THE PIANO GRIP SYSTEM
About The Book
The Piano Grip System: An Approach To Jazz Harmony is a 178-page book, co-authored by Whit Sidener and Jared Hall. It features original concept art and is currently available for hard copy print order.
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The grip system for piano is categorized by a variety of four-note seventh chords, called grips, which can be played by a single hand. This method is primarily for non-pianists seeking to improve their knowledge of harmony and theory through the piano. This is an approach for learning harmony and theory, maximizing understanding of theoretical concepts through shape and visualization, to aid in improvisation. Since these chords can be “gripped” by a single hand, the system is defined by relating numerous types of grips to a variety of chords.
Benefits of the Grip System
Advancing from a simple to intricate fashion, the organization and approach of the system provides the individual with:
1. a development of jazz piano skills specifically for the non-pianist
2. a comprehensive understanding of chord-scale relationships
3. various ways to understand chord structures and scales, including their applications
4. terminology for labeling upper structures of chords
5. additional aural acuteness related to jazz harmony and chord progressions
6. visualization skills in relationship to chord symbols, intervals, and transposition
7. tools for learning improvisation
Describing the grip system, Sidener said, “You’re going to get much better at intervals. You’re going to get much better at recognizing triads, triads in inversions, and in your head and in your ears—visualizing and hearing."
Concepts within the Grip Method
Using the grip system the student will learn a variety of:
chord structures including major, minor, dominant, half-diminished, diminished, altered, augmented, whole tone, suspended
scales including the modes of major, melodic minor, diminished, augmented, pentatonics, tritone
piano voicings including closed, drop two, quartal, "Red Garland", "So What", "Bill Evans", "salsa"
jazz standards such as Body & Soul, Stella by Starlight, Giant Steps, Dolphin Dance, Someday My Prince Will Come, Very Early, Invitation
other concepts related to improvisation such as inversions, triad pairs, common chord progressions, chord substitutions, enharmonics, and transposition
Sidener’s method addresses many of the major concepts within
jazz theory which can aid an individual in successful improvisation.
When discussing how deep and detailed his concept is, Sidener
responded, “Once you start to deal with it, it’s all there.”
Praise for the Piano Grip System
“This book will be a required text for my students! Jared Hall has done a great job in explaining the Grip System - an integrated approach to harmony through the piano, as formulated by legendary educator Whit Sidener. This method will not only endow you with functional piano skills, so important no matter what your instrument, but will unlock the harmonic code so that you can easily access and visualize materials for improvising and composing.”
Brian Lynch, Multi-Grammy® Award Winning Trumpeter, Composer, Educator; Professor, Frost School Of Music
“My old friend Whit Sidener and Jared Hall have put together a method that is really a life’s work and has applications that any musician on any instrument, whether pro or student can utilize in their development – very well organized and thorough.”
Randy Brecker – Multi-Grammy® Award Winning Trumpeter & Flügelhornist
“Trumpeter Jared Hall has created an invaluable resource for jazz performers, educators, and students alike, with this comprehensive and detailed presentation of renown educator Whit Sidener’s “Grip System”. A highly effective method of learning the intricacies and nuances of both standard and modern jazz harmony, this proven system has been taught to students for over 30 years with fantastic results. A must buy!”
Martin Bejerano – Assistant Professor, Jazz Piano, Frost School Of Music at The University of Miami
“What Jared has done is create one of the most monumental contributions to music education. The grip system is a highly successful, time-tested method for learning and understanding jazz harmony. Jared's book serves to organize and systematize this method in a way that is accessible to students, teachers, and professionals alike! This is a game changer for music education!"
Dr. Derek Ganong – Professor of Trumpet and Director of Jazz, Boise State University
“Whit Sidener’s ‘grip system’ helps unlock the mystery of chords, scales, and progressions. It has played a major role in my personal understanding of harmony, and will make anyone a hipper piano player. Kudos to Jared Hall for getting it into print!”
Gary Keller – Professor of Professional Practice, Saxophone and Jazz Studies, Frost School Of Music at The University of Miami
“Jared Hall has done some amazing work here. For those of us fortunate to have had Whit Sidener as a teacher, we know that his method is tremendously effective. Hall’s book is a must buy for any jazz educator, performer, student, or hobbyist. I wholeheartedly recommend it.”
Dr. Angelo Versace – Director of Jazz Studies, University of Arizona
An Approach to Jazz Harmony
Many sources were collected in order to clearly understand, define, and explain the piano grip system as utilized in the teaching of Whit Sidener. Personal notes from Sidener’s advanced improvisation course in the fall of 2012 have been used as a reference to create examples and figures detailing the grip system in a clearly notated format. Video recordings from the spring 2013 semester were used to modify and enhance clarity from the author’s personal notes. Multiple interviews were conducted with Sidener to ensure absolute accuracy of the codification of his approach to the system. My contribution has come from the transcription of clearly notated examples and figures in combination with explanatory text methodizing the entire grip system.
