Accompanying Blog Post For Video: “How to play ‘CLOCKS’ by Coldplay on the piano”
What a great song! It’s the perfect rock piano song and these guys are one of the best rock piano bands, so I absolutely love teaching students how to play their music. Why?
1. The Piano Shines Through
The piano parts in Coldplay’s music are rarely just background filler sounds. Instead, the piano seems to be at the forefront of many of their songs. There are often interludes between sections that feature the vocals of Chris Martin, and in those interludes we often find a piano taking the lead role. Here, in ‘Clocks,’ that is definitely the case!
2. Complex, but Accessible Rhythmic Pattern
In each of these piano interludes, the right hand melody outlines chord shapes with a specific rhythmic pattern. I call this pattern the ‘3-3-2’ rhythm, because the phrases are grouped as such: three 8th notes, three 8th notes, then 2 8th notes. More often than not (especially in pop music), in a measure of 4/4 time signature we’d see the 8th notes grouped in a more symmetrical fashion (2-2-2-2, 4-2-2, etc), but here we have a little bit of a mind trick because it sounds like we are in a triple meter instead of duple because the first two groups are both groups of 3. The final group of 2 rounds us back again to 4/4, completing the group of eight 8th notes instead of continuing in a 3 pattern. For more on what I call the ‘3-3-2’ rhythm, check out this YouTube video breaking it down with real song examples, including the ‘Clocks’ riff!
Now this may seem a bit heady or too theory-driven, but the good news is despite its complex nature, the ‘3-3-2’ rhythm is very easy to internalize. Mostly because each measure of 3-3-2 groupings outlines the same chord inversion. So my tip to you is this: start by learning each measure as a block chord so that your hand can get accustomed to the shapes. In other words, play the full Eb major chord in 1st inversion without the 8th note rhythms; play the whole Bb minor chord in 2nd inversion; play the whole F minor chord in root position. Play along with the video or the accompaniment in the app for a while only using those block chords in whole notes. THEN, start to dissect the rhythms and subdivide using the ‘3-3-2’ pattern, once your hand is very familiar with each shape. I bet you’ll be surprised by how quickly you pick up the rhythms!
3. Perfect Lesson on Intermediate Inversions
I mentioned above that the right hand melody outlines chord inversions. That’s another reason why this song is a great learning tool for intermediate players! ‘Clocks’ is not in the easiest of key signatures, so each of the chords outlined contains at least one flat. The progression is: Eb, Bbm, Bbm, Fm. If you were to play each of those as root position triads, your hand would be doing a lot of jumping around and moving positions. And that is why inversions are so helpful: because changing the order of the notes in some of the chords within a progression can make it a lot easier to physically play because it reduces the distance your hand has to travel.
So, When we put an Eb major chord in 1st inversions, it is spelled from bottom to top as G, Bb, Eb. When we put the following chord (Bbm) in 2nd inversion, it is spelled F, Bb, Db. If we analyze the distance from each of the three notes in the first chord to their respective notes in the 2nd chord, we see very minimal movement: G down to F is a whole step; Bb to Bb — no change at all!; Eb down to Db is a whole step. That’s it!
Now from Bb minor 2nd inversion to F minor root position (note we don’t always have to invert every chord to make a progression easier), we similarly only have to move 2 notes. Remember, Bb minor 2nd inversion is spelled F, Bb, Db; F minor root position is spelled F, Ab, C. So let’s analyze the distance again: F to F — no change!; Bb down to Ab is a whole step; Db down to C is a half step. So again, barely any movement required of the hand to play through this progression when we invert some of the chords.
If you love using your favorite songs to learn the piano, check out ‘CLOCKS’ at the Playground Sessions YouTube channel. If you like what you see you can download the app to learn the rest with our interactive sheet music.
For more blog posts by Playground Teacher Phil Anderson, click here.
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