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The Power of the Um-pah Pattern and How It Can Give Your Songs a Solid Foundation

In this article, you'll learn what chords can make your piano playing sound rich when playing standards from the Great American Songbook. Watch Diana's Instructional Video Demonstrating How to Use 4-note Chords to Make Your Solo Piano Playing Sound Super

The Four Important Chords that Make All the Difference

When playing standards from the Great American Songbook, you need to go beyond the triads of C, F/C, Am, Em, G7, etc. The chords you need have four notes in them. It is the fourth note that provides the richness.

Here's the difference:

C (C-E-G) becomes Cmaj7 (C-E-G-B) or C6 (C-E-G-A)

Dm (D-F-A) becomes Dm7 (D-F-A-C)

G7 (B-F-G) becomes G7/D (D-F-G-B)

Putting Four Note Chords into an Effective Pattern

Although you have probably played many songs with um-pah patterns using three note chords, the four note chords work even more effectively as they accompany the standards.

Cmaj7 C6 | Dm7 G7/D | BECOME:

Cmaj7 um (C) pah (E-G-B) C6 um (C) pah (E-G-A)| Dm7 um (D) pah (F-A-C) G7/B um D pah (F-G-B)


Practice the Left-Hand Accompaniment First

If you want to make your music sound even as you keep the beat, you need to practice your left hand accompaniment by itself. In addition, using a metronome can help you gain confidence while ensuring that you are keeping a solid beat. Once your left hand is solid, add the right hand melody. It may seem awkward at first, but once you get both hands working together, you'll be one your way.


Raise the Right-hand Melody One Octave

Most piano students find that playing in the octave above middle C is tricky and a bit uncomfortable. It's really just a matter of getting used to the placement of your fingers on the keyboard. But the REASON you need to do this is because your left-hand chords need to be high enough to be resonant rather than muddy. The rule for left-hand chord placement is that your pinky (bottom note of the chord) should be no lower than the Bb one octave below middle C and the pinky (bottom note of the the chord) should be no higher than middle C. If you follow this rule, your chords will always sound their best AND you will not bump the lower right-hand melody notes with the top notes of the left hand chords.


Here are Diana's arrangements of Getting to Know You and On the Sunny Side of the Street using the um-pah pattern. These included in the video below. Getting to Know You


Here's how Diana plays four-note chords with the um-pah pattern in four standards:


About Diana Mascari

Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 45 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. She was the music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at many colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England.

To get Her FREE Course: Song Playing Starter Kit for Pianists, click here

To schedule your FREE 30 Minute Piano Lesson Consultation on Zoom, click here.


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