2013 MTNA Conference – Early Monday Morning – Frederick Harris Showcase

In 1839 Franz Liszt did something for the very first time. He played a solo piano recital. It was almost unheard of at the time because up until then people played music together.

What did he play on his solo recital?
* His own arrangement of the William Tell Overture
* Improvisations on a Bellini Opera
* Some of his own compositions
* Improvised on themes given by the audience

Bach’s French Suite wasn’t written to be performed as a solo on a stage. It was written as a guide for those who wanted to improvise music for dance.

Forrest Kinney’s desire and life work is to revive these 19th Century musical arts.


Improvising is basically speaking. Arranging is like telling a story or joke in your own way. Many people confuse the two. Although there may or may not be significant difference in the sound, cognitively, the approach is very different. Arranging requires a great deal of theoretical understanding; improvising flows from a musically intuitive state of mind.

Forrest had a member of the audience join him at the piano to improvise on the pattern, “Storm,” from Pattern Play Book 6. He then went on to introduce and explain the Chord Play series.

Chord Play is based on the same approach that Bach used by teaching figured bass and then learning to improvise on the harmonic progression. Forrest created Chord Play because he felt that a lot of the materials on the market were not very pianistic. He specifically referred to downloadable internet pieces (ITDs=Internet Transmitted Diseases).


Drawing on the analogy of how a hair stylist can change the style of someone’s hair, Forrest said that there are three fundamental ways you can “re-style” a chord:
* Change the style: use the same three notes in different ways.
* Change the color: add a note to the chord.
* Replace the hair (put on a wig): substitute a different chord for the one typically used.

The Chord Play series walks you through ways to do each of the above: change the style, change the color, and substitute chords.

Forrest shared several examples of changing the style of the chord, creating different accompaniments for “Happy Birthday.” Then he gave examples of adding notes to change the color of the chord. He specifically added a 2nd and said that it has the effect of making a minor chord more minor and a major chord more major. Finally, he demonstrated using substitute chords to create a much richer sound.

Chord Play Book 1 remains in root position throughout to help students develop their ear. Book 2 is all about styles and new sounds that can be created. The second half of the book introduces right hand chord inversions. When beginning a new teenage student, Forrest often starts by teaching them the chord pattern for “Let it Be” from book 2. Book 3 gets into coloring chords with 7th chords. These are much more complex.

When and why does an arranger use a 7th chord? Sometimes you want a minor chord that’s not so minor, so you overlap it with a major chord, thus creating the minor 7th. Conversely, you can make a major chord less major by overlapping it with the minor on top, thus creating the major 7th chord.

You can leave the 5th out of the chord, add the seventh, and re-style the chord:

Book 4 deals with “chromatic connecting chords” and secondary dominants to give arrangements a more powerful sound. Forrest played a couple of examples, illustrating the use of secondary dominants in Amazing Grace and briefly even on the chord progression for Heart and Soul. He then moved onto augmented chords and demonstrated how they tend to “lift you” when you hear or play them.

Book 5 (available at the end of April) is all about adding color. There are twelve new chords explained by building on what the pianist has already learned from the previous books. These can be simply understood by just changing notes of chords that are already known.

Forrest concluded the session by playing several arrangements using the added colors of ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords to give attendees an idea of how these chords can impact the sound of a piece of music.

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