The Pianist's Search—Introduction

Listen to an Introduction to The Pianist's Search by the author, Adam Domash

I am so excited that you are visiting! I hope that the following pages will make it evident that The Pianist’s Search truly is a revolutionary breakthrough in the study of keyboard harmony and that it is the most helpful system for pianists who want to expand their use of keyboard harmony that is available anywhere! While this system is oriented towards the modern jazz idiom, it will help a pianist to play from fake books, compose, arrange, or improvise in any musical style.

The Pianist’s Search is a 196-page book plus two audio CDs with 1h49m of instructional recordings. It provides:

  1. An explanation of the relationship between the harmonic series, the circle of fifths, and the ii-7 V7 IM7 progression
  2. Comprehensive exercises in chord voicings, printed in every key
  3. Instructions for labeling chords with accurate chord symbols
  4. Techniques for building chord progressions
  5. An exercise that is based on a simple yet most useful procedure for discovering and choosing chord substitutions, printed in every key
  6. Step by step practice routines which enable a pianist to structure their practicing in the most strategic way possible
  7. Customized, audio CD, metronome clicktracks to be used while practicing
  8. Practice directives for the choreography and interpretation of your practicing
  9. Numerous musical examples that are based on the exercises
  10. Fingerings for all exercises and examples
  11. Audio CD demonstrations of all exercises and examples
  12. Techniques for arranging
  13. A complete arrangement that serves as a culmination of the preceding materials
  14. A harmonic reminder list to be used when voicing chords, reharmonizing, composing, and arranging
  15. Step by step instructions in how to apply the presented materials to the playing of fake book tunes

The Pianist’s Search guides a pianist through the practicing of a vast spectrum of perfectly organized and highly expressive harmonic materials. In addition, it directs the pianist to remain focused on the most effective technique for the mastery of keyboard harmony - muscle memory. The muscular memorization (as well as the intellectual understanding, aural cognizance, and keyboard visualization) of all of the materials is achieved through physical practice rather than theoretical analysis. The practicing is performed entirely by reading. The guidance that The Pianist’s Search provides is so thorough and multi-faceted, a pianist only requires the abilities to read music and follow succinct directions in order to use it properly.

Muscle Memory

If you are a pianist who has memorized classical pieces, you know that muscle memory is at the core of the memorization process. It’s as if the fingers themselves have accomplished the memorization of the piece. While it is preferable to understand the compositional aspects of a piece (such as the melodic, harmonic, and structural elements) as completely as possible, it is often the case that a pianist can perform a complicated piece from memory without being able to recite the chord progression and melody while they are away from the piano. The Pianist’s Search directs you to apply this same process of muscular memorization to the functional learning of modern jazz oriented harmony.

Exercise I: Nine, Central, Two-Handed Chord Voicings

Chords are often analyzed categorically. A given chord can be said to be major, minor, dominant, clustered, tertial, quartal, quintal, diatonic, modal, chromatic, altered, extended, inverted, suspended, bitonal, polytonal, or blocked.

In fact, most chords almost always fall into several of these categories. However, the best way to learn how to create and use all of these types of chords is not by studying them as individual structures, but rather, by seeing how they are modifications or outgrowths of just a few, basic, central chord voicings. The purpose of this exercise is to ingrain into your muscle memory, your harmonic hearing, and your keyboard visualization, nine central two-handed chord voicings so that they become your "primary harmonic colors." Then, our second exercise (in minor third substitutions) introduces a vast array of chord voicings, and blends this expanded palette of chord voicings with our method of reharmonization, thereby giving you a procedural system for creating the harmonic aspect of your music.

Here are the nine, two-handed chord voicings starting on C:

Nine two-handed voicings starting on C

These nine chord voicings are printed in all twelve keys in such a way as to make the learning of them as straightforward as possible. Again, remember that you will not be required to memorize them intellectually, but rather, through the more practical and functional process of muscular memorization.

Exercise II: Thirty-Two Variations of the ii-7 V7 IM7 Progression Based on Minor Third Substitutions

At the core of this system is a method for discovering and choosing chord substitutions which are called minor third substitutions. The procedure is applied to an exercise that has you ingrain into your muscle memory, thirty-two reharmonized variations of the ii-7 V7 IM7 progression, in all twelve keys. (Each variation actually has four chords instead of three.) Here's how it works:


To find the minor third substitutions for the ii-7 chord, build a diminished 7th chord starting from the tonic of the ii-7 chord. In CM, the ii-7 is D-7. A D diminished 7th chord is D,F,Ab,B. Build a minor 7th chord from each of the three upper notes of the D diminished 7th chord to derive F-7, Ab-7, and B-7 as the three minor third substitutions for D-7.


