Piano Chord Karaoke! A Great Ear-Training Exercise

Piano Teacher
Karaoke Piano is fun!

Piano Lessons are Fun and this article introduces a fun new concept. Piano Chord Karaoke!Play Popular Piano Music.
By the time most piano students are at an intermediate or advanced level of playing, they are old enough to have developed a sense of their favorite styles of music and personal taste.  In playing any instrument, especially piano, a fun and motivating goal is to be able to play favorite popular songs and be able to sing along.  Especially with friends, piano chord karaoke is a fun activity that I have personally enjoyed for many years, and as an added benefit, it strengthens a pianist’s sense of pitch, rhythm, and harmony.

So what is Piano Chord Karaoke?

It’s simple!  The pianist first either ‘discovers’ (uses their ear and no music to play a song) or researches the chords of their favorite song to play it, and he or she can either sing the vocal part over the chords with friends or alone.  One of the great aspects of this activity is that, even when a lead sheet (chord guide) is used, the activity is still improvisational, so there will be many ways to develop a piano part, whether simple or complex.  Also, playing the chords of a song is a theory exercise in itself, as it gets the pianist thinking about chord structure and inversions.

How do use chords to play a song?

If the pianist is just getting started with this exercise and it is new, he or she can do a search online for the name of the song and the word “chords” at the end and find numerous results.  Pick one that has both lyrics and the chords written in above them to get the approximate spacing of the changes.  Then, listen to the song while looking at the lead sheet (this is the name of the chords plus lyrics sheet) and see if you can hear where the chords change. Some musical instruments like the kalimba is not played using chords but individual notes. That is great for singing along to a note or trying to reverse engineer a song.
Then, take it to the piano!  You can either have the song running and try to play the chords along with it, or take a step back and make sure you know what all of the chords are first.  This gets us to the theory component of the exercise.  Remember when your piano teacher told you during lessons that “this is a C major triad?”  In looking at the lead sheet, when it says ‘C’, ‘D’, ‘Em’, etc, this is what they are referring to.  If the chord is just a capital letter, it is major, and if it has an m or is a lowercase letter, it is minor.

Experimenting With Your Piano Part

You can begin just by playing the root position of each chord, meaning 3 notes in thirds in the right hand and the root note in the left hand.  From there, add in repetitions of the chords on the strong beats (i.e. 1-2-3-4) to give a little rhythm and expand from there.  Any of the 3 notes of a major or minor chord will work for each chord change, so you can use different combinations freely to personalize.  Also, feel free to change the order of the notes so changes are closer together—this is utilizing inversions.  The possibilities with the piano part are endless!

Add In The Singing!

Once you feel comfortable with the chords and when they change, start singing the melody and lyrics over the piano part.  Listening to the song first can help if you are not sure where starting vocal pitches are.  Invite friends to do the same with you, and you now have a fun musical activity that can be as serious or as carefree as you like.  Personally, I’ve had some of the most entertaining moments doing this with friends, and as a plus, piano chord karaoke is a great musical exercise where you get to use popular songs that you enjoy!

In conclusion

This exercise is best for intermediate and advanced piano players, as some knowledge of chord structure is needed to be successful.  However, the piano accompaniment does not necessarily need to be complex when starting this activity to be fun.  The amazing thing is that the more you do it, the easier the chord changes become, and arrangements can be more complex.  So, pick 3 songs that you and/or your friends love, practice the chords, and have fun singing and playing together!

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