The Most Powerful Piano Chords – The Power Progression

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
17:58

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Groove
  • Improvisation
Music Style
  • Contemporary
  • Pop
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Do you want to communicate power on the piano? Surely, music is great for expressing all kinds of emotions. However, there’s nothing like feeling a surge of power flow through you when playing or writing music. It inspires us to feel that anything is possible. That in itself is power, and with the right techniques, we can tap into it ourselves. That’s why in this lesson we will be discussing the most powerful piano chords, and the techniques to turn them into big and mighty piano music!

There’s a lot to learn in this tutorial for any musician.  If you’re a songwriter, you’ll want to have as many chord progressions and associated scales as possible under your belt. That way you can pull them out for whatever emotion you want to express. If you’re a pianist who wants to have a big sound and improvise, we’ll also give you plenty of tools to work with.

You’ll learn:

  • The “power chord progression”
  • How to create the most powerful chords on the piano(and get away from basic triads in exchange for epic chord voicings)
  • Accompaniment techniques
  • The scale to create melodies over the chord progression, as well as techniques to improvise and create solos

Ready for this awesome Quick Tip!? Let’s dive in.

Step 1: The Most Powerful Piano Progression

Let’s start by examining where the power and emotion of music comes from at its most fundamental level: the chord progression. While many chord progressions could possibly be used to produce power, this one has a certain anthem quality to it, like an underdog breaking through to the top.  Check it out:

The power chord progression
The power chord progression

Cool, right? While the chords in this progression are C, Gm, Bb, and F, it’s helpful to think of it in Roman numerals instead, so that we can transpose it to any key(in this case we are assuming that C is the I). If you aren’t familiar with all your chords and keys, then check out our Beginner Piano Foundations Learning Tract. 

Converting the power progression into roman numerals for transposition
Converting the power progression into roman numerals for transposition

Note: You might see that some of these chords are not actually in the key of C major. We’ll discuss this more in Step 4.

Step 2: The Most Powerful Piano Chords

So now that we’ve learned the chords in their most basic form, let’s make them big and beautiful. These will truly be the most powerful piano chords. Check them out below.

The most powerful piano chord voicings for the most powerful piano chords
The most powerful piano chord voicings for the most powerful piano chords

So as you can see, the chords went through a conversion process (see below). We converted them from ordinary triads to something big and mighty. How did we do this? We used specific chord voicings. Voicings can be thought of as how we dress a chord.

In this case, we are playing octaves with the roots in the left hand and using big 4-5 note right-hand chords. We are also adding specific chord extensions to the chords for additional rich color, depending on the chord type as follows:

Major Chords – Use sus 2 or add the 2 (9th) to the chord

Minor Chords- Use a minor 11th chord instead of a minor triad

If you want to know more about chord voicings like this, then check out Pop & Contemporary Piano Accompaniment: The One Chord Wonder. 

Step 3: The Most Powerful Piano Accompaniment

At this point, we are now going to set the foundation to expand our playing to include right-hand melodies as well as improvisation techniques.

This is a simple accompaniment technique for our left hand. We play the octaves like before but this time let’s add the 5th in the middle. Guitarists call these power chords. It’s quite fitting for the most powerful piano chords, right? We can write the number 5 next to the chord to communicate with other musicians to play just a root and the 5th of a chord.

Accompaniment for left hand piano on the power progression
Accompaniment for left-hand piano on the power progression

Also, notice how we repeat just the top note on each beat to keep the motion of the music going. If you want to know more about accompaniment on the piano, then check out Pop & Contemporary Accompaniment Patterns (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Step 4: The Most Powerful Piano Scale

You’ve probably noticed by now that these chords contain mostly white keys except for chords that use a Bb! Because of this, we can actually use a scale called C Mixolydian. It’s extremely close to a C major, but we have a Bb instead of B natural at the top. This scale (and chords created from it) creates that powerful and anthemic sound super common in music from classic rock until now.

