5 Ways To Play Like Hiromi

August 21, 2013

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


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

2. Wah Synth


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 minor third of a tonality. Our funky riff ends with a descending passage in 5/8 time, based on fourths.

3. Lydian Lines


Inspired by the first movement of Hiromi’s Escapism suite, the left hand stabs fifths while the right spins an odd-meter Lydian mode riff. 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


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 to thirds 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


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 D Dorian mode.

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