Tarik Rahman

Pop/Rock Piano Theory

Tarik Rahman
Pop/Rock Piano Theory

Pop/rock piano theory comes in handy for every part of being a pop/rock pianist.

Almost all pop/rock music is based upon chord progressions that stem from traditional music theory. Understanding how keys and key signatures work, being fluent in all 12 major and minor keys, knowing how chords are created and being familiar with each of the major, minor, and diminished chords found in each key - this music theory is fundamental for understanding pop/rock piano music.

The more you understand the construction of the song you’re playing, the better you will be able to interpret the song, the easier it will be to improvise, and the greater your perspective will be when playing the song in a pop/rock band setting.

Understanding how music theory relates to pop/rock music will also help your aural skills. If you know theoretically how a specific chord progression works, it will be easier to identify that chord progression when you hear it in an unfamiliar pop/rock song.

When learning music theory there’s no need to buy a thick book, and do written exercises - our pop/rock piano teachers will teach you the theory you need to know through the songs you are playing in your piano lessons.

There are four main areas of pop/rock piano theory that we must explore, corresponding to the four basic elements of music:

  • Melody: Learning about keys and scales - especially pentatonic and blues scales, but also major and minor scales, and modes - will allow you to improvise keyboard solos and write catchy background riffs with ease and expertise.

  • Rhythm: Most pop/rock songs have an underlying rhythmic pulse that defines the song’s character - in addition to the time signature of the song. Understanding how this works, hearing the subtleties of playing behind, ahead of, and in the centre of the best, and knowing how to “lock in” with your bass player and drummer are crucial to making your pop/rock piano playing groove. Understanding syncopation, and how to manipulate rhythms around strong and weak beats will bring your comping, riffing, and soloing to life.

  • Harmony: Chord progressions are the foundation of pop/rock songwriting, and it’s important to know how they work. Having a large vocabulary of chord voicings will allow you to create different textures in your comping. It’s also key to know how and when to use these textures - when you can imply the harmony through playing one or two notes, and when it’s time to fill things out with a big, rich chord voicing.

  • Form: A thorough understanding of the basic chorus, verse, and bridge sections used in pop/rock songwriting will give you greater overall perspective when playing pop/rock piano songs. Pop/rock songwriters frequently vary from the standard song forms, and your pop/rock piano teacher can help you analyse your favourite songs, to get inside the composer’s head, find the hidden patterns, and understand the basis of the songwriter’s innovation.


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