I want to emphasize, especially to theory enthusiasts, that the grip system is designed using chords, scales, and structures which jazz artists and educators in the field are fluent in. “It’s about the approach—it’s just a way to deal with this stuff,” said Sidener regarding the grip system. Rather than add to the jazz vernacular, it provides an alternate perspective when dealing with jazz theory and piano. The approach through the grip system was developed to be accessible to students without overwhelming them with massive and complex philosophies.
Awarded a full-time tenure track in 1975 at the University of Miami, Sidener became an important jazz educator which contributed to the creation and evolution of many great artists and educators. A few of them include Pat Metheny, Maria Schneider, Roger Ingram, Ed Calle, and Jonathan Kreisberg. Over the years, Sidener received the International Association of Jazz Education (IAJE) Award for Outstanding Service to Jazz Education and the Phillip Frost Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship. For over twenty years he directed the University of Miami Concert Jazz Band, one of the most recognized institutional jazz ensembles in the country. The ensemble recorded five single albums, two double albums, and four CDs under Sidener’s direction. They also toured Europe, the Middle East, and both Central and South America.
While Sidener’s method is greatly influenced by the teaching of Jerry Coker, it also uses concepts derived from George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. David Baker, who was a student and performer with Russell, is the most likely indirect influence on Sidener’s grip system. Even though Sidener never studied with Baker, he received many of the concepts through those whom were studying with him. Gary Campbell, who studied with Baker in the 1960’s, had a large influence on Sidener’s concepts within the grip system. When discussing his education, Sidener said, “I learned a lot from Gary Campbell. When I went back to Indiana the second time, I kind of taught myself some stuff, but then those guys were going to Indianapolis…he [Campbell] and Randy Brecker were taking lessons from David and they would come back and I’d pick up as much as I could off of them.”
Though Sidener acknowledges learning from Gary Campbell, he sought a way to discover and comprehend everything in a simpler way. “He [Campbell] sees things a little different than I do. I came up with my system, when I knew those guys when I was young, to try to see what they were seeing—if I could take what they did and simplify it.” Sidener’s approach utilizes corresponding scales which are represented by a grip, a chord’s upper structure seventh chord. “This is sort of like George Russell simplified,” Sidener exclaimed when discussing the scale relationship between a chord and a given grip.
Dr. David Deacon-Joyner, Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies at
Pacific Lutheran University -Tacoma, Washington (retired):
"The two quotes that define the spirit of Jared Hall and Whit Sidener's new text The Piano Grip System: An Approach to Learning Jazz Harmony come from Sidener ("it's just a way to deal with this stuff") and pianist Mark Levine ("There is no single, all-inclusive jazz theory. In fact, that's why the subject is called jazz theory rather than jazz truth."). Ironically, Levine's quote is from his text The Jazz Theory Book (emphasis mine), a title that might lead the reader to think his is the definitive last word, whereas Hall and Sidener's title clearly identifies their method as an approach. There is a common stock of terminology and perceptions in jazz theory and harmony that can be found in the pantheon of texts on the subject. How we see and come to understand the musical phenomena in jazz is highly subjective and, like those of us who need eyeglasses, we can use as many choices of lenses as we can get. In a way, jazz theory is folksy and casual, even inconsistent, but always pragmatic, and is never a monument to a particular theorist or school of thought. Even our chord nomenclature is not standardized, though Clinton Roemer in his 1973 book The Art of Music Copying made a valiant effort to do so. Only experience and common sense help us to determine it's a Major 7th chord, whether it is indicated with a triangle or an "Maj. 7" or a chord is indicated as a half-diminished in one spot and a minor 7th flat 5th in another. The ambiguity and multiple perceptions in theory should be celebrated and any approach, or combination of approaches, is fair game when trying to get through to yourself or a student.
The grip system is the personal theoretical pilgrimage of Whit Sidener (a woodwind player) to process the jazz concepts he was taking in during his time at Indiana University when jazz theory pioneers Jamey Aebersold, David Baker, and Jerry Coker (the triumvirate "ABC's of jazz") were themselves expanding upon the groundwork laid by George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization of 1959. During his many years as director of jazz studies at the University of Miami, Sidener imparted his approach to his students, with the particular goal of helping non-pianists wrap their head around rootless voicings that jazz pianists, composers, and arrangers actually use. Hall (a trumpet player) was one of his students and went on to further codify Sidener's method in his DMA dissertation that resulted in this book.
