This is 3 questions in one, so it might take a slightly involved answer, or some good links.

Edit--- tl;dr:

  • How can you learn which keys to hit to make the notes you hear in your head? I know what I want to play when I'm improvising, I can hear it in my head, but I don't know which keys correspond to those notes.
  • How can you learn which chords will sound good where? There are so many types of chords, how can you know when to play a certain one?
  • How can you learn to know when accidentals (notes outside the scale) will sound good?

I play piano fairly well, but I skipped theory entirely in my early days and learned to play by reading sheets and listening to better pianists online playing the same piece I was learning, then carefully emulating their sound.

But now I've made some friends who like to improvise together on the piano and do it extremely well, and I'm at a loss when I join in. They usually take the lower register and establish a beautiful rhythm, while I take the upper register and toy around with a melody.

I have no trouble keeping time with them, and I sometimes come up with very pretty melodies, but then here's what happens: I hit 2-3 notes and in my head I hear a melody continuing with the pattern of those 2-3 notes, but then I don't know what notes I'm hearing in my head (I don't have any sort of pitch, not even relative, I'm pretty much tone-deaf), so I can't continue the melody in real time because I don't know what keys to hit in order to create the notes I'm hearing in my head. How do you learn to know what notes to hit? Right now I just have to guess, and sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don't.

Problem two: while toying around with the melody, I'm pretty much trapped in single notes and octaves. Obviously in all the pieces I've played written by other people, there are a million different chords of 2, 3, 4, 5, even 6 notes, and they sound beautiful. But whenever I try to hit one, it just doesn't sound right. How can I learn which ones achieve what kind of sound and when they'll belong and when they won't?

Lastly: The way we improvise is my friend picks a key and shows me what the key is, then I'm careful to only hit notes in that key. For instance, if she said F major, she would show me that B is flat (because I don't know my scales by name), and then while improvising I would be careful not to hit any other black keys and not to hit B natural, which are not in the scale. But I know from all the other pieces I've played that you don't have to stay inside the scale in order for it to sound right-- obviously pieces have sharps and flats and naturals outside the scale all the time. But whenever I try to do it while improvising, it usually just sounds dead WRONG, instantly. But every now and again, by chance, it sounds so right. How do you know when it's okay to go outside the scale?

Sorry for long question!

  • 5
    You need practice to develop your ear. There are no hard and fast rules that say "you cannot play this note here." -- IMHO anyway.
    – JimR
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 23:51
  • You say you ask 3 questions here, but all 3 are really related. It all comes down to knowing the basics of the chord progressions and playing around that. See @Gauthier's answer for details.
    – awe
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 6:39
  • 1
    Marc Sabatella has a chord-scale table for jazz improvisation: outsideshore.com/1992/12/11/chordscale-chart Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 12:20
  • 1
    Indeed there are very precise rules which tell you which notes will probably sound good and if you want to be a superior musician you you will to learn all the rules at some point. Which art forms don't require dedication, study and hard work?
    – RRR
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 14:34

16 Answers 16


Learning improvisation is a long trip. Most people start with one of two ways:

  • going by ear, just play something that fits. Try until you think it's good.
  • going by chords. Learn what tones fits the chords in the chart. Try until you think it's good.

Soon you notice that it's not either one way or the other, it's a combination of both. Good improvisers are able to go either ways.

If you want to go by ear, you need to know how the chords sound. You need to know the song's harmony by heart. Then you need to know how to play the notes that you are hearing in your head. To help you do that you can:

  • learn to play the melody by heart. The melody of a song is a good starting point for improvising, you can start by playing variations.
  • listen to the chord progression many times. Either with a play along recording, playing yourself, listening to known recordings. You must really have the chord progression everywhere in your brain.
  • listen a lot to known recordings of the song, and try to pick up phrases and licks that you like. Watch also closely on which chords these licks work.
  • train by singing short melodies first, then trying to play them on the piano.

If you want to be able to play by the written chords, you can:

  • learn to hear the chords by just reading them. Just as you can hear a melody by just reading the notes on a staff, you can learn to hear chords in your head by reading them. Play lots of chords, and concentrate on recognizing chord progressions. To do that you need to be able to play chords, but I'd say you need that anyway.
  • learn the theory. You have to know your scales by name. You need to know what scale is associated with what chord. You need to know the key signatures of scales. Luckily, different chords can be associated with one scale. For example, Fmaj7, F6/9, Gm7, Am7, C7, may all be associated to the F major scale. Learn that and next time you see the sequence Gm7, C7, Fmaj7 you'll know you can play F major.

