"Love on the Rocks/Bennie and the Jets" - Sara Bareilles

Many students love playing popular music and I encourage them to share their favorites so that we may incorporate them into their lesson repertoire. As we learn music that falls outside the realm of classical music, it is vital we consider how we achieve the style and groove of the original recording. Just as certain techniques (called performance practice) inform the way pianists play Bach, Mozart, Schubert, etc., different techniques are often used in playing popular styles (jazz, R&B, rock, pop). This week I will break down some these considerations in Sara Bareilles performance of "Love On the Rocks." Bareilles is a songwriter, pianist, and Broadway actor, who first became famous with her song "Love Song," and later, "Gravity." She wrote the Broadway musical, "Waitress," which has toured nationally.

"Love on the Rocks" opens with a simple three chord progression, I-ii-V-I. These are among the most common chords in classical and popular music, but the rhythm and articulation gives the progression energy. Like many of Bareilles's songs, the bass line uses syncopation (when it does not align with the strong pulse). Saying the subdivisions of the meter while listening (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, and 1 e & a, etc.), it is apparent how much the groove is dependent on unwaivering pulse (tempo). Notice how the RH varies between unison rhythm with the LH, and responses to the bass. Later in the song, the RH plays sixteenth note subdivisions, highlighting the steadiness and syncopation of the LH.

Compared to most classical pianists, Bareilles plays very percussively. If she sang with a band rather than the piano, the LH would be the bass part, and the RH would be the guitar chords. At the new section (1:15), she adds the damper pedal and begins to vary the RH by playing lines outlining the harmony, rather than blocked chords. These styles alternate a few times before a sustained section (3:15), where Bareilles uses a more classical touch. When she switches to the RH sixteenth-notes, the styles is similar to Elton John, providing for an easy way for Bareilles to shift into his tune, "Bennie and the Jets."