C Mixolydian scale, for use over the power progression
C Mixolydian scale, for use over the power progression

TIP: This scale is actually identical to the scale of F major, except that we start on the note C instead of F.

We will now be using the C Mixolydian scale to create melodies and improvisations. If you can, get familiar with the scale by playing it up and down to prepare yourself for our next step. If you want more information on this scale and how to use it, then check out How To Improvise A Solo With The Mixolydian Scale (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Step 5: The Most Powerful Piano Grips

To help us solo more effectively, we are going to break up the C Mixolydian scale into 2 different grips. What is a grip? It is a group of notes that go together for a specific sound. They are different than chords, however, which are always built-in thirds. A grips’ structure can take just about any shape. 

In this case, we will be creating two 5 note grips from the C Mixolydian scale. These can also be thought of as hand positions on the scale. The first grip will be scale degrees 1-5 of the scale with the thumb on C. The second will be scale degrees 4-1 of the scale with the thumb on F.

C position grip
C position grip

F position grip
F position grip

Thinking of these hand positions while improvising will generally result in more cohesive lines, instead of trying to play the entire scale all the time. Usually, you can stay and play lines within one position and smoothly alternate to another whenever it feels right.

TIP: Try playing both grips above up and down the piano blocked together. This will help you get them under your fingers better.

Playing the 2 grip positions of C mixolydian blocked together up and down the piano copy
Playing the 2 grip positions of C Mixolydian blocked together up and down the piano copy

Step 6: 4 Powerful Piano Improv Techniques

If you’re looking to really express yourself on the most powerful piano chords, then you’ll love this section. We are going to learn some improv techniques that’ll take your sound to the next level.

Sixteenths

It’s always important to think about the rhythms and note values you are playing when improvising. Because the tempo isn’t too fast in this style, 16th notes sound really cool to play lines with.

Any time you hit a chord, you can take one of your grips(from step 5) and play 4 notes, which should take up 1 beat of music. Those are your sixteenth notes:

Playing sixteenth note improvisations against the left hand accompaniment
Playing sixteenth note improvisations against the left-hand accompaniment

Remember: Always try to make nice lines and melodies when improvising. This might mean starting simple and including gaps in between phrases. People don’t want to hear you simply play up and down grips or scales!

Turns

What’s a turn? A turn is when you grab a note and quickly play the note above it, and then return to the original note. This can be done on any note. However, in general, you usually do turns on a chord tone. 

Using a turn for improvisation on the note E on the above melody, represented by the small 32nd notes
Using a turn for improvisation on the note E on the above melody, represented by the small 32nd notes

Harmonized Grips

This is an easy way to create harmonized lines on the piano, and it sounds so cool! This comes from the grips discuss in step 5, so if you’ve got those under your fingers, then you’ll have an easy time with this technique.

All you have to do is place your hand in the correct position for whatever grip you choose and play the top note of the grip together with whatever melody note you choose to play below it in the grip. In other words, play melodies with notes C-F while always keeping a G note on top, or F-Bb with a C on top:

Harmonized G grip, harmonize any note from C to F with a G above it
Harmonized G grip, harmonize any note from C to F with a G above it

Harmonized C grip, you can harmonize any note from F to Bb with a C above it
Harmonized C grip,  harmonize any note from F to Bb with a C above it

We usually call this a pinky grip, since the pinky note remains stationary while other notes move below it.

If you want to know more improvisation techniques like this, then check out Contemporary Progressions & Improv (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Summing It All Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson on the most powerful piano chords and ways to accompany and solo with them. Be sure to take your time with each step if you’re newer at this since there’s a lot of awesome information to process.

Also, we’d love to hear if you have any songs you think this chord progression and techniques discussed would be perfect for. We’d also love to hear you play or write a song with it. Post it on our Facebook group using #powerprogression.

If you want an even deeper dive then check out some of the following related courses here at Piano With Jonny:

That’s it for this Quick Tip. See you in the next one!

Blog written by Daine Jordan/Quick Tip by Jonny May

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