Tension and Release lesson series
Online Piano lessons – ‘Tension and Release’, Ch. 1
This piano lesson, titled “Tension and Release”, Chapter 1, digs into the concepts used by advanced players to bring exceptional beauty and depth to their keyboard playing. The technique involves finding non-chord tones to use within the chord structure (building tension), followed by a resolution (release) to a note that falls within the chord.
Truly an ear opening technique, this concept will have you creating “internal melodies” within your piano playing, which in turn will dramatically increase the beauty, depth and interest others have in your playing! Check out this powerful online lesson…
Click here to read more
In today’s piano lesson, we’re going to talk about a fantastic technique. It’s called “Tension and Release” and it really brings a lot of beauty and depth to what you’re playing on the piano.
If your life is like mine, sometimes tension can creep in. You may be thinking, “Why are you giving me a piano lesson on tension? I’m playing piano to get rid of tension!” But tension in music is not like tension in life. Tension in music actually creates interest.
Do you hear this musical Tension… then it resolves – this is what is meant by musical Tension and Resolution in this piano lesson.
Tension in life may give you a heart attack, but tension in music is one of the most powerful tools we have in our arsenal. It creates melodies — and melodies are the most potent force in music.
So today, we’re going to start really simple. We’re going to take a very simple musical passage, add tension and resolution to it – you’ll be amazed at the beauty it creates.
Let’s dig in to this piano lesson…
This technique involves finding lots of notes that may not technically be in the piano chord structures. But all these notes create incredible melodies. These melodies make people really listen to what you’re playing. You’re going to love this lesson titled “Tension and Release”.
We’re going to take a very simple chord progression. Something you may have heard on the radio, maybe three or four million times in your life.
A lot of piano songs are built on very small simple chord progressions. That’s what this example is. C-G-Am7-Em-F. Now we’re going to fill that up with a lot of beauty on the piano using tension and release. But like this [ piano playing example ] these are just disconnected chords. They don’t elicit much of an emotional response, do they?
[ video piano lesson demo playing here ]
It doesn’t really make you remember the time when you and your sweetie spent a weekend in a log cabin in Canada does it? (Ha) Or it doesn’t make you remember that time when you climbed Mt. Shasta with your dad right? They’re just chords! There’s really nothing very musical there – they’re just a string of chords played on the piano.
But then something incredible happens when you use the technique of “Tension and Release” over the same piano chord progression – it creates an internal melody. Like this:
[ piano lesson video playing ]
Isn’t that awesome? Every time I do that, I’m amazed at the power of a simple melody built on tension and release in the middle of all that. Now what is going on in the middle there? There’s a simple melody, listen to this.
[ video piano lessons demo ]
When you play that over those chords, suddenly, you are not just playing chords anymore. Now, you are playing fantastic music on the piano!
But how do you come up with those piano notes when you simply had piano chords to begin with? That’s exactly what we’re going to look at now.
We’re going to get down to brass tacks and study just the first two chords. C Major and G Major. Then we’ll fill that chord progression up with tension and release.
Before we go any further and dig in to those two chords, I want to make sure that you are onboard with what’s happening. If all these things look pretty interesting to you but don’t make sense musically, either I’m completely off my rocker or you need to go back and go through our Original Course titled “Pattern Piano and Keyboard”.
Hundreds of thousands of piano students around the world have already taken this course and have learned the secrets of playing any song on the piano by ear.
By the end of that course, you’ll be free; you’ll be creative on the keyboard because you’ll have understanding. Make sure you take advantage of that musical education. Then, let’s go on.
[ video piano demo playing here ]
In this piano lesson, I’m playing inversions of these chords. We’ll start with C Major and G Major. For example, this means that for the C Major chord instead of playing C, E and G (with C on the bottom and G on the top), we’ll play E, G and C (with E on the bottom and C on the top). You still have a C Major chord on the piano, but the notes are arranged differently. And for the G chord, instead of playing G, B and D, I’m playing: G, B and D, same chord, now it’s inverted. So the positions of the first two chords are C Major (1st inversion) & G Major (2nd inversion). By themselves, there’s not whole lot of emotional content is there? They’re just disconnected chords.
Instead of playing the C Major chord like I did at first, I played it like this…
[ piano playing example here ]
One of these notes does not belong in the C Major triad does it? It’s this one, right? It’s a non-chord tone in the C Major triad but then it resolves to a chord tone.
[ video piano tutorial playing here ]
This “Tension and Release” is classically called “Suspension and Resolution”. But I don’t call it by the classical term in this piano lesson because over the last few decades, “suspension” has come to be associated almost exclusively with the 4th of the chord. However, the true definition of a “suspended” tone can apply to any chord tone on the piano, not just the 4th.
Can you pick any note of the chord to use this technique with? No! [ obvious bad example on the piano ] Oooh! They’d be throwing tomatoes at you for that one.
We’ve got to find a non-chord tone that works musically – and here’s where you’ve got to think less analytically and more artistically. You can analyze this to death if you wanted to. If you’re a music theory student you can say, “Well that’s either the 2nd or the 9th resolving to the root.” And that’s good to have that music theory ability.
But if you just think artistically, you might say to yourself, “What would sound good here?” I could have played this… [ musical example ] and I could have analyzed it by saying “I went from the Major 7th of the chord to the root”. But I didn’t analyze it – instead, I’m just creating musical lines, or melodies on the keyboard.
The main point of this piano lesson is this – to create musical lines, experiment by landing on non-chord tones and then move them melodically to chord tones.
Just to recap, to create incredible beauty in your music, use the technique of tension and release to create musical lines.
Remember, let me say it again, melody is many, many times more important to anyone’s ear than harmony, than rhythm, than a song arrangement, etc. If your song doesn’t have a fantastic melody, or if your piano playing doesn’t have fantastic melodic lines within it, it’s all going to end up in the musical dumpster!
Think about it. When you go down the street, what do you whistle? Or what do you hum? The melody. The melody is what sticks with you and as a keyboard player; you can really take advantage of that concept. Use tension and release to create great melodies.
Try to come up with melodies that have a lot of tension with them, find notes that are maybe right on the edge of being ugly and then resolve them to something beautiful. And people will start listening, “Wow that’s beautiful! What are you doing in the middle there?” You can explain it a million different ways, but the fact is that if you have melodic lines created using tension and release, your playing will be revolutionized!
Now that you know the secret of tension and release, it’s really easy to finish that whole musical video isn’t it?
[ piano music video example demonstrating the remaining phrase using “Tension and Release” ]
Now you know how to create incredible melodic lines out of simple chord progressions on the piano. Now you can take some music you’d like to play, throw in some tension and release and this is what happens…
[ piano example ]
I hope you’re enjoying the online piano lessons. I am truly amazed everyday at the connection that I get to have with students like you from around the world.
Every day I get emails and phone calls from those of you that say, “Hey this piano lesson has been valuable in my life!” Personally, for me this is my full time gig which is amazing just by itself. But the real value is being able to be a part of what you are doing, and to see you go from someone who could not play at all to a musician! Or possibly you are moving from someone who’s a musician to a much more accomplished musician who can play by ear.
I’m honored to be part of your musical life. This is David Sprunger – see you soon!