Cocktail Piano Intros: The Diatonic Surf

Cocktail Piano Intros: In A Pinch?

cocktail piano bag of tricksCreating cocktail piano intros is an art in itself. The more you have in your “bag of tricks” the better.

Sure, it pays to practice and know, at least to a point, how your arrangement will go. However, sometimes you might find yourself in a spot where you get a request for a tune that’s not necessarily a part of your repertoire and you find yourself resorting to that fakebook. Nothing wrong with that.

“Hmmm… intro… what can I do here?” may be haunting your your brain as you feel inspired to put this song across in a professional way but are at a loss for an intro. Well, there’s great benefit to have a few intros up your sleeve that you can use anytime. Let’s take a look at an easy one that works great with ballads (though it’s not necessarily limited to them, depending on how you play it rhythmically).

Add This To Your Toolbag

This cocktail piano intro works well simply by laying the chords down in either a rubato fashion or in tempo. That’s totally up to you and your taste. You’ll want to transpose this to other keys so that you have it at your command whenever the moment arises.

Let’s say that you are about to play My Romance by Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart in the key of C Major…

Simply play the first three or four diatonic chords in a stepwise manner, ascending and descending:

Cmaj7   Dmin7   Emin7   Fmaj7   Emin7   Dmin7   Cmaj7

The key is to play the chord in a parallel fashion through the entire chord progression. An effective way to play this intro is to use open voicings. Here is one that is very effective:

1-5-3-7 chord voicing for cocktail piano intros

The above illustration is an excerpt from Pro Piano Chord Bytes. As you can see, we have a chord voicing for Cmaj7. From that point, simply move up a step at a time diatonically through the progression to Fmaj7 and then step down until you arrive back at Cmaj7. It’s your choice if you goes as high as the Fmaj7. You could simply begin descending once you arrive at the Emin7 chord. Experiment. As you “surf” up and down, vary the duration of each chord in different ways. Play with it. Make it yours.

cocktail piano intro example

Start Using It!

Naturally, you can adapt this intro to any chord voicing for these chords that you like. Go ahead and search for a few standard ballads that you enjoy playing and adapt this cocktail piano intro to that particular key. As I always encourage my ProProach members when practicing, “Overuse it!” Do that and it’s yours. You’ll learn to love it!

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2 thoughts on “Cocktail Piano Intros: The Diatonic Surf”

  1. richardgoodman

    I actually used the “diatonic surf” as an intro last weekend. It was actua lly the first time I used this on a gig. The only addition I made was to end the “surf” with either a V7 or a flat2 dominant chord. In the key of “C’, this makes the last chord in the progression a DFlat 9, flat 5. In ascending order:LH: DFlat, RH: F-B-Eflat-G. I think the creation of such a chord is called a “tritone substitution. DFlat is a flat fift from the original , “G.”

    1. davidlongo

      Excellent, Richard. That’s a great way to incorporate this technique into an introduction. Adding the dominant 7th chord sets up the tune well when the first chord of the song is the I chord. And, yes, tritone substitution is exactly what that is. Ex: G7b13 ==> Db9b5

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