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5 Ways to Play Like Hiromi

(Image credit: Getty/David Wolff - Patrick)

Hiromi Uehara was playing in her home country of Japan when she met jazz keyboard icon Chick Corea. Corea was so impressed at the talent of the then 17-year-old prodigy that on the very next day, the two performed in concert together. Classically trained from the age of five, Hiromi developed a virtuosic, multi-genre approach and an ability to captivate audiences with her live performances. Ever since, Hiromi has been performing to sold-out crowds around the globe. On her new trio album Move, Hiromi is in top form on both piano and synth. Let’s examine a few of her signature musical devices.

1. Fourths and Fifths

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Ex. 1 demonstrates how Hiromi is fond of riffs in unusual time signatures. In the right hand we have a fourthshape that repeats while a motif voiced in fifths twists in the left hand below. This exercise works well over an minor tonality.

2. Wah Synth

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On “Endeavour” from her new album MOVE, Hiromi brings on the quirky funk with a wah synth patch. In Ex. 2, I salute her groove-oriented explorations with a two-handed line that employs Messiaen’s third mode of limited transposition, harmonized in thirds. This unusual scale contains both the major and minorthird of a tonality. Our funky riff ends with a descending passage in 5/8 time, based on fourths.

3. Lydian Lines

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Inspired by the first movement of Hiromi’s Escapism suite, the left hand stabs fifths while the right spins an odd-meter Lydianmoderiff. In this exercise we descend by whole-steps, but a great practice tip is to try moving your own musical ideas around by thirds, fourths, and other intervals.

4. Cat and Mouse

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Ex. 4 demonstrates how Hiromi often plays affecting parts in both hands at once. This exercise begins with a closely spaced modal line that closes tothirds in bars 3 and 4. Another great way to practice two-handed parts is by doubling right-hand lines in your left hand. This builds independence and strength in your left hand. Don’t limit yourself to just thirds and fourths—try constructing two-handed lines with wider intervals as well.

5. Classical Devices

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Hiromi often incorporates elements of classical music in her playing, like the crossing of the hands. In Ex. 5, the right hand plays a modal ostinato figure while the left hand plays a simple melody. In bar 5, the left hand crosses over the right-hand pattern and plays the melody in a higher register. All the notes from this are derived from the Dorian mode.