When it comes to your second problem, do you mean improvising several tones at the same time? It would be wise to concentrate on improvising a monophonic melody first. That said, you need to learn how to spell chords (see above, learning what scale is associated with what chord) in order to know what combination of tones you can play on a given chord. It should be obvious, you need to know how to play the chord in order to play a chord based on it.

To your last question. It's good that you can improvise if given the current key (here F major). There several reasons for other notes than that of F major being played in a song in F major:

  • The current chord is not one of F major. Even if a song is in F, the chords do not need to be all based on this scale. For example if you take the song "Yesterday" in C: the first bar has a C chord, the second has Bm7, E7. The song is still in C, but the chords in the second bar have F#, C#, and G#. It could sound weird to play natural F, C or G in that bar (not that it's impossible, but still). In short, accidentals may be associated with the current chord, rather than the main tonality.
  • The notes are passing notes, not really in the chords but ok in the context. The tone sequence G C D D# E may be played over a C7 chord, although D# is not in the scale associated with C7 (this sequence is a transposed version of the song "Straight no chaser", a blues).
  • There are other ways to play notes that are foreign to the current chord, but I believe this is much more advanced (some people manage to play 4 bars of D major on a Cmaj7 chord and to get away with it, but you really need attitude).

Now that you can play in the key of F, you should ask your friend to play a blues in F. Ask her to show you the scales associated with a 12-bar blues (F7, C7, G7), train on these scales, learn in what order they come and how long they last. Play along with her while she plays the chords. Or ask her to play the F blues, listen to the chords many many times, listen to many blues based songs (there are incredibly many), and play to her chords by ear.

One good thing with blues is that you can play a single scale on the whole chord chart (the blues scale) and it sounds nice. But if you want to match chords, you can go on and learn which tones "fit" on one chord and not the other ones. Playing these tones at the right place makes things a bit more interesting.

As a side note, if you hear that some tones you play do not sound good, then you are not tone deaf.

  • "You need to know what scale is associated with what chord." That's what I can't really figure out. I know all the boxes of the pentatonics and know how to throw in some blues/myxl/whatever notes in some places. And I know I can bar chord whateve minor scale box 1 that I'm playing and that will sound good (because all the notes all the way down are in the scale its obvious), but I don't know how to find chords in other blocks or any other chords at all that will sound good with it.
    – byteWalrus
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 1:50
  • I am not aware of the terms you are using, boxes and such, but does this help?en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_scale
    – Gauthier
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 15:07

You can get a lot of traction in this direction by learning just the intervals (ie. just "relative" pitch). Train yourself to know the sound of a half-step (minor 2nd), a whole-step (major 2nd), minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, augmented 4th/diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th, major 6th, dominant 7th, major 7th, and an octave. If you know what each "jump" sounds like and how to play it, well, that's a complete protein!

One of the shortcuts for educating your apparatus (your musical brain) in this ability is to pick out examples from the songs you know where that interval is emphasized. The typical example is "Here comes the bride" (demonstrating an upward jump across the interval of a perfect fourth). Or the beginning of Beethoven's 9th (demonstrating a downward jump across a major third). In psychology terms, you fill-in a catalog of recepts (organizing your existing percepts) to bolster the concept. Be sure to learn the names, too; so you can communicate about it.

You can learn the minor and major 9th and 10th, too. But melodies rarely jump even that far.

And remember the jazzers' motto: If you make a mistake, play it twice!

Another thing to practice that may help is, when you imagine a little melody, re-play it over and over several times until you have it in a loop or holding pattern. Then you can examine each note and its transition to the next without forgetting the very melody you're trying to analyze.

This is called harnessing the earworm.

  • If you've ever had a song "stuck in your head", then you have this ability (at least, potentially). Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 5:28

As an amateur musician, I find that for me these sorts of problems are commonly rooted in a confusion between theory and practice. Music theory is a technique for de-constructing music, but doesn't work so well for con-structing music. To me musical performance or improvisation should be much more of an experiental "in the moment" process, vs. an analytical one.

Of course I don't achieve that ideal as often as I'd like. My biggest obstacle is my impatience, because the only way to transform explicit analytical knowledge into "felt" implicit knowledge is practice, practice, practice.

