by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
I have been asked how to compose for piano. Basically, I recommend two approaches to composing for piano:
COMPOSE BY IMPROVISING
A: Determine a chord progression
Start simple. For example, use C major key and this chord progression: C, Am, F major, G7. Typical ‘Heart and Soul’ chord progression. If you can’t remember the order, write these on paper.
B: Practice playing
Since you are interested primarily in PIANO, use the above basic improvisation exercises to practice specific piano styles: walking bass, chords with color tones (7, 9, 11, 13ths), arpeggios, triads, 6ths, octaves, doubled notes, etc… Just repeat the chord progression using one or more of those (or other) piano techniques.
These are some of my ideas for improvising outside of the jazz tradition. Of course, pick your own chord progressions for more challenging, intriguing and fresh music.
COMPOSE BY BLUEPRINT
Once you have a form or structure for your music mapped out, determine a chord progression for each section. Usually the B section changes keys to the dominant chord or something else to be less predictable and sound different from the A section. For example if A section uses that C major progression above (C, Am, F, G), then the B section would start in the key of G major (or often Am, the minor 6th of C major). Then go back to your original chord/key in the next A section.
C: Discover Melodic Motifs
Once your form, key and chord progressions are drafted (this may change, pending how your melody transpires! Be flexible and go where you musical ideas take you, of course!), using notes within that progression/key (C major in the A section), play around with melodic motifs that fit within that key/chord progression.
There are SO many things you can do, and so many books have good suggestions for your question, so check some of them out! Hope this gave you good food for thought!
Jenny Leigh Hodgins is a published writer, poet, lyricist, composer, vocalist, and pianist. She is founder and chief operating officer of Team4MusicandSound, a global audio post production team. Jenny Leigh has 30 years experience in music, piano, vocal and choral education and has performed for more than 25 years as a soloist throughout US and Japan. She is co-admin of multiple music-related social media groups (5200+ members), has coordinated promotional content, music-niche articles, scripts, podcasts, and multiple creative collaborations. Jenny Leigh holds a Bachelor of Music degree in music composition.