Piano Chord Fills: Keep It Tasteful
When it comes to playing piano chord fills, sometimes less is more. You don’t need to actually play a lot to really beautify a nice ballad. Let’s saying you’re playing a simple cocktail piano rendition of Erroll Garner’s Misty. You have those pick-up notes leading to the melody note in measure #1. In the key of C, that melody note is B and the chord is Cmaj7. For one thing, the way you accompany that melody can really determine whether you need a fill or not. For example, if you use the 1-5-3-7 chord voicing (with that B on top of the voicing, since B is the 7), the sound that results is rather substantial. What follows is an excerpt from Pro Piano Chord Bytes:
So, just hanging on it allows the listener to appreciate it. When playing a voicing like that, you don’t need to turn the attention to a chord fill for more interest.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have the option to do so, of course. Consider using an inversion of the basic chord (Cmaj7) to add some right hand flavor above the melody. Your four positions, including root position and the three inversions are:
C E G B
E G B C
G B C E
E G B C
Play with these positions an octave or two above the original melody beginning on the second beat of that measure. The melody, upon being played on beat #1, has already been established. Since you have two more beats before the melody changes, you have the luxury of using that time to have fun with some type of chord fill during that amount of time. Naturally, you won’t want to overdo it. Always remember that you want to respect the melody as being the priority. I like to use the analogy of a birthday cake. Think of the melody as the basic cake with a layer of frosting. That by itself can stand on its own. What you add to that can be equated to your fills. So “sprinkle” in an economical fashion. If you have more decorations than you do cake, you kind of lose what is essential, right? So, perhaps use a one of those inversions, playing each chord tone as eighth notes. Vary it according to your taste. Experiment… experiment…experiment!
If you happen to be a more advanced player, I actually created a video session that utilizes the chord voicing that we focus on in ProProach Lesson #1 while making extended use of it in a very creative way. The video session (available via instant online access, as are all my sessions) is entitled Cocktail Piano Secrets #1. Please visit here to learn more about it.
If you remember the analogy above when creating fills, your playing will certainly come across as more professional. Even a beginner will sound more “pro” when he or she respects the melody and uses fills sparingly rather than being overly decorative. As mentioned earlier, you also have the option of not using fills at all in certain areas of your playing. Again, think of your fills as “sprinkles on the cake” and your music will come across as being tastefully balanced.