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#1095197 - 03/30/08 05:57 PM Cocktail Piano
Harcourt Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/25/05
Posts: 3
Hi everyone,

I have a question...and if anyone could answer it, I'd really be appreciative.

I've just got my ABRSM diploma in classical piano [the highest grade ABRSM offers], and have been playing now for about 11 years. But - whilst I've no intention of completely ditching classical music - it isn't really what I want to play any more. Call it cheesey or whatever, but all I really want to play is what you hear in bars and hotels and airports: 'cocktail' [or 'lounge'] piano.

But I just have no clue on where to begin with it. I've got a silly amount of sheet music books for that genre, and the sound I make is okay...but that clearly just isn't how it's 'really' done, is it? My question, then, is how to go about learning? My life is currently at a point where I might be able to be investing 10 hours a day in learning standards and the sort from fakebooks or whatever to build a repetoire [with the hope of maybe one day taking it professional]...but I need some advice on where to begin.

I've looked over Sudnow and Piano Magic - but I'm not totally sure they're what I need [tell me otherwise if you disagree!]. I've also looked at fakebooks etc. - but I have no idea where to begin with chord structures etc.. Ideally I wouldn't be employing a teacher just yet, either - I just want to begin, take it at my own pace, and see where I end up. If I never end up learning 500 standards without music then so be it, but I'd like the skills to be able to make that decision from. I just need to know where to begin.

So yes...how do these multitudes of cocktail artists learn their art? And how can I get in on it?

I'd really appreciate a response if possible. I have all day tomorrow to act on what you suggest...so go for it - I'll keep you updated.



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#1095198 - 03/30/08 06:34 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
TonyB Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/08/07
Posts: 792
Loc: Twin Cities

I would seriously recommend that you check out www.sudnow.com. The Sudnow method will help you with this. Since you are obviously well trained on piano already, you will catch on quickly. Though the course will start everybody at the very beginning, don't let that mislead you. What you are really learning is not only the physical aspects of playing those chords, but also a way of thinking that will get you playing in that style, which is quite important. There are a lot of very helpful folks on the Sudnow forums at that site too. The focus of the Sudnow method is exactly what you are stating in your post.

My blog: http://ajourneyintomusic.blogspot.com

#1095199 - 03/30/08 08:33 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
RayMetz100 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/05/08
Posts: 119
Loc: Everett, WA
I emailed the piano magic guy a couple months ago and he gave a long thoughtful email response to my question right away. I recommend you try the same and see what he says.
PianoMagic.com student
Recordings and piano pic at: RayMetz.com/Piano

#1095200 - 03/30/08 08:36 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
hotkeys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/07
Posts: 788
Loc: Massapequa, NY
Have you looked at Scott Houston's "Play piano in a flash" course?

- Mark
...The ultimate joy in music is the joy of playing the piano...

#1095201 - 03/30/08 08:59 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Bob Newbie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/06
Posts: 1555
Check this guy out Bill Susman..

#1095202 - 03/31/08 09:56 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
knotty Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/01/07
Posts: 3021
Loc: Bethesda, MD (Washington D.C)

At your level, I would look at a few transcription books. Get the original CDs with it.

Look at folks like Bill Evans, George Shearing, Hank Jones, Billy Taylor or Dave McKenna just to name a few.

I know that's the kind of music I'd want to hear.

Check this out:

That said, you can try a few things to build a repertoire.
- transcribe the changes yourself. It's probably the best way to memorize them quick. Learn the melody perfectly before you start adding embellishments.
- Learn them in a few keys.
- You can get something like the Jazz Piano Book from Mark Levine which explains just about everything you need to know about Jazz theory, including examples on how to apply.

Finally, I'll recommend a few folks on youtube. Definitely check them out.

this guy just put a dvd out for sell also but as of now, all of his stuff, and it's extensive, is available for free, including pdf transcriptions on his site.

and him:
this is a beautiful tutorial that will explain the concepts of call and response, voicings, and reharmonization.

Please post some of your progress, I'll follow them with interest.
Good luck.

#1095203 - 03/31/08 01:44 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
ChatNoir Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 1500
Loc: Encino, California
The ultimate cocktail pianist:


Could anything possibly be more elegant?
Some men are music lovers. Others make love without it.

#1095204 - 04/01/08 08:54 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
Donna R. Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/26/07
Posts: 794
Hi Harcourt,

I can't recommend these from personal experience but they're courses I'm considering for when I've completed 'Learn and Master Piano'. Like you, I've realized in recent months that while I love listening to classical music, what I want to play is popular music. Here are the links:

Yoke Wong
Runs and Fills

#1095205 - 04/04/08 12:08 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Kugelis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/08
Posts: 20
Loc: Chicago, IL
Hello Harcourt

I'm also interested in playing lounge piano and would appreciate hearing where you end up with this.

