When children try to guess what category of instrument the piano is, they
frequently guess wrong. “Is it a string instrument?” they ask, looking at the dozens of strings stretched in
the back of the piano, almost looking like a harp.
“It isn’t a woodwind….you don’t blow into it…..what is it made out of?....is it brass?” sometimes arises in
When their music teacher holds up a drum and declares that the piano has more in common with percussion
instruments than with other classes of instruments, the children nearly gasp and think “No way!”
Even though we learn this lesson when we’re young, we frequently mistake the piano as an instrument that carries
melodies and plays chords, and not primarily as a rhythm instrument. Although the piano’s versatility truly does
make it seem like an instrument that defies boundaries, the pianist truly interested in exploring rhythmic
rock piano playing needs to return to this first
lesson: that a piano is a percussion instrument.
Although there are many different kinds of rock music, one of the distinctive elements of rock that it is
heavily rhythmic-based. This means that when playing rhythmic rock on piano you don’t need to focus on fast-paced
melodies or rigorous chords, but just need to focus on the rhythm. Frequently, this rhythm has an emphasis on beats
2 and 4 – when playing rock piano you can easily imagine a drummer behind you pounding the snare on those
To get started, first slowly play through the chords that you intend on using. Fortunately, because of rock’s
emphasis on rhythm, many songs only rely on three or four chords. Once your fingers are comfortable switching
between these chords, begin considering ways you can vary the rhythm.
Think of your left hand as the bassist, and your right hand as the lead guitar. Or,
better yet, think of your hands as drummer’s hands that are about to rock out a rhythm between the high hat
and snare. One simple rhythm involves simply playing 8th notes with your left hand non-stop on the required
Then, when you’re comfortable adding the piano chords on top, play
those chords on beats 1, on the & of 3, and the & of 4, holding for a measure, and then repeating. The
chords and the rhythm are simple – your task is merely one of emphasizing this pattern to get a listener’s foot
Of course, there are hundreds of different rhythm structures to play. Another key aspect of rhythmic rock piano
playing is the distinctive alternating of hands. In other styles of music, the hands play notes together; however,
in rock music, hands will frequently interact with one another – like a drummer interacts with the components of
his kit – to develop one distinctive rock rhythm.
With this style, hands frequently will not strike the keys at the same time, but will fill in the gaps between
chords with the hands playing notes back and forth between one another. Since the melodic and chords structures are
simple in rock music, much of the energy comes from the emphasis of the rhythm and the fills that occur between the
major strikes on the chords.
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