With that said, I have found 2 approaches useful for getting better at improvising:

  • Pick a particular genre of music, and use your "analytical mind" to distill foundational patterns (scales, rhythms, chord progressions, melody, ...) via listening and/or research. Then practice these over and over until they become ingrained.

  • Play along with a random set of music from your genre (I use Pandora, so I won't know all the songs well, or at all). Here you use your ears, and try to decipher the melodies/chords you hear "in the moment" ... or play whatever sounds good to you.

Not sure if that is helpful?


I feel that the answers above are missing some important points. I've been a jazz musician for close to 20 years now, I started in my early teens, studying on weekends at a top conservatory, later went to music school for college, and have worked on and off as a professional musician since. That said, I will never forget the day, when I was 16, when it all clicked, and I first felt comfortable playing a bebop solo. The choice of notes, in terms of which notes to play, should be obvious. For the safest notes, play only chord tones. Then start experimenting with scales and modes, choosing the ones that work with the given harmony. But THE REAL TRUTH is that it does not matter which notes you play while improvising. People are affected by the following things, in this order:


--Timbre (and volume)


As crazy as that may sound, it is true. In other words, it's much more important to have great rhythmic phrasing, and great touch on the instrument than it is to play the "right" notes. If you do have great note choices, that's good, you might even come up with a brilliant, memorable melody in the moment. But Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor would not have lived their lives selling sold out concerts if they were overly concerned about which notes they played. An important exercise is to take a solo that you deeply enjoy, and copy it note-for-note. Then change all of the notes, and leave the rhythm the same. I promise the results will be mind-blowing

  • "Then change all of the notes, and leave the rhythm the same." I have to test this. Otherwise I hear you about tone choice being less important than most people think, and it's not the first time I hear that. But I just can't seem to make myself believe it (I just love the tension-release effect of playing out for a bar and then land in), so I'll have to test your exercise!
    – Gauthier
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 14:46

Here's three of my own experiences that may interest you: I recently attended an improvisation workshop with Pete Churchill, a jazz musician. The main point that came across was how you need to be utterly grounded in the melody before you can improvise. Then, when you play or sing, the melody runs in your head in parallel automatically as your voice or fingers improvise. This is certainly my own experience. I've gradually learnt to improvise by at first straying only slightly from the melody on songs that I know very deeply, such as "Happy Birthday", or very simple children's songs, like "Baa Baa Black Sheep". It's always better to sing first, then use an instrument. It also sounds like your musical education as a child wasn't complete in all respects (mine wasn't), so some musicianship lessons from your local Kodaly Academy or Kodaly methodolgy teacher would really help embed a sense of pitch, leading on to deeper internalisation of intervals. Kodaly himself said, "A child who plays an instrument before he sings may remain unmusical for a lifetime. That is why we encounter so many skilful pianists who have no idea of the essence of music." I'm certainly not suggesting you are unmusical, only that you sound very accomplished in the formalities of piano yet a bit lacking in early grounding, so catching up on basics you missed earlier could really free the music within. I've been gradually treating myself to some teaching in rhe Kodaly method for a few years now and it's helped a great deal.

  • "The main point that came across was how you need to be utterly grounded in the melody before you can improvise. " Exactly... because improvising is really riffing on melodies you already know ... exactly as an improv comic is never really improvising, they are mashing up what they already know. Take Paul McCartney ... a melody machine ... and his bass playing reflects that ... it's highly melodic (when possible). David Gilmore ... melodic. Most shredders ... not melodic ... Allan Holdsworth, yes, the guy is amazing but if he gets something melodic out of his flurry it's some luck. Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 0:13

Some more possibly helpful tips for soloing/improvising:

  • Train yourself to hit root notes, thirds or fifths that always sound good, when you know there are chord changes. Good thing to practice this is the blues.
  • Similarly, when you break out of key or go chromatic, at least when you're learning, always return quickly. Should be a like a flourish or accent.
  • Start with something simple (1 or 2 chords) then progress.
  • Build a vocabulary of "licks" in different styles - then experiment, hook them together in different ways, invent transistions,...
  • As you emulated the technique, why not try to emulate the soloing styles of other musicians?
  • Don't forget rhythmic variation and dynamics.
  • It should be obvious, learn theory.

