If you know your piano chords well, try this next step. Say the song you are playing asks for a C7 chord. That is called a dominant seventh. Here's what you do. With your left hand, play just the root and seventh of the chord, so that would be C with your pinky and Bb with your thumb.
Now for the right hand. Go up one half step from the C7 and play a minor chord. This would bring you to C#minor. The notes in a C#minor chord are C#-E-G#. By playing the C and Bb in the left hand, and the C#, E and G# in your right hand, you will be adding a flatted 9th and sharp 5th to the chord. Those chord alterations are very common in jazz and will add a beautiful sound to your chord - lots of flavor for sure!
Here is another way to jazz up a chord. When the required chord is a C, again, play the C and Bb in the left hand. Now with the right hand, go down one whole step from the C and you get Bb. Build a Bb major chord on the Bb. So in the right hand, you will now be playing Bb-D-F. What are those notes in the key of C? They are the 7th, 9th and 11th. Very dissonant but beautiful.
When you put one chord in the right hand and another in the left to achieve these tensions, these are called upper structure chords. Use them wisely. They won't always work for every chord in every song. It's a matter of taste so listen carefully and have fun with it!
Debbie Gruber is the author of many instructional piano CDs, books and DVDs. She operates a private teaching studio in Burlington, MA and holds a Master of Music degree. She is the Creator of http://www.EasyPianoStyles.com and she teaches at many Adult Education Centers in Massachusetts.
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