In this article I talk about how I arranged the famous song Imagine by John Lennon for solo piano. You can listen to my version in the video below.
What you will learn
- Arranging for solo piano
(combining accompaniment and melody)
- Reharmonization techniques
(adding color tones, passing diminished chords, diatonic chords)
How I arranged the song Imagine for Solo Piano
I thought it might interest you that I first performed the piece, and transcribed it after-the-fact. The performance was basically improvised. Of course I did try out a few different things before I hit the record button. For example, the special changes towards the end of the piece I composed before I recorded it. Everything else came naturally.
What I changed and didn’t change
Tip: Before you read on I recommend you listen to the original recording!
As an arranger I always look for ways how I can change things without destroying the integrity of the song. This means I leave the melody mostly as is (with the exception of some rhythmic changes), while embellishing the chord changes. The feel of the arrangement may also differ somewhat from the original, without destroying the overall mood.
The accompaniment John chose for Imagine is very simple yet very important. In fact, one recognizes the song after just hearing the piano intro for two seconds. An indication of John’s genius. You can see below what he played on the recording.
John’s original piano accompaniment during intro
Although I love his piano intro (which he keeps going throughout the song by only adjusting it to fit the chord changes) I like adding the major seventh to the C and F chord occasionally to give it a more jazzy sound.
I also added embellishments known from country music and other popular music styles. I also added syncopation to add a little more forward motion. I like to take these kind of liberties especially when I create a solo piano version of vocal driven songs.
My version of the intro
As you may have noticed, I also played it up an octave from the original. This actually happened more my accident. But I like it after all. It makes it a little brighter sounding.
In bar 3-4 you can clearly see the syncopated rhythm I have added to funk it up a little. By the way, why don’t you try sight-reading bar 3 and 4. If you hit it right the first time you are a sight-reading genius!
Please note: The red notes indicate fill-ins in the accompaniment. Those notes do not belong to the melody. Measure 10 shows the clever fill that John plays during the entire intro. This fill ends on the note D, which is the ninth of the C major chord. A very nice color tone that gives the accompaniment its special flavor.
A note on the Sustain Pedal use
When playing this arrangement it is imperative that we make good use of the sustain pedal, maybe even the sostenuto pedal. This is especially important to over scratching our fingers in the left hand. I created an entire tutorial on just the use of the piano pedals.
The left hand figure in Verse 1
The left hand uses two techniques. First, it is based on tenths. This is very common in jazz. It is a much nicer sound when we transpose the third of a C major triad in root position up a third.
Second, the rhythm is often a dotted 8th followed by a 16th note value, which adds drive to the accompaniment. This is often used in latin rhythms such as the bossa nova.
The right hand in Verse 1
Obviously the main job of the right hand is to perform the melody. I often harmonize the melody with at least 1 chordal tone to make it sound fuller. When the melody has a hold I play short fills (in red).
As an arranger I never repeat the same section the exact same way. For example, in Verse 2 of my Imagine arrangement I do an answer-response in the melody by transposing it up an octave. This ads a new element to the arrangement. In addition to transposing the responds (bar 11-12, 15-16), I also harmonize it in 6ths, and by adding 4 note close position chords at the end I increase the energy which makes the second verse stronger than the first one. A perfect way to lead up into the chorus.