I Write The Music

BILL HILTON – All the basic piano chords in one epic tutorial

Posted in Uncategorized by Higher Density Blog on December 30, 2015
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Bill HIlton – A close look at a New Orleans blues

Posted in Blues, Lesson by Higher Density Blog on August 6, 2015

Bill Hilton

BILL HILTON – An introduction to Cocktail Piano – ebook out now

Posted in Piano Lesson by Higher Density Blog on June 10, 2015

Bill Hilton



Finally, for everyone who’s been asking for the past year (and more…) the cocktail piano book is ready at last. There’s a 90-minute tutorial video to accompany it, and discussion pages over on my website.

BILL HILTON – Learning piano chords in difficult keys

Posted in Chords, Lessons by Higher Density Blog on June 2, 2015

Bill Hilton



Sometimes as a pianist it’s easy to get ‘trapped’ in just a few keys that you feel comfortable with. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it can mean that you find yourself in trouble if you’re playing piano in a band, or accompanying a singer, and you’re asked to play in a more difficult key – working the chords out on paper is straightforward enough, but you can find that they don’t fall under your fingers on the piano keyboard as easily as chords do in more familiar keys. In this tutorial I look at a simple exercise you can do to get familiar with the different chord shapes in every major key (and ever minor key, if you use a minor chord progression).

Bill Hilton – 16-bar stride piano exercise

Posted in Create, Improvisation, Keyboards by Higher Density Blog on February 19, 2015

Bill Hilton

Bill Hilton – Some ideas for turnarounds

Posted in Progressions by Higher Density Blog on December 26, 2014

Bill Hilton


In this tutorial I look at some constructions you can use as turnarounds in a couple of contexts where you might find a 1 – 4 – 5 progression – namely, the blues and country/folk/pop piano.

Turnarounds are most useful in songs with simple structures, such as 12-bar blues. In this type of chord sequence you can’t rely on a verse-chorus-bridge pattern to tell the listener that the progression is starting again.

In general, turnarounds are very simple, and rely on briefly returning to the 5 chord to signal the start of a new section. This chord is the dominant chord, which wants to pull us back to the tonic to start the progression again.

You may find that in rock or country songs playing the dominant chord or note sounds a little too predictable. If this is the case, try playing the 4 chord but including the dominant somewhere in the chord, such as in the bass. This creates a sound *like* the dominant without actually having to use the dominant chord.

Some songs won’t need a turnaround at all, and you’ll find that you can stay on the tonic chord and start over. This is especially common in pop songs where the verses, bridge and chorus often simply run into one another.

Regardless of the key of the progression you’re playing, you should find that playing the 5 chord (or similar) as a turnaround will bring you back nicely to the start of the progression.

If you found this video useful, take a look at my other videos. You might also be interested in my book, How to Really Play the Piano, which is full of the basics of harmony and chords, as well as tips on improvisation

Bill Hilton – Working with non-diatonic chords in progressions

Posted in Chord Progressions, Theory by Higher Density Blog on December 7, 2014

Bill Hilton


In this video I discuss the use of non-diatonic chords in different chord progressions. Non-diatonic chords are not as confusing as their name suggests, and are more common than you might think in chord progressions in various styles of music.
In any major key there are certain chords which are natural to that key. These ‘diatonic chords’ are based on the triads that have their root on each note of the seven-note major –or diatonic- scale. Chords that aren’t based on any of the notes in the scale are called non-diatonic chords.
In this video I use ‘Georgia On My Mind’ by Hoagy Carmichael to illustrate the use of non-diatonic chords in jazz and blues. This famous song uses two non-diatonic chords in its chord progression.
When it comes to comping or improvising over this chord progression, there’s no need to improvise any differently than you would with a completely diatonic progression. This is because the progression is quite jazzy, so improvising over it with the F blues scale or F pentatonic scale creates a distinctive harmonic sound and fits the style well, despite clashing with the left hand.
When improvising or comping in more contemporary music or pop music, we deal with these chords differently than we would with jazz or blues styles.
Many pop and rock songs feature non-diatonic chords, however they usually treat them as a sort of ‘mini key-change’. ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles is a useful example that I use as a demonstration in this video.
Whether comping or improvising, the melody can’t be as independent from the progression as it can with jazz or blues – you can’t really mix non-diatonic chords with diatonic melodies. The best way to overcome this is by using scales from the key of the non-diatonic chord when playing the non-diatonic chord.
To be able to do this seamlessly while improvising, practice is essential. Try to find progressions that use non-diatonic chords- most jazz progression include one or two, as well as a lot of Beatles songs. If you like The Rocky Horror Show, virtually every song uses non-diatonic chords.
If harmony confuses you or you’d like to know more about it, check out my book ‘How to Really Play the Piano’, which has plenty of chord charts as well as a whole section on harmony and blues. I also cover a lot of information on chords, harmony and improvising — as well as loads of other interesting stuff — in my earlier videos.

