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I play the piano-keyboard, and I must say I envy guitar players, specially when it comes to strumming techniques. It seems inevitable to compare the two instruments. I think the strumming technique in guitar is more percursive, guitar players can mute strings, play chord in up-down direction, down-up direction, tap the strings and even tap the guitar.

Question: How to interpret this guitar techniques on piano?

Let's take an example, the funk like strumming sixteenth patterns (samba rock):

dxxu xxdx xuxx duxx

(d = down, u = up, x = mute, every letter corresponds to a sixteenth note in 4/4 beat, and it is played following the dudu dudu ... strumming technique)

How to interpret this?

(also how to interpret this without getting too tired, since to keep the sixteenth rythm pattern in piano is a torture for the hands)

Other example, the funk pattern:

dxxx -xdx- -x-x dxdx

(where - stands for the 16th pause)

Other simpler example, the omnius pop-rock pattern:

d--- d-u- --u- d-u-

(I know it will never be the same, but I wonder how people deal with this when they are doing a piano arrangement of an original guitar arrangement)

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  • As a clarification: you're looking to imitate the differences between up and down strums as well as the muting effect?
    – Aaron
    Jan 28, 2023 at 19:59
  • Yes, I would like to know how to imitate the differences of up and down strums as well. Jan 28, 2023 at 20:02
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    Why don't you learn to play the guitar? You can play the same songs but the best thing to do is trying to sounds like a piano when playing the piano. Jan 29, 2023 at 12:11
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    Yes. Guitar is hardly a difficult instrument to learn (at least to the level where you can strum chords). The right tool for guitar-strumming is a guitar. Jan 29, 2023 at 14:33
  • But guitar is actually not that easier than piano. You can do strumming patterns on piano. It is done on Today I started loving you again. It is jut a broken chord with bas notes in LH. Jan 29, 2023 at 14:40

5 Answers 5

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If you want to capture the vibe of 16th note guitar strumming with an up, down and mute feel on piano I think the way to go is to study the techniques that keyboard players used and still use to play the Clavinet. Clavinet usually is played in a continuous or semi-continuous stream of 16th notes that use combinations of alternating left and right hand rhythms.

If you’re playing a keyboard you can use a Clavinet patch to get that classic percussive string sound but if you play those types of patterns on piano you can at least somewhat achieve the vibe of a chicken scratch rhythm guitar.

The bottom line is that strumming is something that is very native and natural to the guitar but it cannot be recreated in the same way on non-strumming instruments, just like the fact that certain things that are easy and comfortable on piano cannot be done on guitar. The best you can hope for is to achieve the feeling or vibe of the guitar in a way that is natural to the piano and I think the Clavinet style of playing is what comes closest to doing that.

There are literally dozens of examples and tutorials on YouTube but check out Billy Preston on this track between about 1:02 and 1:10 (Sorry, I don’t know how to time stamp videos to start in specific locations):

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Arrangers generally don't try to imitate the guitar that precisely — it's beyond the piano's normal capacity. Typically, the arranger will try to use a similar chord voicing and rhythmic pattern, allowing that the natural accent pattern of the meter and rhythm will suffice for the differences between down- and up-strums.

However, there are some possibilities to create a closer approximation.

  • For a down-strum, use a fast, upward arpeggio, with pedal.
  • For an up-strum, use a fast, downward arpeggio, with pedal.
  • For a mute, place your hand over the appropriate piano strings while playing the chord with your other hand.
  • Also for a mute, with one hand, depress the keys of the chord without sound, and with the palm of other hand, slap the strings.
  • A third way to "mute" is to play only one or two notes from a larger chord. As an example, suppose the guitar is playing a root position C major chord, C E G C, in the rhythm D U x U. The piano might play CEGC CEGC C CEGC.
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  • Interesting, is this mute technique for grand piano? This seems really impossible to execute with fast tempo and chords. I am looking for humanly possible techniques, and confortable ones. As I said, I know it is not possible to imitate precisely, but I would like to know how people give a solution with concrete examples of arragements, say the ones I cited or others. Jan 28, 2023 at 20:54
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    Ernesto Lecuona's piece for piano "Malaguena" captures the spirit of strumming pretty well. youtube.com/watch?v=EuQQxZ7TXaY
    – ttw
    Jan 28, 2023 at 20:58
  • @Lostdefinition As I mentioned at the outset of the post, arrangers don't try to imitate the guitar in the way you're suggesting. The techniques I listed are the closest options.
    – Aaron
    Jan 28, 2023 at 21:01
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    @ttw As much as I like Lecuona, he doesn't imitate strumming chords in the way OP is asking. He does more precisely imitate finger-style technique.
    – Aaron
    Jan 28, 2023 at 21:03
  • @ttw very nice music! Jan 28, 2023 at 21:21
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The strums in 16th note funk patterns are typically played fast, and are not perceived as arpeggios. While there might be some slight difference in sound of down and upstrokes, it's more relevant to notice that in all patterns you quote, the downstrokes fall on the strong parts of the measure and the upstrokes on the weak parts (which often indicates syncopation). This helps the guitarist to preserve consistent timing by keeping a continuous up-down motion of the strumming hand.

