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I'm a beginner piano player and just for fun I like to cover cool songs for piano. I can find chords for left hand and I can find melody line (single voice) by ear, but the problem is how to make melody more full, more rich and majestic?

I understand that to do that I should add additional notes to my melody, expand every single note to a interval or chord, but the question is which notes should I add, are there any general rules for that?

I should note that I don't mean additional independent melody line (that is counterpoint theory), my goal is just emphasize the original single-line melody. Usually simple octave doubling is too boring.


The other problem is that usually melodies from pop songs contain a lot of repetition notes, melody is singed in very narrow range and very rare makes big interval steps. It's OK for human voice where the same note can have different timbres (different letters for example) and even a single-note melody can sounds nice, but unfortunately such melodies sounds too boring on a piano which have very limited timbre variation for the same note. So, my second question is how to add additional notes that makes from repetition notes more interesting intervals/chords sequences (but saves the original tune of the song of course)?


As an example of what I want you can watch any PlayerPiano cover: Sonya every time makes very majestic sound in right hand from a simple original melody.

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Okay - so you want to create your own piano arrangements by ear and make them more interesting. I can relate. I have too many other things I want to do in my life to learn to read music and I'm cursed/blessed with the ability to play by ear (although piano is not my main instrument).

As you have probably seen, popular sheet music scores written for piano often include the single note melody line (for the vocals or whatever instrument will play the singers part if there is no singer) in addition to the bass and treble clef for left and right hand piano. The treble clef for piano incorporates the melody into it but adds fills and harmonizing notes and sometimes octaves etc. to make the arrangement more interesting.

But from your question, I gather that you are like me and don't read music and wish to emulate something similar by improvising and creating your own arrangement for right hand.

Here is what I do. I play the chords or a bass line with the left hand, and with the right hand I place my fingers over the keys I would play if I was going to play the underlying chord for that measure or passage with the right hand. I will usually position my hand as if I was going to play a four finger version of the chord (full octave if a major or minor chord). In most cases the melody played over a particular chord, will contain several notes from within that chord and any notes not actually in the chord are in the scale for that chord.

Then depending on the song, I might play the melody note along with a 3rd or 5th or octave and I might play some arpeggiated fills in between the melody notes where the singer would pause. With my right hand starting with the fingers above the chord, I am always able to easily find and reach the main melody notes to incorporate into whatever harmonizing or arpeggiation I am choosing for that song. It's the same concept that touch typist use when they position their fingers on the home keys. By starting on the "home keys" your fingers will be above most of the keys you will want to play over the chord you are on - and will be in position to easily reach any others.

Sometimes you might want to use an inversion of the chord for the right hand. The inversion you use might depend on which direction the melody is going in the next measure or with the next chord change.

Sometimes in between melody notes I will do an alternating rhythm playing the chord (or a 3rd or 5th) with my right hand and an alternating bass line with the left or even alternate playing the chord with left and right hand the way a drummer plays a pattern by alternating with left and right hand. It all depends on the rhythmic feel of the song you are playing.

In many songs, it's good to add a transition fill between chords to lead from one chord to the next. Depending on where the melody is going, these transition fills might start high and go lower or vice versa.

One other thing I usually do is apply the same concept to the left hand because simply playing the chord the same way over and over can be boring too. So I form the chord with the left hand and play different parts of the chord in between downbeats where I might play the full chord. For example I might play the full chord on the downbeat or the accent beat and the fifth of the chord on the up beat to keep the rhythm. Or alternate back and forth between a third and an inverted fifth playing the root an octave above the fifth.

Also, I find that if I am playing on the really bassy end of the keyboard, too many notes at one time in a left hand chord sound a little muddy to me. So I play a portion of the chord and alternate between the upbeat and downbeat.

This is a rather simple method for improvising on piano and I am sure more accomplished pianist might find it too elementary. But it works for me. And might be a good place for you to start.

Have fun.

  • Thanks, this has been very helpful. So far I only play chords underneath the melody, but no fills. Next time I'm playing I'll try putting in some more fills around the chords. – Micheal Johnson Jun 1 '17 at 10:09
  • @MichealJohnson Glad you found my ideas useful. I wish you tremendous enjoyment as you improve your musical skills. Enjoy the journey - for the destination will always keep moving farther as you get closer. – Rockin Cowboy Jun 3 '17 at 19:42
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Not every note must be accompanied by a chord. When you make a melody line, have 3-4 melody notes and then the last note of the phrase can be a chord.

Something like

A. D. E. D. F-chord.

C D C D B-chord

E D C F E-chord

D E D E F-chord

Doing it this way, you can also see that the chord will "overlap" with the next-up melody line. Does what I'm saying make sense? I can probably find a sheet music example if need be, or even just refer you to a video if what I'm saying is not very clear.

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    This technique really only works for slow pieces, with use of the sustain pedal at the beginning of each bar/chord change or maybe twice per bar/chord change. – Micheal Johnson Jun 1 '17 at 10:10
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It's possible (with the right hand) for piano (and accordion in this style) to play a counter melody; this thickens the melody, where appropriate, by adding lower thirds or sixths or less often fifths, seconds, or sevenths to the melody. The counter my have lots of consonances or dissonances depending on the sound.

You do have to practice these ideas a bit to determine when they are appropriate.

Another (and probably more useful) possibility is to ornament the melody. There are lots of (especially Baroque) ornaments that can be used to modify a melody. One can add things like mordents (or inverted mordents, the names are not consistent); examples are: melody note C gets changed to a quick C-B-C or C-C#-C. Turns are useful; a long note (C again) C-B-C-D-C or C-D-C-B-C or C-B-D-C or C-D-B-C; when the melody rises, the ...B-C at the end is appropriate, when the melody falls, the ...D-C form. A grace note may be played just before or crushed with the melody note to emphasize a given note. Trills a good but not as useful (I think) in a popular style.

Changing tones are useful to connect melody notes that are separated by a third. One plays, note, down a second, down a third, up a second. Example: G-F-D-E. There are other ornaments connecting notes a second or a third apart.

If playing a counter melody, the rhythm need not be the same as the main melody. One can use passing tones, neighbor tones, etc., in one melody but use something else in the other.

You can use these now and then in conjunction with the ideas presented in the other answers.

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