How to Play Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment
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Do you want to learn how how to play jazz swing piano accompaniment? In today’s lesson, I’m going to teach you how to accompany a singer or instrumentalist in the jazz swing style on piano. You’re going to learn:
- The chord progression / chord sheet for Fly Me to the Moon
- The left hand root position chords
- How to comp in the right hand with Guide Tones (2-note chords)
- 3 “Stock” Walking Bass Lines (1 for beginner, 1 for late beginner, 1 for intermediate)
If you want to take your jazz piano accompaniment skills to a whole new level, this lesson is for you. Whether you are a beginner jazz pianist or you have experience playing jazz piano, you will learn techniques that you can immediately use in your playing and improvisations. Let’s dive in.
Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment: Fly Me to the Moon
One of the best songs to accompany in the jazz swing style is Fly Me to the Moon. This classic jazz standard has been performed by the greatest jazz musicians of all time, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billy Holiday. You can watch Frank Sinatra’s version here.
Now, when it comes to piano accompaniment, thankfully you only need to learn the chords on piano because you will either be singing the melody or someone else will be singing it (or playing it on an instrument). Therefore, you need to know the chords for Fly Me to the Moon
Fly Me to the Moon Chord Sheet
Here is the chord sheet for the verse for Fly Me to the Moon:
Now, before I teach you how to accompany using the above chords, it’s critical that you memorize these chords. That way, when we move on and talk about Guide Tones, you’ll understand how they relate to the chords that you’ve learned above.
Now, if you don’t read sheet music, that’s OK! We have our Smart Sheet music, which has a digital light-up keyboard with the sheet music. You can also change the key with the click of one button.
If the chords above don’t look familiar to you, don’t worry! These are called 7th chords and they are foundational for jazz piano. The key to remembering these chords is that they almost all use white notes built in the 3rds, meaning you’ll skip every other white note.
If you want to do a deep dive and learn all your 7th chords in all keys with exercises, checkout our Piano Foundations Level 2 Learning Track.
Now that you know the root position chords, it’s time to learn the Guide Tone approach.
Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment: Chord Shells
The next step in jazz swing piano accompaniment is learn your Chord Shells.
What is a Chord Shell?
Chord shells are the root, 3rd, and 7th of a chord. These notes define the chord quality and are the most important notes of a 7th chord.
For example, on a A Minor 7, your chord shell is A, C, and G, which looks like this:
On a D Minor 7, your chord shell is D, F, and C, which looks like this:
I highly encourage you to practice all your chord shells for the Fly Me to the Moon chord sheet. Here is exactly how I would practice it:
The top two notes of each chord, the 3rd and 7th, are called “Guide Tones”. In a moment, we’ll talk about how to invert these guide tones to make them sound more interesting.
If you want to do a deep dive on Chord Shells and Guide Tones, including mastering them with exercises in all keys, checkout our Chord Shell & Guide Tone Exercises course.
Now that you have learned your Guide Tones, let’s make them even easier to play by inverting every other guide tone.
Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment: Inverted Guide Tones
When moving between chords, you want to have as minimal movement as possible. The way to accomplish this is to use inversions of your chords. This way, your chords are close together.
Now, when you are playing a song like Fly Me to the Moon, this tune uses a Cycle of 5ths Progression. There is a very neat trick you can use on a Cycle of 5ths Progression to find your next chord, and it’s called the Drop Guide Tone approach.
What is the Drop Guide Tone Trick?
The Drop Guide Tone trick is where you drop the top note of your guide tone to find the next chord. Then you drop the bottom note to find the next chord.
Here’s exactly how to do this on the Fly Me to the Moon chord progression:
Pretty amazing, huh? This Drop Guide Tone trick works on other Cycle of 5ths tunes like Fly Me to the Moon and All the Things You are. Try it on our Autumn Trees course. And for a deep dive on the Cycle of 5ths chord progression, checkout the Cycle of 5ths in 3 Jazz Styles.
I also recommend playing these Guide Tones with the included backing track, which can be downloaded on this page after logging into your membership.