Let's say for instance, that a student is shown the pitches (low to high) F, B, and E. Depending on what bass note is under it, it can be a G13 chord (7-3-13 shell) or a Db7(#9) (3-7-9 shell). It could be an F Maj.7(b5, no3) or a Dm6/9. Instead of thinking of this 3-note aggregate voicing as four or more different chords, why not think of it as one "grip," a tactile reference to placing the same fingers on the same notes to get a lot of different chords and harmonic contexts. If you add the note "A" to it, you get what Hall and Sidener label a "lydian grip," identified by the bottom note (F) of the grip and the inferred mode as you move up the note stack.
Over the course of the book, the book carefully labels and categorizes different grips, ties them to a corresponding mode or scales (melodic minor is used extensively), then applies them to different root notes to yield a variety of sophisticated chord voicings using upper extensions and altered 5ths and 9ths. After giving the student a firm foundation in fundamental left-hand voicings, a polychordal grip approach is introduced for the right hand through what the authors call "salsa" voicings and "Red Garland" voicings. On page 82, for instance, a two-hand voicing is given for a Dm11 chord, described in grip system speak (a major grip from the flat third with an additional major triad based off the flat seventh in second inversion), but the authors also describe it as a 2nd-inversion C triad in the right hand over a root position FMaj7 chord in the left.
This latter description may be more accessible to some readers. It reminds me of a story told by Quincy Jones in his 2001 autobiography where he recalls one of his first hangouts with Ray Charles when they were both teenagers in Seattle. Ray showed Q how hip the sound was when you play a root position D7 over a root position C7. The result, of course, is a full tertian chord stack that make a C9(#11 13), but to break it down into a stack of two simple 7th chords gets you up and running much quicker, the same way the authors (and other theory teachers) break a scale up into two bite-sized tetrachords for easier digestion. As The Piano Grip System stands, the student will have to do the mental drill of learning the unique terminology of this method as outlined in the table of contents and appendices. As stated at the beginning of this review, there are many paths to understanding jazz theory and, if this method clicks with the reader, then learning the grip system lingo will be well rewarded.
I read through Hall and Sidener's book with great interest and, as a jazz pianist, enjoyed looking at the stuff I've utilized for years in a whole new way. I have adopted aspects of the grip system in my own teaching without requiring the rigorous labeling. The visual/tactile experience that is unique to playing the piano invites hybridizing the grip system with earlier and reliable voicing concepts, such as the three-note left hand shells described above that were championed by Dan Haerle (also commonly called "Red Garland" voicings, though we suspect they actually were developed by Ahmad Jamal). The Piano Grip System is a valuable and welcome addition to the arsenal of windows into the rich world of jazz harmony. Thanks to Jared Hall's heroic effort to self-publish this book, the grip system can now reach beyond the University of Miami and be explored and pondered by a much wider audience."
Dr. David Deacon-Joyner, Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies at
Pacific Lutheran University -Tacoma, Washington (retired)
"The class has been fabulous and helps me in several different areas at once. While training me to be able to play through a tune's changes on the piano (which I couldn't do before and now can do), the class has also really helped my ear, especially in recognizing extended, complex harmonies, given me a better understanding of those harmonies and their uses, and has given me a lot of insight into ways to approach those harmonies on my horn to boot."
-Eric Beck, Jazz Night School Student, Winter 2016
“I received so much out of this class. It opened up a whole new world of harmonic options for me. It is also terrific ear training. I feel I can take what I learned and expand on it to aid me in finding more scale types to create interesting solos. I have a year’s worth of material to practice on! Thank you!"
-Linda Hubert, Jazz Night School Student, Winter 2016
"I took a grip system piano class with Jared, and it was a fantastic and very practical overview of voicings for those of us who weren't trained in jazz piano. Jared was always incredibly patient, kind and knowledgeable as our instructor, and created a friendly and supportive learning environment for trying new things. I would definitely take another class with him!"
-Deb S., Jazz Night School Student, Spring 2016
Before You Get Started...
Before pursuing this method, students are encouraged to have prerequisite music theory knowledge including intervals, triads, scale degrees, seventh chords, traditional harmony, and the major scale tonal system. Any student pursuing the grip system approach to playing piano must have a basic knowledge of the piano including knowledge of the names and written notation of notes in relation to the keyboard.
Learn The System
The Piano Grip System is currently taught through clinics and private studio instruction. This approach has been taught at The University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL), Northwest University (Kirkland, WA) and Jazz Night School (Seattle, WA).
A 305-page dissertation, completed at the University of Miami, can be downloaded for free online. It includes research related to the history of jazz pedagogy and education, jazz theory resources, a small portion of the piano grip system’s method, the domains of learning, interviews with Whit Sidener, and much more. Click HERE for the free PDF download.