Bill Hilton – Piano Tutorial – Advanced Ballad Comping Exercise

Posted in Comp Process by Higher Density Blog on October 20, 2014

Bill Hilton

More on comping in my book: http://bit.ly/billsbook .

This video is a piano tutorial based around a comping exercise. If you want to improve your pop piano comping, it’s really important to take on chord progressions that are a bit more complicated. This loop isn’t really difficult to play once you’re sat down at the keyboard, but it should help you start thinking a bit more about what you can do with more complex chords on the piano.

As with previous tutorials and piano comping exercises, I start fairly simply and let the complexity build. If you’re new to doing this sort of thing on the piano, or you’re not sure about some of the more basic comping and improvisation techniques, check out some of my earlier piano tutorials. Those tutorials will also help you if you’re a bit unsure about chords and harmony – it’s really essential that you at least grasp the basics of how chords work if you’re going to get anyway with comping at the keyboard.

Since people keep asking, the piano I’m using to record these tutorials is a Yamaha DGX-630!

Bill Hilton – Flat ninths, Tritone substitutions

Posted in Chords by Higher Density Blog on September 11, 2014

Bill Hilton


In this video I introduce two types of chord, namely sevenths with a flat ninth, and tritone substitutions. Flat ninths and tritone substitutions are really useful piano chords, especially if you’re interested in playing jazz.

Both of these chords are solutions to the problem of straightforward dominant (or dominant seventh) to tonic resolution, which can sound too neat and tidy in the context of a jazz piano performance.

The seventh with a flat ninth is created by taking a simple seventh chord and adding a flattened ninth. The ninth is the ninth note above the root chord, or simply the second note. The key thing to remember with a flat ninth is to make sure that you include the root note of the chord somewhere. Without the root note, the chord will sound like another chord altogether: a diminished seventh.

One of the most common ways of playing a flat ninth is with the root note in the left hand and the rest in the right hand. Try to make sure that the top note of the chord isn’t too far from the note you’re resolving to. This may mean playing the chords in different inversions. I’d also recommended trying to include the leading tone if you can.

Tritone substitutions are one of the most common effects in jazz, and create a really jazzy resolution. As with the flat ninth chord, they’re actually very straightforward. To form a tritone substitution, use the note three whole tones above the root note to create a new dominant chord, then remember to add the root note of the original chord back in.
If you’re stuck with the basics of chords, intervals, or anything else mentioned in this video, have a look through some of my earlier videos. You might also be interested in my book, How to Really Play the Piano, which teaches the basics of various elements of piano playing, including harmony, chords and improvisation.

Bill Hilton – Split chords on the piano

Posted in Comp Process, Keyboards, Split Chords by Higher Density Blog on September 11, 2014

Bill Hilton

A quick overview of how you can use split chords on the piano to work up quick comps and improvisation. Splits are also particularly useful for songwriting, and are great for creating very impressive looking effects on the piano without massive effort.

As always, the trick is to know your chord shapes well and to *experiment* at the piano keyboard rather than try to copy exactly what I’m doing.

Bill Hilton – Pop Piano Comping Exercise, 5 chords

Posted in Comp Process, Comp Techniques, Comping, Keyboards by Higher Density Blog on September 11, 2014

Bill Hilton

Check out my book! http://bit.ly/billsbook.

Here’s a pop piano comping exercise that’s quite fun to play. It’s based on five simple chords (C, Dm, F, G and Am) and a right hand part that just uses the notes C, F and G. It sounds pretty cool and isn’t at all difficult to learn.

Most pop comps you’ll ever play on the piano will be based on fairly simple chord progressions. The only slight hurdle you might have to overcome is making sure you can comp in a variety of difference keys – especially “guitar friendly” keys like E, A, D and G. So once you’ve mastered this sequence in C, try transposing it into some other keys and seeing what you can do.

As with all piano techniques, the trick here is to play over and over again until this stuff just falls under your fingers without you even having to think about it. You need to get to a point where your fingers are doing the thinking for themselves at the keyboard. When that happens, you’ll find you unconsciously begin to change and develop the exercise until you’re playing comps of your own.

If you’re not sure about the basics of chords and how harmony works on the piano, check out some of my earlier tutorials.

