How to Play Piano Like Norah Jones
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Nine-time Grammy award winning singer, songwriter, and pianist Norah Jones has one of the most recognizable piano sounds of any contemporary artist. From her vocals that are simultaneously smooth-and-raspy to the chill, relaxing vibe coming from her piano, her sound is unmistakable. Norah’s distinct blend of jazz, folk, blues, pop and country has gripped audiences everywhere consequently earning her the designation as 2020’s most live-streamed artist. In today’s Quick Tip, you’ll learn the techniques that make up the essence of Norah Jones’ piano style, including:
- 3 Norah Jones Piano Chord Voicings
- 1 Norah Jones-inspired Chord Progression
- 2 Right Hand Slip Note Techniques
- 2 Slip Note Exercises
Norah’s distinct sound first captured mainstream audiences with the release of Come Away With Me in 2002. The album earned her five Grammy awards, including Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Don’t Know Why.” One of the reasons Norah’s sound has such broad appeal is because of her own diverse musical interests. For example, Norah’s side projects span multiple genres including alternative country bands The Little Willies and Puss N Boots and alternative rock band El Madmo. In fact, by learning the piano techniques in today’s Quick Tip, you too will be able to add soothing piano subtleties to virtually any style just like Norah.
Let’s dive in!
Norah Jones Piano Chords
So what is the secret behind Norah’s smooth piano vibe? Firstly, Norah typically uses chords with added harmonic color.
Coloring the Tonic
In the key of G major, for example, instead of playing a G major triad for the 1-chord, Norah’s chord of choice is often a G(add2). To play this chord, simply add the 2nd tone (A) above the root (see middle image below). Secondly, inverting this chord to 2nd inversion (see image below on the right) allows it to sit a little lower and provides the warmth of the baritone register.
Coloring the Subdominant
The chord voicing above works equally well on the 4-chord, also known as the subdominant. In the key of G major, the 4-chord is C major. Following the same process as we above, first covert the C major triad to a C(add2) by adding the 2nd (D) above the root (middle image below). Next, invert this chord so that the C is on top (see image below on the right) to allow good voice leading from the 1-chord as indicated above.
Coloring the Dominant
Next, we’ll look at a beautiful warm voicing for the dominant chord (another way of saying the 5-chord). While the 5-chord as a triad is D major, we want to color this chord quite a bit. Firstly, we’ll begin with a D9. This chord includes the notes of the D major triad (D-F♯-A) plus a 7th above the root (C) and a 9th above the root E (see image below on the left). Next, we want to soften this chord with a suspension. By playing a D9(sus4), we replace the F♯ with a G (see 2nd image from left below). This removes the leading tone (F♯) from the dominant chord resulting in less dissonance. After that, it is common to omit the 5th of the chord (see 2nd image from right below). Finally, we can re-voice the chord by bringing the 9th (E) to the middle of the chord. Placing the E next to the D creates a whole tone cluster resulting in a pleasant harmonic coloration (see image below on the right).
Many players don’t think of the chord above as a D9(sus4). If you look closely at the image below, you may notice that a D9(sus4) is equivalent to a C major triad with a D is the bass. That is exactly how many players prefer to view it. This can be indicated in the chord symbol using a practice call slash chord notation. Using slash chord notation, this is a C/D. In slash chord notation, x/y indicates a chord of x with a bass note of y. You can build this chord in any key by playing the 4-chord in your right hand with the root of the 5-chord in your left hand. Keep in mind that even though this chord mainly includes the notes of the 4-chord, because the 5 of the key is in the bass, it has a dominant function that most naturally resolves to the 1-chord.
In the next section, we’ll apply these chords to a left hand piano groove inspired by Norah’s playing style.
Norah Jones Piano Groove
Now that you have rich, warm piano chords, let’s apply them to a left hand groove. In the notation below, there are two chords per measure. On the strong beats, we’ll play a harmonized bass note featuring the root and 5th of the chord. On the weak beats, we’ll play the chord voicings from the previous section in the middle register. Be sure to play the entire groove below with the left hand. The groove moves slowly at a relaxed tempo of approximately♩. = 50 bpm.
Wow, that sounds amazing! Now, let’s try playing this groove along with a backing track. The complete lesson sheet and backing track that accompany this Quick Tip are downloadable from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.
If you like the sound of this progression, check out the following full-length courses for additional contemporary piano progressions:
Now, let’s learn how to add chill right hand fills like Norah Jones.
Adding Norah Jones Style Piano Fills
If you’ve listened to much of Norah’s music, then you know that she frequently adds minimalistic piano fills in the right hand between vocal phrases. This can be heard prominently on her cover of “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses that launched her live streaming success of 2020.
At the heart of Norah’s right hand piano fills is a technique called slip notes. In notation form, slip notes appear similar to grace notes in classical music. However, the slip note piano technique is most notably associated with country pianist Floyd Cramer (1933–1997) who popularized the sound in the 50’s and 60’s. As a sideman, Cramer recorded with artists including Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline and the Everly Brothers. Cramer himself described the slip note technique as a whole-tone slur which he said creates a “lonesome cowboy sound.”
Slip Note 1
To play a slip note, strike a note and slide immediately to the note a whole step above it. Although slip notes can be a single note, they are most commonly harmonized and appear in an inner voice. In the example below, the slip note moves from the 2nd to the 3rd of a G(add2) chord.
Slip Note 2
You can also play a slip notes from the 5th to the 6th of a major chord. Generally speaking, this slip note will be in the context of an upper neighbor note gesture, meaning it will return back to the 5th of the chord.
In the final section, you’ll put all of these techniques together in 2 exercises to help you master the slip note technique.
Slip Note Exercises
The first exercise below uses slip note 1 in the right hand throughout.
Lastly, let’s play the same chord progression using slip note 2 instead.
Congratulations! You’ve come to the end of today’s Quick Tip. Be sure to check out the following resources for related content:
- What a Wonderful World–Contemporary Piano (Level 2)
- Contemporary Progressions and Improv 1 (Level 2)
- Contemporary Progressions and Improv 2 (Level 3)
- Pop & Contemporary Piano Accompaniment: The One Chord Wonder
- Away in a Manger 1 (Level 2)
- Away in a Manger 2 (Level 3)
Thanks for learning with us. We’ll see you next time!
Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May
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