The ear training is important. Additionally, one thing nobody mentions which is very important, is to learn how harmonize and reharmonize those passages - how to fit chords and substitute chords to the melody - and then to improvise using those chord tones.

There is also such a thing in music known as avoid tones, which is a fancy way of saying "tones that plumb don't sound right": see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoid_note The concept described in this article can be extended to apply to any type of chord, including altered chords, non-diatonic chords.


In addition to following the excellent answers here, you could get copies of David Baker's "How to Play BeBop" books. They provide a very structured way on how to improvise, that might suit you. They teach you what scales fit what chords (at least in the BeBop idiom), and what notes in the scales to play at which beat in the bar as well as how to handle non-scale notes. They also contain a lot of examples or "public domain" phrases that you can incorporate in your playing as a spring board to start off from.

For other styles of music than BeBop Jazz you might want to get other sources, but I believe these books still would be valuable ground to have covered.

  • 1
    Some would say BeBop is the Ultimate Jazz idiom. I, for one. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:31

How to learn to improvise:

1) Learn every Major, Harmonic Minor, and Melodic Minor Scale.

2) Learn every chord in every Key. You don't have to play them well. Badly will do. But you need ear training and you should be familar with the mechanics of keys. There are 75 chords in C Major. 76 in A Melodic Minor and 63 in A Harmonic Minor. That's good start. Transpose them into all the other keys. And learn to play them all. Badly.

3) If you finished steps 1) and 2) you know what a key is. Next look at a chord score. Take the first chord and the second chord and ask yourself "Are these two chords in the SAME key or a DIFFERENT key." For example I'm sure you are familiar with the chords C (Major) and Em. What key(s) are they in? If you answered "Either C Major or G Major", then good. Depending on whether or not you find and F or an F# in the melody you can "jam" (that means make it up and use your imaginatione like you did when you were 6) in either C or G Major, because as you are aware those notes make the difference between those keys. If there's no F of any kind at all you are free to use either of the scales.

4) Take the second and third chord and ask the same question. Let's say the first two chords are ambiguous but the third chord is Am. Well in this case we still can't decide from the chords alone which scale to use. Still C and G major.

5) Repeat 4) to the end. Let's say the Forth chord is D. Well now we are pretty sure, in the absence of an F note, the key for this block of chords is G Major. Use that scale to Jam on the entire block.

6) When you have determined all blocks of chords that are in the same key. also look for overlapping blocks where two or even three scales might be used.

7) If you are brave enough to tackle the key changes in Carlos Jobim songs, you will notice that often each chord is in a different key for the whole section. To resolve ambguities you must look at melody notes as before. But in the absence of any clues all possible scales will do. If you see F# Ma7 for example, with unconnected keys on either side of that bar. You could Use F# Major, C# Major or A# Harmonic Minor over the chord.

8) Jazz songs were DESIGNED by competitive writers TO CONTAIN better and cleverer changes than the previous guys songs. After all Jazz rythm was monotonuos and the words said little or nothing at all, so what else to do? FOr this reason expect beaucoup key changes. Example "Girl from Ipanema". No of key changes in each full cycle = 16. Minimal No of distinct scales you will have to know to jam on this song = 13.

9) Use pentatonic scales whenever possible to tart it all up. See (Soloing over major and minor mixed chords}

10) Once you get good at Diatonic Improvisation you can start looking at Using Blues Scales. THis is a really complicated subject that deserves several other posts.


As the others mentioned, you need to learn by ear. That's difficult without knowing what works in the first place. Marc Sabatella, author of A Whole Approach To Jazz Improvisation (published for free here), has a table of conventional chord-scale relationships that work:


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I recommend reading the whole book.


You are asking quite a lot of all of us. It sound like you need a complete curriculum. I will try to add to the proceedings with my experience as a musician and educator.

Based on what you have written it seems that you do play well, but I didn't see any mention of how long and whether you've had lessons.

Question 1: If you can play, whether by ear or sight reading, then connecting the notes in your head to a key on the piano should be straight forward. I know a lot of classically trained music students have trouble playing without sheet music. What has to happen is a connection between the expected note and the note you play needs to be developed and reinforced. An easy and effective way to do this is to sing the note before you play it. Tune your ear up by playing simple scales and arpeggios and sign along. If you have no singing background this can be tough but the development of the ear is naturally connected to the voice so if you can develop the ability to sing what you are hearing in your head you will be able to play what you hear in your head. My classical bass teacher used this technique to help with intonation problems.

