remember that you want to the notes to sound even in both volume and length, you want to be able to do this without thinking about it.
Once you have the left hand down, start adding in notes with the right hand from the blues scale. Start slowly, play simple notes on the beat, once you build up some confidence try playing more notes. Practice will indeed make perfect but this can take some time!
What happens with beginners is that once they try to put both hands together one of the hands forgets where time is and everything falls off. If this happens to you, slow down the beat track or metronome. Even playing super slowly at 67 beats per minute will eventually sound good when you can get the two hands playing at the same time. The better you get, speed up the click.
Once you can play different things in the right hand without falling off time in the left hand then you can start to experiment: make chords of the notes in the left hand, play with sliding off the black notes onto the white notes, play with not hitting every note in the bar, slow the tempo down, speed it up - practice.
Play - A Lot!
Once you have these tools "under your belt" - play as often as you can - the more you play the more your ears change and the better the whole experience becomes
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