A very important of function of the rhythm guitar is to provide the rhythm. The timing is a priority, then accents and dynamics, and only then the choice of the notes. When you arrange your piano part, make sure it's easy enough to play, so that the aspects of second importance don't distract your timing and dynamics.

When we speak of accents and dynamics, we first think about hitting the notes stronger and lighter. I'm far from being an expert of piano technique, but I can suggest some alternative way for recreating the funk guitar strumming dynamics on piano:

  • varying the note length. Very short notes sound more quietly,
  • varying the chord voicing. Funk gives you some liberty in choosing the voicings and the upper extensions. Each chord is often repeated several times, and you don't need to play a full voicing each time, especially when playing with a band. Quieter, percussive, muted notes can be emulated by playing fewer notes, perhaps only one. Maybe you even can omit some lest significant "strums" entirely. Accents can be realized by adding more notes, but also by adding and exposing dissonant extensions,
  • varying the registers. The left hand realizes the lower register, the right one higher. Alternating the hands can provide variation in dynamics and articulation, and also make it easier to play faster patterns.
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Piano is percussion.

I think if you approach this as how to copy the motions of guitar strumming on keyboard, you won't really get what you want.

Funk and Latin styles have keyboard accompaniment patterns. I would just learn those, and to mollify the "guitar envy" you might make some analogies between guitar strumming and piano.

Personally I feel like the left hand/right hand coordination of rhythmic keyboard accompaniment feels like strumming a guitar. But the literal copying of the strumming motion as upward or downward arepeggios on piano does not feel (nor sound) like guitar strumming.

You cannot palm mute on piano. Reaching into the piano to dampen strings isn't practical so you cannot literal copy of motion. But palm muting on guitar does two main things: shortens the sustain and obscures the clarity of the pitch. You can get a similar feel on piano with staccato play, repeated key technique, and what some people call "crush notes".

Short and staccato on piano emphasizes the noisier initial impact of the hammer on the string and cuts out the clear ringing of the string. That emphasizes the percussion nature of piano. I think these can work well in the piano's lower range which is normally consider "muddy" for chords, but you can exploit that to get more of a noisy "clunk" from the piano, which is similar to the noisy "plunk" of guitar palm muting.

Crush notes on piano are also like string bending on guitar.

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When you say 'piano keyboard', I assume it's an electronic keyboard. In which case, damping the strings is a non-starter!

There are, or usually are, different instrument sounds available. And sometimes, depending on make/model, different effects, like portamento, glissando, arpeggiator.

Simple strumming, using a piano sound, is not-too-bad to obtain, by playing several notes sequentially from a chord. They probably won't sound too guitar like, because of the piano sound, but also because of the actual notes a guitarist would play in a chord - its voicing.

Needless to say, then, you're hardly going to emulate what a guitarist can do using a piano.

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  • "damping ... is a non-starting" — maybe you could turn the keyboard off and on really fast. I've never tried, but it was great fun with light switches when I was a kid.
    – Aaron
    Jan 29, 2023 at 17:38
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    @Aaron - bet your parents couldn't wait for you to leave home..!
    – Tim
    Jan 29, 2023 at 17:59
  • @Aaron the tool you're looking for is a scratch DJ fader youtube.com/watch?v=VIEF4ikISYI Jan 30, 2023 at 5:14
  • @user1079505 Oh, plenty of scratched LPs. :-)
    – Aaron
    Jan 30, 2023 at 5:25

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