Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” – A Piano Tutorial

In this article we’ll be taking an in-depth look at Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.” This is a classic Motown hit that has been performed countless times by rock and funk bands, but has also been covered by jazz musicians. Combining a simple harmonic progression with a funky R&B groove, “I Wish” has a great piano part that almost all pianists enjoy playing, as well as ample opportunity for soloing and improvisation.

The Basic Chord Progression

One of the coolest parts about learning the groove to “I Wish” is that the left hand doubles the bass line, meaning that both the bass player and the pianist’s left hand are playing the same part. For this reason, it’s clear to see how important a strong sense of groove and time are to mastering this tune. The first part of “I Wish” (what we’ll call the ‘A’ section) starts with a repetitive groove based on two chords – Eb minor 7 and Ab dominant 7.

Let’s take a look at that bass line:

I Wish 1

When learning “I Wish” it’s perhaps a good idea to start with the bass line, making sure that you are able to play it along with the original recording, locking in with the bass player’s part and focusing on maintaining a steady groove.

Right-Hand Comping Groove

Now let’s take a look at the right hand part. The right hand consists of a repetitive comping pattern using triads which outlines the two chords of the ‘A’ section – Ebm7 and Ab7. Since the rhythmic figure is a bit syncopated, it’s important to practice this slowly and with a metronome, making sure you’re playing the rhythms accurately before putting hands together.

I Wish 3

Putting the Two Hands Together and Establishing the Groove

After mastering the left and right hand separately, putting hands together is simply a matter of practice – slowly, with a metronome, making sure to be precise with the placement of each rhythm. The syncopated right hand comping pattern locks in with the steady eighth note line of the left hand.

I Wish 2

Ideas for Improvisation

When listening to live versions of “I Wish” it’s quite common to hear the band open up a solo section for one or more soloists. As pianists we want to be ready with some ideas for improvisation. So let’s investigate a scale (or two) that we can use for soloing over the main groove that we learned above.

Since the Ebm7 to Ab7 chords function as a ii-V progression, we can use one collection of pitches to solo over that chord progression – one scale that will work for both chords. What is that scale? It’s a Db major scale, but if we start it on an ‘Eb’ and ‘Ab’ we’ll get an Eb dorian and Ab mixolydian scale, respectively.
I Wish 4Practice using these scales as the basis for exploring some improvisation. And don’t forget to check out the entire “I Wish” lesson!

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Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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