Best Way to Use a Fakebook? : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I am at the stage in my budding, self-taught piano playing career where I now have to learn to bring my left and right hands together, and I want to do it by using the FAKEBOOK approach. Here is the question:

The songs that I want to play off the Fakebook are songs that I am familiar with, I know the melody and I can play them by ear (albeit very haltingly and not very accurately) and hear them in my head. However, I don’t know the chords, and that is precisely why I am resorting to the Fakebook.

Should I play the melody with my right hand by reading the melody line musical notation, or should I just wing it, and just play the melody by judging the relative physical distances between the keys (playing by ear), while providing bass and rhythm with chords played by my left hand?

The style of playing I’m working on is called “cocktail piano” playing. My note reading skills are still very elementary, but I’m willing to work on them if I need them to play melody lines instead of just playing them by ear. I guess I am at a proficiency level where nothing is automatic yet, and my brain is being asked to do a great deal of multitasking, i.e., read the chord symbol, form the chords with left hand, read melody notation, play melody with right hand, and do everything in perfect harmony, truly a formidable task for a rank beginner.

The point of this question is which skill should I focus on and what sequence should I follow to maximize my chances of attaining my goal – the melody note reading, the ear training, the chord playing, etc. – I know the best answer is “all the above” but because of the limitations of being a neophyte, I sadly can only do them one at a time.

Suggestions and comments will be very much appreciated. Thanks much.


-- Fernando Tonolete (, May 06, 2001


I'd suggest starting out with the melody line, since that's what you'll need to emphasize above everything else you play. Once you're comfortable with the melody, add simple blocked chords in the left hand (nothing to strain your brain). After you're comfortable with that, you can try taking those same chords & arpeggiating them. You might also try a walking bass with octaves. Or maybe a waltz accompaniment. Or a boogie woogie bass line. You get the idea. It all depends on the musical style you're playing.

The idea is to get your basic melody first, then build from there. Hope this helps.

-- Music Educator (, May 07, 2001.

I can just imagine the “properly trained” pianists out there cringing at the audacity of your question. They are wondering why you do not take lessons and learn to play “properly”. It may be a valid question, but I have seen and heard too many trained pianists that can play precisely what is written on the page – both hands, all the notes – and it still sounds like a machine. No heart or soul.

This is not to say that good, accurate sight-reading skills are not valuable. They are and I wish I had them, but I don’t. I play with a small group in our church and about half our repertoire is in the “fake format”, (melody line with chords.) In fact, all our material, including pieces with the left-hand notation, has chord references on the page, so that I know what chords the guitarist are playing.

I agree with the previous answer that you should start with the melody line. This defines the song. You may find the way you hear it in your head, may not match what is in the book. The book may not have the “correct” melody in your opinion, but it is probably closer to what most other people expect to hear. If you can learn it the way it is written, then you can change it slightly later to add some variety.

Playing simple block chords in the left hand is a good way to start, but can get boring really quickly. Buy a chord guidebook and learn the various chords and their chord inversions. Once you know these you can start doing chord arpeggios. A very simple but effective trick when doing an arpeggio on a chord is to leave out the 3rd. (In the C chord this will be the E note.) For some reason this sounds really good. If you want the music to really come alive, try playing around with alternative chords such as “sus” chords (add the fourth), 7th and 9th chords. Work the various chord notes into the right hand as well. It fills out the song nicely. If you really want to play around with it ignore the melody completely and simply play variations on the chord with both hands. (This can be very interesting when accompanying vocalists that must then carry the melody.)

Good luck with it, and above all, have fun.

-- Jerry Van Ee (, May 09, 2001.

I learned how to play properly before teaching myself how to improvise & play by ear. Sure it's boring to play blocked chords, but you have to learn the basics before moving on to something more sophisticated, especially if you have problems putting RH & LH together. Start with the basics, then build from there.

Those of us who did receive formal training & learned the simple things first often wonder why some people want to play like we play but don't want to start at the beginning.

-- Music Educator (, May 09, 2001.

Your left hand will play chords if you have a bassist; if you're playing solo you'll want to play roots with your left hand. Start with a ballad (slow song). After you've learned the melody in the right hand, a simple way to get started in the left hand is to play each chord root-fifth-tenth-fifth, each note a quarter-note in 4/4. (The tenth is the third of the chord moved up an octave). That way the chord is firmly rooted and the tenth defines it as major or minor. So a measure of 'C' would be played C - G - (higher)E - G (fingering: 5-2-1-2). You fill in chord tones under the melody in the right hand by using chord inver

-- Scott Fleming (, August 22, 2001.

What is a fakebook?

-- l.j.smith (, January 25, 2002.

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