Question2: As for what chords sound good... this is rooted in western harmony theory. I see lots of gargantuan tables of chords and scales that I assume are all correct (or close to it). This can be overwhelming and doesn't really provide a solid background for why these all work and how they relate to keys. Before jumping into extended chords and jazz try reading through a basic music theory and harmony text. One can harmonize any diatonic melody using just three chords (I, IV, V). The movement of notes from one chord to the next is not just random (though it can be if you like it). They serve a function which is to create meaningful and sensible movement and resolution. When you ask which chords sound good this is a broad question. They all sound good in a sense but I think what you really want is a rubric for making sensible choices and this is taught in basic theory and harmony. Once you get an idea of which chords belong to a key, their proper place within the key, and their function, you'll be able to make these choices without a big table. I refrain from tossing big tables up as an answer because it doesn't really teach anything.

Question 3: This is a bit more subtle. Accidentals are used all the time in music. In some cases the use is pretty standard. An example is using the melodic minor scale relative to a key. The melodic minor has a sharp 6th and 7th relative to the natural minor and this helps create movement to the first note via a leading tone, and is used for creating a resolution. In this case there is a functional use to the accidental and a formula for "correct" accidentals. I've developed a bit of cynicism towards "accidental" as no note is really an accident (but I know better than that). Another place where a chromatic passage is found is in the bebop scales, and/or blues scale. In a nutshell this includes a diminished 5th. Adding the diminished 5th to the minor pentatonic creates what is called "the blues scale" (though many treat the minor pentatonic as blues). Lastly, it is common to play the minor third over a dominant 7th chord in blues. In my opinion this is the heart of blues, placing minor over major. The minor third is frequently "resolved" by sliding it up to the major third (a classic blues cliche).

There is a principle at play in all these examples, that of "leading" into a chord or key tone. So as long as such a principle is guiding decisions the result will make musical sense. There are other uses of accidentals but I'm not going to list them all.

Another thing to consider is that improvisational styles of music are very much driven by cultural influence and not as much by music theory. So the best way to learn "how to improvise" is to immerse yourself in a style of music and start figuring out whole phrases by ear. You will start to discover that many of the greats use a hand full of phrases very well rather than just put scale patterns down. Music is an art form and the expressive ingredients are phrases. So start listening and imitating. This will help with question 1, and start you o the path to understanding the other issues.


There’s a lot of lengthy discussions here on how to find what notes go together. But if you’re talking about finding what bass notes to go with melodic notes, it’s a lot easier than you think! Because the root notes or chords that can be used to play most melodies are chords I, IV, and V, you can use the following simplified scheme to apply this general rule:

1) For each melodic note you play on the main down beats, the root note is most likely to be at note intervals one, three, or five BELOW the melodic note.

2) Build and roll the chords by playing the bass note and the notes at 3, 5, 8, and 10 note intervals ABOVE the bass note.

And that is it! Of course, there are many exceptions, but you will be amazed how many songs you can play using this simple rule (plus slight variations) by simply mirroring whatever notes you are playing on the right hand! Using this method, you can play songs by ear, or make and improvise your own melodies, and with the focus purely on note intervals (not specific notes), you can play them all in any key.

When I figured out this simple scheme last summer, I played four or five traditional Christmas carols (and playing them all in the key of C or C minor) and was suddenly able to see and learn when to use specific melody-bass note intervals at different times and places within a song. Within one to two weeks, I was able to play most songs by ear and in any key, something I was never able to do (or imagined I would be able to do) over the last 40+ years of playing piano! No joke!


This question is probably no longer active, but should anyone look, here are some of the more detailed points that I have found.

It is suggested that the human ear can have a sensitivity of up to 1 Hz. Good sounding chords are ones that have wavelengths that match sufficiently enough so that the ear cannot tell the difference. If you wanted to determine if two notes sounded good together you would first get the Hz of both notes. Take for example Middle C and E. The formula for Hertz goes as follows.
Hertz = 6.875*2^((3+MIDI_Pitch)/12)
What really matters is the ratio between them. E to C has an actual ratio of about 1.1224. The fractional difference is about 9/8 meaning that every 8 oscillations C will match E and every 9 oscillations E will match C(there is a difference). If the either the numerator or denominator of the perfect ratio is above ~13, then it will sound "bad". At that point there are two many waves between the crossovers for the ear to not hear it. Here is a really good site describing it in more detail.

http:// musicmasterworks.com /WhereMathMeetsMusic.html

Standard Progressions
If your question isn't made in interest(i.e. you are just wondering) then skip this paragraph. This is intended if you for some reason or another needed an algorithm to determine music chord quality.
What you can do is look at popular songs chord progressions. A great site that looked at a few thousand songs and compared their progressions is http://www.hooktheory.com/trends#. Or if you are good at programming you could probably pretty easily make a program that could store the chord progressions of songs you give it until it can come up with a numerical value for each chords likelihood.