Bill Hilton – Using your Piano’s Sustain Pedal

Posted in Performance Skills, Piano by Higher Density Blog on August 7, 2014

Bill Hilton


In this video tutorial I look at how to use your piano’s sustain pedal (sometimes, wrongly, called the “loud pedal”).

You can use the sustain pedal both to help smooth out your playing and for some interesting effects. However, it’s really important that you don’t over use the pedal, or you risk your piano playing sounding messy and even discordant. In general, it’s a good idea to release and re-push the sustain pedal between chord changes to prevent dissonances carrying over into the changed harmony.

You can also use pedal to sustain complex or “jumpy” melodies, but, again, it’s important to make sure you don’t overuse it.

Using the sustain pedal is one of the areas where it’s really important to listen to your piano playing while you practice – because playing the piano is relatively mechanical, it’s easy to “switch off” and not really play close attention to the sound you’re making.

The sustain pedal also highlights the differences between different types of piano, and between digital pianos and acoustic ones. Again, it’s all about listening to yourself and the instrument you’re playing and using the pedal accordingly.

Bill Hilton – Learn Blues Piano – The Basics

Posted in Blues, Improvisation, Keyboards, Lesson, Piano by Higher Density Blog on May 31, 2014

Bill Hilton – Online Index Of His Keyboard Tutorials

Posted in Education, Lesson, Piano by Higher Density Blog on May 31, 2014

Bill Hilton·120 videos

Google Docs Link to his spreadsheet   –   categorized tutorials – clcik link, takes you directly to that YouTube Tutorial.  Easier to Find the tutorial you want.


Bill Hilton – How to play smooth right hand chords

Posted in Lesson, Piano, Smooth RH Chords by Higher Density Blog on May 18, 2014

Bill Hilton·120 videos


In this tutorial I take a quick look at how some basic techniques for making your right hand chords sound smooth and elegant on the piano

Bill Hilton – Practicing Swing Rhythms on the Piano

Posted in Jazz, Lesson, Rhythm by Higher Density Blog on May 14, 2014

Bill Hilton·120 videos


Some pianists can have difficulty with getting swing rhythms right in their jazz and blues playing – usually as a result of the different approach keyboard they’ve been taught during classical lessons. This tutorial helps you get to grips with creating a good swing on the piano keyboard.

People who have a training in classical piano often have real difficulty mastering a true swing. I think this is related to the way it’s sometimes written in standard music notation. The dotted-quaver (quarter note) followed by a semiquaver (sixteenth note) model is miles away from a true representation of how swing rhythm actually sounds. As I explain in the video, a triplet-based model is much closer, but it’s rarely used in sheets, and even it doesn’t always exactly capture the way a swing is played.

That’s because swing rhythms are based on much more than note length – they’re also heavily affected by note emphasis, which in turn is governed by the off-beat stress that characterises most jazz and blues. (Classical music, folk, hymns, marches, pop, rock and all the rest place emphasis on beats one and three of four beat bars – just listen to a rock drummer, with bass on beat one and snare on beat three. Jazz and blues emphasize beats two and four).

Anyway, this tutorial should help you get just a bit closer to a true swing rhythm on the piano. As with all techniques, it takes a bit of time and practice at the piano keyboard to master!

Bill Hilton – 16-bar stride piano exercise

Posted in Stride Piano by Higher Density Blog on February 7, 2014

Bill Hilton·118 videos


An exercise that helps develop left hand independence and control on the piano by playing around with a stride bass. This is a useful one if you want to improve the accuracy of your left hand, even if you’re not that interested in stride piano as a genre. It forces you to be very precise in your playing, and really control the way your hand lands on chords. You can’t fluff around on the piano keyboard “looking” for the right note – your hand just has to be in the right place straightaway!

Bill Hilton – Piano finger technique – Brahms

Posted in Piano, Technique by Higher Density Blog on January 15, 2014

Bill Hilton·117 videos


In this video I look at some more advanced, classical-based piano fingering skills that you might find useful if you’re learning jazz, blues or pop piano.

Bill Hilton – New Orleans Blues

Posted in Blues, Keyboards, Lesson by Higher Density Blog on January 15, 2014

Bill Hilton·117 videos


In this tutorial I take a detailed look at how the so-called “New Orleans” blues progression can work on the piano. As well as analysing the chord progression (and, in particular, the way it uses the “circle of fifths”) we’ll look again at some basic right-hand improvisation techniques and think about what makes for good blues piano improvisation.

Bill Hilton – Creative Exercises

Posted in Improvisation, Keyboards by Higher Density Blog on December 31, 2013


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