I'd also like to ask if anyone has taken the Sudnow Method course and can comment to what degree they found it beneficial.

#1095206 - 04/04/08 01:08 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012

Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 17923
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
This has been recommended elsewhere, but it's relevant here, too: Check out the book "Piano Girl" by Robin Meloy Goldsby. It's a memoir of her adventures as a lobby pianist. Very entertaining, and may give you ideas for how to proceed. She basically just started with fake books.
Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica

#1095207 - 04/04/08 01:14 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Swingin' Barb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/06
Posts: 889
Loc: North Carolina
Hi Kugelis,

I've been with the Sudnow Method since Jan 2006. So, It's been a little over 2 years. The method works big time if you are motivated to get that sound. The best way to describe it is to take a listen.

If you go to my website, you will hear some of my Sudnow repertoire:


These arrangements are my own. The Sudnow course teaches how to take songs from a fakebook and add those jazzy chord tones.

You will see the date before each song. The first song was arranged by me after 8 months with the course. The last song listed was at my 2 year anniversary.

At this time, I have 45 songs in my repertoire and I entertain at my folk's retirement home during their dinner hour.

You can PM me if you want more information.
A Sudnow Method Fanatic
"Color tones, can't live without them"

To hear how I have progressed since 2006, check out: http://b.kane.home.mindspring.com

#1095208 - 04/04/08 02:57 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Naked Shaman Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/25/08
Posts: 96
Loc: Savannah,Ga
Hey Barb - How accomplished were you before starting the course? I am a true beginner at age 51. Been taking lessons for a little over a year...


#1095209 - 04/04/08 03:18 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Swingin' Barb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/06
Posts: 889
Loc: North Carolina
Hi Naked Shaman - I had 4 years of lessons as a kid (9 - 13). Then, I quit piano and took up cello. Was a music ed major in college -- taught elementary school music. We had a piano in the house for decades, but it was merely dusted by me (big time regret). Then, I discovered Sudnow in 2006 and I've been glued to the piano ever since.

There are other true beginners, like yourself on the Sudnow forum. Some with barely any piano experience whatsoever. They play a cool Misty for their first Sudnow song - the method is amazing!
A Sudnow Method Fanatic
"Color tones, can't live without them"

To hear how I have progressed since 2006, check out: http://b.kane.home.mindspring.com

#1095210 - 04/05/08 12:17 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Serge88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/27/06
Posts: 775
Loc: Canada
To Kugelis if you're interesting in Sudnow, here is something I recorded today, I learned it from a lead sheet, it's not a 100% Sudnow method but a mix of everything I learned including Sudnow method.



“Being able to hear recorded music freed up loads of musicians that couldn't necessarily afford to learn to read or write music. With recording, it was emancipation for the people.”
-Keith Richards

#1095211 - 04/05/08 01:25 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Thaum Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/30/07
Posts: 29
Loc: Uniked Kingdom
Swingin' Barb,

Thanks for the link. I enjoyed your music, especially 'My Foolish Heart'.

It's got me in the mood to dip back into the Sudnow method after an absence of many months!

Thaum (Bladesy on the Sudnow forum)

#1095212 - 04/05/08 02:00 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Swingin' Barb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/06
Posts: 889
Loc: North Carolina
Hi Thaum,

Small world here on these forums.

Thank you for your kind words. Glad you're heading back to Sudnow Land. As Suds has often said, "This will change your life".

A Sudnow Method Fanatic
"Color tones, can't live without them"

To hear how I have progressed since 2006, check out: http://b.kane.home.mindspring.com

#1095213 - 04/05/08 03:36 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4683
Loc: San Francisco
Harcourt, [/b]take a look at Dan Coates, "Complete Advanced Piano Solos." His trademark arpeggiated bass requires advanced technique and IMO the arrangements will be well received in a lounge environment. That's not a knock, BTW, it's just that this kind of arrangement sounds sophisticated, but is not so obtrusive that people are forced to listen.

If it's not available at your local music store, you can get it from Amazon.com

Congrats on your ABRSM diploma!

#1095214 - 04/06/08 01:24 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Markham Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/02/05
Posts: 77
Loc: St Paul, MN
It's interesting that "cocktail lounge" and "cheesy" so often seem to go together. That being said, I've heard some wonderful players in lounges where no one else was paying much attention. In the lounges where people were paying attention it was much too "cheesy" for me.

There's nothing cheesy about the Sudnow approach. I'd be happy to share stories off-line about my years of experience with lots of his students. Given your experience at the piano your biggest challenge will be figuring out what you can skip and what you need to slow down and spend some time with.

