What Is a Fake Book?

What Is a Fake Book? l Piano Diana



I wanted to share this brief intro with you... It's written by Michael Esterowitz.

What Is a Fake Book?


A "fake book" is a collection of music - usually popular, traditional, ethnic and semi-classical tunes - arranged in a skeletal form providing just the melody and the symbols for the accompanying chords. (They are presented in as abbreviated form as possible, with repetitions of sections and even slight variations not written out in full.) The actual playing of the song with full accompaniment is meant to be improvised or "faked" by the performer.

For years, fake books were used mostly by professional musicians, such as cocktail pianists or those in wedding or society bands. These books were invaluable to them because the condensed manner in which music was presented allowed a lot of songs (up to 1,000 or more!) to be published in one volume. Also, sightreading a song for the first time is usually a lot easier from a fake chart than from a full piano score, the latter having many more notes to read and pages to turn. They also give "pros" the freedom to stylize a song their own way, rather than to play it as arranged in a sheet music version.

The older "pro" fake books were usually not available to the general public. They could not be sold "over the counter" in music stores because they were illegal. (Their publisher did not pay royalties or secure permission to reprint the tunes from the rightful owners; hence, they broke copyright laws designed to protect composers.) Probably because of their underground or "bootleg" status, these illegal fake books often tended to be sloppily edited, mistake-ridden and difficult to read.

In recent years, however, "legal" fake books intended for amateur and professional musicians alike have become available. Players attracted to the obvious economy of these fake books have been buying them, but unless one knows how to use them, the results will not be satisfying.

Just what does one need to know to play from a fake book? For one thing, how to read simple music notation. This ability is assumed here. Although fake books only print music in the treble clef, our musical examples of how such renditions might be carried out are written in full piano scores.

There are two other things we need to learn to play successfully from a fake book. One is how to interpret chord symbols - that is, how to actually play all the various types of chords you will run across. This is not such difficult information to learn. Music tends to be fairly logical and consistent, and a chord type in one key will work the same way in another key. There are, in addition, common chord progressions (chord "changes," in musicians' jargon) which will help us make sense of most of the music we encounter.

The other main thing we need to learn is how to make the accompaniment interesting - how to give some character to the chords and rhythms in order to add flavor and motion to our playing. Merely fingering the correct notes of each chord is often not really satisfying - the total effect may be dull and amateurish. Yet it doesn't take all the skill and dexterity of an advanced pianist to sound professional. It's amazing how pleasing the results can be using quite easy-to-play patterns.

Accompanying a Singer from a Fake Book


Almost everyone who plays the piano has had the experience of being at a party where someone wants to sing, and of being asked to performing it solo. However, the playing that sounds best when someone else is singing or playing the melody can be quite different. 

Generally, the accompaniment does not double the melody, except where specifically desired for emphasis. This does not mean that you do not have to look at the melody line and only have to pay attention to the chords. It is important to be aware of the rhythmic character of the melody to support it properly. Knowing where the melody is busy and where it is not is essential in order to put fills and accents in good spots. You may wish to play a line in harmony with the melody, or one that creates a counterpoint to it. You must know where the dramatic "peaks" and "valleys" of the song are. Although an accompanist doesn't necessarily play the melody, he or she must always listen to it and anticipate where it is going.

Now you are no longer responsible for the melody, which greatly expands your possibilities. For example, you can play full block chords in the right hand over a left-hand bass line, or arpeggiated chords.

Example:



4/4  G  Am7 // Bm7  C //  G  Am7 //  Bm7  C  //

L.H. / R.H.

G = G, B, D/DGBD, GBDG

Am7 = A, C, E/EACE, ACEA

Bm7 = B, D, F#/F#ADF#, BDF#AD

C = C, E, G/GCEG

And...

G = G, F#, E, D/BDG

Am7 = E, G, F#, E/CEG

Bm7 = F#, A, B/BDF#

C = E, D, C, D/CEG

Or...

G = GBDG/G, B, D, G

Am7 = ACEG/A, C, E, G

Bm7 = BDF#A/B, D, F#, A

C = CEGC/C, E, G, E

Do you have a Fake Book? Here are a few recommendations:

The Real Book: Sixth Edition

The Ultimate Fake Book (For C Instruments)

Scott The Piano Guy's Favorite Piano Fake Book

(affiliate links in this post)

Warmly,






"Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life." -- Art Blakey
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