"My Romance" is a classic jazz standard by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and really an excellent solo piano piece to have learned if you're interested in the traditional jazz and cocktail piano repertoire. In this article we're going to explore how one might open a fake book (or a Real Book, if you know what that means), and start putting together a full solo piano arrangement of this tune.
The Lead Sheet The lead sheet is what you'll first encounter when you open your fakebook and will contain a wealth of information written as minimally as possible, usually just a melody with chord symbols.
Although it looks like there is not much here from which to sketch a whole arrangement, this lead sheet contains everything we need: key signature, time signature, melody, rhythm, and chords. These are the basic building-blocks from which we'll create our arrangement.
Step 1: Right-Hand Plays Melody, Left-Hand Plays the Root of the Chord In this first step, we're getting some practice playing the melody while outlining the root of each chord in the bass clef with our left hand. Be able to do this in time with a metronome before considering yourself "done" with this step.
Step 2: Building Full-Sounding Chords We're now going to learn a term - "guide tones." Guide tones refer to the 3rd and 7th of a chord. For example, in a Bb major 7th chord, the chord tones are Bb, D, F, A. The root is Bb, the 3rd is D, the 5th is F, and the 7th is A. The guide tones are D and A. The guide tones give the chord its quality (whether the chord is major, minor, or dominant). Part of making sure we have full-sounding chords is making sure each chord in our arrangement contains a complete set of guide tones. In this next step, we're going to play the 7th of each chord in the left hand.
Step 3: Adding the 3rd of Each Chord Getting a complete set of guide tones into each chord means we have to include the 7th AND the 3rd. So in this step, we're going to add the 3rd by playing it in the right hand. Always play the 3rd under the melody (never add notes above the melody). When the melody note holds for a number of beats without moving, simply play the 3rd simultaneously with the left hand whenever the chords change (for example, measures 1 and 3, both on beat 3).
Step 4: Add Chord Extensions Learning your chord extensions (things like 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths) can take some time and practice in order to master. The arrangement above (in Step 3) already sounds pretty great. But the next step in building our arrangement would be to add extensions, such as 9ths, to our chords in the right hand. Play through the first four measures (below) and notice how the jazz sound is really starting to take shape.
Step 5: Adding Extensions Across Both Hands The final step is really more of a "tweaking" step in which we go through and play with some of the available extensions on each chord and make choices on what sounds good to us. Some examples below include the 11th in the left hand of the C minor 7 chord (measure 1), the 11th on the D minor 7th chord (measure 2), and the #11 on the F7 chord (measure 3). By this step, we are really getting into that advanced jazz sound!
If you like this kind of practice, or want to learn the entire arrangement, check out this excellent lesson on My Romance.