Many people who are great sight readers find the change to a fake book type approach a little challenging at first. Not being a good sight reader myself, I can't really speak to that challenge. But I do know that classical training provides a great foundation upon which to build a more jazz-oriented style.

That being said, I think you could take Sudnow's approach, grab Mark Levine's books on jazz piano, and keep yourself busy for as long as you'd like to - and have a blast!

In the interest in full disclosure, I should mention that I've been the administrator of the Sudnow site since David's passing. I don't want this misconstrued as an advertisement but if you send me a PM I can give you a link to some student recordings that might help illustrate the approach.

#1095215 - 04/16/08 05:19 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
ChristinaW Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/05/04
Posts: 153
Loc: Washington DC
I knew someone who did that, at Nordstrom's, and she just sort of contacted them and auditioned, and got hired. She didn't spend a million years at learning how and wasn't even really that good a pianist -- probably intermediate level. You don't really need to be that good in some of those venues. What she could do was play by ear very well, actually -- and sort of improvise in a noodling new-agey way. So that's what she did. I don't know if Nordstrom's still has live pianists in their atrium any more, they used to.

I think you do have to use a lot of fake books and just know other things by heart. Just stick in a lot of arpeggios into songs a lot, they seem to like that.

To get started, I just finished a book called "Piano Girl" by Robin Meloy Goldsby, which is a nonfiction book by a woman who did exactly that. It's an easy read and will let you know how someone else did it -- she ended up being very successful, playing at weddings, important venues, etc. I think she also just started out by knowing classical, and then needing a part-time job while in college or something, I forget. This book is fairly new, actually (but in paperback), and will give you lots of ideas of how to do it and what it's like. My library didn't have it, so I had to buy it on Amazon. I found out about it on NPR, I think, here is a link to their interview of her:

#1095216 - 04/16/08 08:04 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
hotkeys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/07
Posts: 788
Loc: Massapequa, NY
Welcome to the forums ChristinaW!

Yes, I read "Piano Girl" by Robin Meloy Goldsby. I seem to get different perspectives when I read the book a second or third time. And she is a member of this forum too (though she does not post that much).

Monica K. mentioned the use of fake books which is a great way to get started. As I went along in my piano journey, I seemed to want more than the fake books, but if you can improvise in your own way, you will set yourself separate from the rest of the crowd. Do what is best for you and enjoy the journey along the way.

- Mark
...The ultimate joy in music is the joy of playing the piano...

#1095217 - 05/13/08 03:24 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
Piano Girl RMG Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 742
Loc: Germany
Hi Everyone,

Glad to hear that many of you respect the art of cocktail piano playing. It's not for every pianist—you need to check your ego at the front door, be willing to play music that will probably be ignored, and deal with a variety of social situations that are funny, annoying, or (sometimes) unnerving. I've managed to make a living for the last three decades playing every place from roadside dives to swanky Manhattan hotels. For the last seven years I've had a gig in a German castle.

There are concert artists who will fall down laughing when they read this, but in a way, I consider this kind of work to be one of the purest forms of music artistry. Because the cocktail pianist is not the center of attention, the pianist can be self-indulgent, playing pieces that please his/her artistic sensibilities, allowing the changing vibe of the room to inspire and influence the flow of the music.

I've used my jobs to work out new compositions, arrangements, or to simply sit there for hours and improvise on my current mood.

When I sit down at the beginning of gig, I have no idea what I'm going to play. I play what I feel. How often does a musician have this kind of freedom?

Many years ago my dad (a musician) advised me to always play the music I love, not to copy anyone's playing, not to try and be something I'm not. It turned out to be great advice.

Best of luck to any of you who choose this profession. Below are a couple of quotes from the intro to my book, maybe you'll find them interesting.

Robin Meloy Goldsby

From Piano Girl: A Memoir (ISBN-13: 978-0879308827)
Backbeat Books (reprinted with permission)

"Every job presents the chance to be a musical fly on the wall—providing a piano score for life as it’s served, straight-up with a side of olives, to the droves of people who pass through the world’s bars and restaurants. Over the years I’ve been appalled, attacked, blown away by kindness, cajoled into fits of giggles, and moved to tears by the tiny dramas that unfold before my eyes and ears. I cry. I laugh. Laughter is a kind of music—the best kind. I’ve always wanted to write the score for a film. But maybe this is better. I’m writing and playing music for life, as it happens. It’s like recording live on tape, without the tape.