Genetic Algorithms
This is if you are really determined. It is unlikely that we will be ever to fully understand what makes good music good. However what you can do is use a genetic algorithm to make songs and thus determine what makes good songs good. Given a few hundred generations it would start having good sounding music.


Studying theory and learning your scales will help a lot but you also need to practice playing by ear.

Start by just trying to pick out the melodies of some of your favorite songs. At first you will struggle but, like anything else, with practice it will get easier.

As you get better at this try putting a music channel on the radio and just sit at the piano and try to play along, either follow the melody or improvise your own line that fits with the music.

At the same time do your research into theory, and try to mentally connect the theoretical concepts to the way they sound in practice. Eventually you will hear a particular musical effect and be able to say "that sounds like I vi ii V7 progression" or whatever.

Also in Jazz, as in all styles of music, there are many chromatic cliches which crop up over and over again (e.g I I7 IV iv I V7 I). Learning to recognize them and play them in any key will stand you in good stead.

There is a lot of really good material on the internet but I can particularly recommend the youtube channel of Julian Bradly who produces excellent Jazz tutorials. This particular one, nominally about the Altered Scale, gives a very clear insight into the world of jazz improvisation, at first some the theory will go over your head, but it should give you an idea of where to focus your studies.


Take an existing song. The printed copy, with melody and chord symbols. Play the melody. Work out WHY that melody fits those chords. Construct an alternative melody. Start very simply, just one long note per bar. The sort of thing a chorus might sing as background vocals. Then try two notes per bar...

Software such as Band in a Box allows you to set up a chord sequence and play melodies on top. Highly recommended.


ANSWER: Focus on identifying and learning the common note intervals between melodic notes and root notes played on the main down beats. Read on for more details...

Yes, learning music theory will help ultimately. The problem though is that music theory is primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive in function. Music theory is primarily used to describe and communicate what notes to play and the specific relationships between notes. As a result, music theory doesn’t really tell you when to play specific root notes and corresponding chords to go with specific notes in a song’s melody, for example.

And yes, you can certainly learn chords and common chord progressions to play on your left hand. But here we have a similar problem - how does one know which chord progressions go with what specific song at the time you want to improvise and play the song (without relying on sheet music or pure memorization)? How do you add chords to a melody that you are making up on the spot?

So here’s what I do to begin learning and figuring out what to play on the left hand for whatever melody I’m playing spontaneously and by ear on the right hand. Focus on identifying the note intervals between the melodic notes played on the main down beats and the root notes! You can play a large majority of songs by ear using the following process.

  1. Play ROOT note at 1, 3 or 5 intervals (+ 1 octave) BELOW melodic note played on (sometimes immediately after) main down beat with left pinky. Play intervals 1 or 5 for melodic note I, II, IV, V and 3 for II, VI, VII; 3 when melody progresses chromatically up & down; 2, 4, or 7 in melancholy or midsection of song.

  2. Roll CHORD up & down notes at 1-3-5 or 1-5-8-to-10 intervals ABOVE root notes. Jazz up with 7-9. If you play the song in the key of C (minimizing use of black keys), you can for most of the time just freeze your hand into a three finger claw and roll the notes up from the root notes to play the chords with little or no thought.

Another suggestion: Play lots of songs off fake books that show only the melodic notes and the root notes (identified by the letters that specify the chords). As you play each song, play only the melodic and the root notes to help you quickly identify the number of intervals between the melodic notes played on the main down beats and the root notes. By doing this, you will quickly figure out (after playing just four or five songs) the common melody-root note intervals used to play certain types of songs and to play in various times and places within a song.

Once you figure out the patterns, you can read up on music theory to place the right words to describe and communicate to others what notes you are playing on the left hand, and to explore other options and ways to add left hand harmony.

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