How to Play from a Fake Book!

Welcome! Some of my students have been learning to play from a Fake Book, which is a great skill to have. Fake Books typically have a melody line and a chord; as the pianist you figure out how to accompany the melody. Playing from a Fake Book is NOT difficult, and it can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it! 

The video lessons that I post here will show you various approaches that you can use to play “Oh Susanna” just from the melody and the chords. For the first lesson I am assuming that you are a beginning piano student with knowledge of the layout of the keyboard. After we get past the first couple of lessons the material here will be useful to advanced students too, especially if you have only played from complete scores up until now.

1) The Melody. Before adding in a chord-based accompaniment, you have to be sure that you are comfortable with the melody, and especially with keeping a steady beat. I recommend playing the melody as written first, but once you are comfortable with that, you can feel free to improvise!

The video below demonstrates the melody.  The downloadable documents to the right of the video are fake book versions of Oh, Susanna, and contain the melody and the chord symbols.  You can use this fake book "chart" for all seven lessons.
Oh, Susanna! (easy version) This version has note names. 52.6 KB
2) The Root. Adding the root of the chord with the left hand is about the simplest accompaniment. Once you are comfortable playing the melody in the right hand,  add a single root note with the left, one whole note per measure.  The root of the chord is the same as the name of the chord. If the chord is C, then the root is C.  Once you are comfortable playing one note per measure with the left hand, try playing two root notes per measure, that is, two half notes.
3) The Fifth. Next we'll fill out the accompaniment by playing the root and the fifth with the left hand.
4) Chord Inversions. Time to give the left hand a break! Many songs sound quite nice with the chords played in close position, without moving the left hand far from its starting point. See the video for a demonstration, and the document explaining the theory if you are interested!
5) Oom-pah-pah-pah! This accompaniment gives Oh Susanna an appropriately folksy feel. 
6) Root-Fifth-Octave. This is a great, all-purpose accompaniment that can be used in a wide variety of songs, and fits both major AND minor chords!

Coming soon:

7) Putting it all together and finding your own interpretation. In addition to combining the above techniques, you can let the right hand play more than just the melody! Experiment – the sky's the limit!