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145
Solo Piano Left Hand with Bass and Chords
When playing solo piano, it is always useful to be able to play a bass line in the left hand, as shown
in the arrangement of The Girl from Ipanema given on p. 136. However, if both hands play single
notes the resulting texture can be very thin, which was compensated for in the above arrangement
by adding some chord shapes in the right hand beneath the melody.
Another solution is to play chords in the left hand, without dropping the bass line. In jazz piano
this would be called stride, a style in which the left hand alternates deep bass notes with central
chords, most often played on the beat (see IBP and EJP).
When playing Latin music, a more syncopated result is desirable. The following example shows
a partido alto pattern adapted to combine both bass and chords:
Fig 3.39 Partido alto (2:3) left hand with bass and chords
The above example uses only root position chords. When the chords move round a cycle (roots
moving up in 4ths or down in 5ths), as in the II V I patterns above, this involves quite a bit of
jumping around. Another way of playing involves more open voicings and intervals of a tenth:
Fig 3.40 More advanced version for larger hands
A good rule to adopt for the open voicings is to play all chords as triads, except for dominant
sevenths, which should include the 7th. Thus, in the above example:
Am7, B, Dm7, C
y
R 5 3
E7, G7 R 7 3
If you have small hands Fig 3.40 may seem to include some big stretches, but remember that you
dont actually have to keep the bottom note ringing while you play the top notes. A light touch and
exible wrist will go a long way towards making it easier to play.
Its often best to minimize the jumping around by using a combination of close and open
voicings. Experiment to nd out which conguration suits your hand and sounds best. Heres an
example:
Fig. 3.41 Combining close and open voicings
All the above patterns should also be practised over a 3:2 partido alto, eg:
Fig 3.42 Partido alto (3:2) left hand with bass and chords
How do you decide which kind of partido alto to use to accompany a given tune? Very often, a close
look at the rhythm of the melody will make the answer obvious look for places where the melody
falls on the downbeat, and for places where it is consistently syncopated. If in doubt, try it both
ways to see which ts best. Bear in mind that not all tunes are designed to t one way or the other!
The following tune Manh de Carnival is tailor-made for a 2:3 partido alto. The arrangement
combines close and open left-hand voicings in various ways.
Right- and Left-hand Roles in Brazilian Music
One of the challenges facing the pianist learning Brazilian styles is the delegation of roles between
the left and right hands. Whereas in Cuban music the piano has a clear role it is primarily a
percussion instrument playing rhythms to back singers and horn players in Brazilian music the
piano plays a wider variety of roles.
If you were to perform The Girl from Ipanema in a band in which the melody was taken by a
singer, sax player or other instrumentalist, it would not be played on the piano. Instead, you would
be expected to do one of two things:
Comp play chords in one of the rhythm patterns given on p. 135 (or partido alto)
Play decorative single-line lls in the spaces between the melody
The second option is necessary if a guitarist is present, since two people comping together tends to
give too cluttered a result. You can hear Jobim assuming this role in the Getz/Gilberto recording
of The Girl from Ipanema, against Joo Gilbertos guitar comping check out his delightfully
understated piano lls on the bridge, beginning around 0:40, and again at 1:55.
Another illustration of these options can be found on two different songs by the legendary singer
Elis Regina (both of which can be found on YouTube). In the rst, Madalena, the piano provides the
main rhythmic thrust, setting up the groove and general dynamic of the song.
The second song, E Com Esse Qui Eu Vou, starts with some gentle guitar playing, the piano
joining in but not playing chords, just a right-hand melody. After the vocals enter the piano takes a
more decorative role, playing counter-melodies around the voice, and joining in with chordal playing
only in the louder sections of the song. Cesar Camargo Mariano (the pianist on these recordings) is a
master at doing this and is essential listening for anyone wishing to play bossa novas and sambas on
the piano.
Because of the need to fulll these two roles, sometimes together, it is recommended that the
pianist studying Brazilian music should learn to play all rhythms in both hands independently of each
other. The playing of a melody in the right hand and partido alto (or similar two-bar pattern) in the
left is perhaps one of the biggest challenges and must be approached with patience.
Cesar Camargo Mariano, an accomplished master
of the subtle art of bossa nova accompaniment,
was married to and performed with legendary
Brazilian vocalist Elis Regina.
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