One day I’m eighteen years old, sitting down to play my first job. Startled, I wake up on a bright spring morning and realize that I’m forty-six, and that my entire adult life can be documented by a series of forty-minute sets and twenty-minute breaks. I fret about missed opportunities—how I’ve spent the peak years of my life behind an instrument that fights back more often than it complies with my wishes—and the way real time slips away from me like runaway triplets at a children’s piano recital."
Robin Meloy Goldsby
Author of PIANO GIRL: A Memoir
RMG is a Steinway Artist

#1095218 - 05/13/08 08:46 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
Seaside_Lee Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/19/04
Posts: 2167
Loc: Blackpool, UK
Hello Robin \:\)

Blimey! welcome to the ABF \:D

Loved your book BTW

Lee \:\)
Twitter: @Seaside_Lee

#1095219 - 05/13/08 10:31 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
Piano Girl RMG Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 742
Loc: Germany
Thanks Lee,

I enjoyed reading some of your blog entries. Not easy to write about music, but you're doing a great job!


Robin Meloy Goldsby
Author of PIANO GIRL: A Memoir
RMG is a Steinway Artist

#1095220 - 05/13/08 10:39 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
Seaside_Lee Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/19/04
Posts: 2167
Loc: Blackpool, UK
Wow, thank you very much (blushes)

I Know, maybe one day I'll turn it into a book?...darn! that's been done already :p (only kidding )

Lee \:D
Twitter: @Seaside_Lee

#1095221 - 02/03/09 10:35 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Elssa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/05
Posts: 1646
Loc: NY

Just wondering how people who are interested in this are doing? I'll never be a really great classical or jazz pianist, but I do love that wonderful creative mix, guess you call it "cocktail piano" sound and am focusing on that. \:\) What did you wind up doing, Harcourt?

#1095222 - 02/04/09 10:10 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
OldFingers Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/14/06
Posts: 546
Loc: Boston, MA
In my experience it takes real talent to become a cocktail pianist. I thought all I had to do was learn a ton of chords, inversions, voicings, learn to play from lead sheets and I'd be done. I got to the point where my teacher had me make my own arrangement of a piece, and while I did it, it was exhausting. I then switched to learning to play the piano in the "classical" tradition, which by contrast, was relatively easy. All you have to do it play the notes. Of course, that's an over-simplification, but in cocktail piano you have to be able to do everything the classical pianist does, but you have to make up the notes too. For players like me, that's just too hard.

So Harcourt, I would suggest you take a ii,V,I chord sequence, and fool around with the right hand trying to make up some interesting melodies. If it comes easily and you like it, you are on your way.
Aspiring Retirement Home Lounge Pianist

#1095223 - 02/05/09 12:41 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
accidental Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/18/09
Posts: 17
Loc: Garden City, MI
As a gigging musician, I've always used the tried and true method of just getting out there, meeting people, and talking to them.

It's not so much what you can learn and improvise from books and programs, as much as it is getting in the right mindset, and you can learn that best by listening and observing the people who are already doing it. Find a few really solid people who have the gigs you'd like to have, and become their best friend \:\)

Good luck!

#1095224 - 02/05/09 03:04 AM Re: Cocktail Piano
nitekatt2008z Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/24/08
Posts: 552
It is getting harder to find piano bars and live piano in restaurants like it used to be in the 80's-90's. I really miss the piano bars as I have sat in and got to play a few tunes myself...

There are many books out that show some cocktail piano techniques plus offering some tips playing from fakebooks. If possible, there maybe a piano bar in your area where to can hang out and find out if the performer is teaching and try out a few lessons.

I have heard a lot of good things about the Sudnow Method, but don't have personal experience with the lessons, but it might be orth checking it out

#1095225 - 02/05/09 04:41 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
pianojazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/10/06
Posts: 359
Loc: dearborn, mi
I have never seen a formal study but I believe Most "cocktail" pianists have developed/perfected their style, by listening to other pianists. And I can say that in my case, what I listen to has a big influence on how I play. I think a lot of formally trained "classical" players rely too heavily on written music - as opposed to actually listening to another musician and hearing what is being played and how it is being played - don't listen with your eyes - listen with your ears - let the sound guide you, not the printed page. The best players are always the best listeners - not the best readers. Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to discourage you from looking at and reading the music - and books are all well and good - I'm trying to get you to listen to various players, let their music influence you, and let it come out as you refine it in your mind's ear.

#1095226 - 02/06/09 02:15 PM Re: Cocktail Piano
Elssa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/05
Posts: 1646
Loc: NY
"Find a few really solid people who have the gigs you'd like to have,.."

Thanks for the good advice, but there aren't any solo cocktail pianist gigs around here, no piano bars or anything like that, unfortunately. The only one I knew of was at Nordstrom's, but they've gotten rid of all their piano players now. \:\( I did find a teacher that is the keyboardist in a jazz group that performs locally, but he didn't like the cocktail style that I wanted to learn to play. Every time I played an arpeggio as a run/fill, he'd have a fit! Oh, well.. guess will just have to keep at it. I'm still with PianoMagic and also get some good stuff from YouTube, Scott Houston, etc.

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