Now that you understand the Drop Guide Tone Approach, it’s time to lay down some sweet bass lines! In the next section, you’ll learn 3 “stock” bass lines. These are bass lines that work on almost any chord progression.
But before we move on, if you are enjoying this course, I highly recommend that you checkout the Jazz Swing Accompaniment courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced). In these courses, we do a deep dive of jazz swing accompaniment and talk about even more techniques for accompanying in the jazz swing style on piano.
Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment: 3 Stock Bass Lines
If you want to create a jazz piano accompaniment on swing tunes, then you must have a walking bass line! The walking bass line is the driving force behind swing music and it gives swing music its characteristic sound.
Today you will learn 3 stock bass lines that you can use on Fly Me to the Moon as well as almost any other swing tune. We’ll start with the bass line for beginner jazz pianists. If you have experience playing jazz, you can jump ahead to the late beginner and intermediate approaches.
Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment: Beginner Bass Line
If you are a jazz piano beginner, then it is essential that you keep your bass line simple! One of the best bass lines to use if you are a beginner jazz pianist is the 4-On-The-Floor Bass Line.
What is a 4-On-the-Floor bass line?
A 4-On-The-Floor bass line is a bass line where you play a bass note on every beat. If you are playing a song in a 4/4 time signature, you end up playing 4 notes per measure. Therefore, we call this 4-On-The-Floor.
How do we play a 4-On-The-Floor Bass on Fly Me to the Moon? You simply play each bass note 4 times, like this:
Now, this sounds pretty good considering how simple it is, but how do you make it sound even more interesting? The trick is to “pop” your right hand chords in between the beat. We call this “syncopation”, and this is another hallmark of jazz music (you can learn essential right hand syncopated patterns in our Jazz Swing Accompaniment courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate Advanced).
Now, go ahead and try singing along while you play the 4-On-The-Floor bass and right hand chords. Sounds pretty cool, huh?!? It’s amazing how nice such a simple accompaniment can sound.
Now, if you want to learn the rest of the chords for Fly Me to the Moon, you can in our Fly Me to the Moon courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced). You can also learn the chords in any fake book or real book that has the song Fly Me to the Moon.
Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment: Late Beginner Bass Line
If you have some experience playing jazz piano and want to play a more interesting bass line, then this is the one that I recommend.
For this approach, we will create more movement in the bass line. Specifically, we will follow a pattern called Root-5-Upper Neighbor. What this means is that we will start on the root note for the first chord A minor, which is an A. Then we will go up a 5th to E. Then we will go down a half-step to the Eb, which is the “upper neighbor” to our target note D. Check it out:
Using this idea, we can construct a very cool sounding bass line for Fly Me to the Moon on piano:
Doesn’t that bass line sound sweet?!? Now, go ahead and add the right hand chords. Practice “popping” the chords in-between the beats. Once you’re feeling good about this, go ahead and try singing along.
Also, you can download the lesson sheet music for this lesson at the bottom of this page after logging into your membership.
Jazz Swing Piano Accompaniment: Intermediate Bass Line
If you are more on the intermediate or even advanced side, then I recommend that you play a walking bass line that uses swung 8th notes.
Now, there are many ways to walk bass lines in jazz swing (you can learn a variety in our Walking Bass Lines course). For this lesson, I’m going to show you one of my favorite approaches. This Stock Bass Lines uses this formula for the chords: Root-5th-Octave-Upper Neighbor-Upper Neighbor. When we apply this pattern to Fly Me to the Moon, we end up with this bass line:
Doesn’t that sound awesome! Try adding the right hand Guide Tones and practice popping the chords between beats.
Once you have picked a bass line that you like and can sing the tune, you’ll probably want to sing the rest of the tune and even solo on it. You can learn all the chords for Fly Me to the Moon plus how to solo over this progression in our Fly Me to the Moon courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).
And if you want to learn accompaniment techniques in other styles, we’ve put together some of our top courses below:
- Pop Accompaniment Patterns (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced)
- Piano Accompaniment: Popstinatos
- Silent Night Bossa Accompaniment (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced)
Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip!
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