To find the minor third substitutions for the V7 chord, build a diminished 7th chord starting from the tonic of the V7 chord. In CM, the V is G7. A G diminished 7th chord is G,Bb,Db,E. Build a dominant 7th chord from each of the three upper notes of the G diminished 7th chord to derive Bb7, Db7, and E7 as the three minor third substitutions for G7.


To find the minor third subs. for the IM7 chord, build a diminished 7th chord starting from the tonic of the IM7 chord. In CM, the IM7 is CM7. A C diminished 7th chord is C,Eb,Gb,A. Build a major 7th chord from each of the three upper notes of the C diminished 7th chord to derive EbM7, GbM7, and AM7 as the three minor third substitutions for CM7.

Here is the ii-7 V7 IM7 progression in CM, and each chord's minor third substitutions:

Minor Third Substitutions

Minor third substitutions function as chord substitutions for the original chord. So, we can replace the D-7 with an F-7, Ab-7, or B-7. We can replace the G7 with a Bb7, Db7, or E7. Also, we can replace the CM7 with an EbM7, GbM7, or AM7. (How and why this method works is explained in detail in the book.)

Let's go one step further by realizing that any combination of our minor third substitutions can work:

Any combination of minor third substitutions can work

Any of the minor seventh chords can go to any of the dominant seventh chords, and any of the dominant seventh chords can go to any of the major seventh chords. This gives us sixty-three variations of our original ii-7 V7 IM7 progression. Now, consider that each of these chords can be revoiced many different ways, and that their qualities (whether they are minor seventh, dominant seventh, or major seventh chords) can be changed. So, in effect, we'll have hundreds of variations of our ii-7 V7 IM7 progression, all stemming from the use of minor third substitutions! Ultimately, it is the melody, along with one’s personal preference, that will dictate which chords and voicings one chooses. This method can also be applied to chords that aren’t part of a ii-7 V7 IM7 progression.

Here are the thirty-two reharmonized variations of the ii-7 V7 IM7 progression in CM. Each variation includes a diagram that shows which of the available minor third substitutions have been chosen and voiced for that particular variation. These thirty-two variations are also printed in the book in all other eleven keys!

Step by Step Practice Routines and Customized Metronome Clicktracks

The step by step practice routines and customized metronome clicktracks enable any pianist to practice the provided materials in the most strategic and systematic way possible. The practice routines have you divide vast amounts of harmonic materials into very small and manageable practice units, and then reassemble them into larger practice units in a supremely methodical manner. The metronome clicktracks are integral to the proper use of the practice routines. Each practice unit is to be "looped" (played repeatedly) in synchronization with it’s clicktrack. The clicktrack has you begin each practice unit at a very slow tempo. This ensures that you create a "margin of ease" at the onset of practice for each unit. Then, the clicktrack gradually speeds up until it reaches it’s final tempo. The many repetitions of each practice unit provide for a very thorough practice regiment. In addition, the clicktracks have you speed up each practice unit to a sufficiently fast tempo. This is crucial because once you have sped up a practice unit to a fast tempo, the physical movements become reflexive. Muscle memory results from reflexive conditioning. The practice routines and metronome clicktracks will enable you to focus and concentrate to a degree that would be impossible to achieve without them!

Practice Directives

Practice Directives are specific practice techniques that explain exactly how to choreograph and interpret the practicing of the exercises. They are expressly designed to facilitate muscular memorization, and applying them will greatly maximize the effectiveness of your practicing. While they might seem like alot to remember at first, they actually describe one, very specific way of practicing.

How Will I Ever Be Able to Apply So Many Levels of Guidance to My Practicing?!?

This seemingly impossible task is made easy, and here’s how. Each practice routine is printed in duplicate, and one copy of the practice routine is to be removed from the book and placed on the left side of the music rack. It continuously tells you exactly how much to practice next. The chapter that presents the Practice Directives includes a Practice Directive Summary Sheet which is also printed in duplicate. The copy of it is also to be removed from the book and placed to the right of the practice routine. It’s a constant reminder of how (technically) to practice. The book, opened to the exercise you are practicing, is to be placed to the right of the Practice Directives Summary Sheet. Everything is to be ingrained into your muscle memory through reading, and you are never asked to interrupt your practicing to theorize. Your CD player containing the customized metronome clicktracks (or your CD player’s remote control) is within reach, so you don’t have to keep reaching over to adjust the tempo of a metronome. In addition to all this, everything that you are to practice is demonstrated on the audio CDs, so you'll know exactly how everything is supposed to sound before you begin practicing! It is this multi-faceted guidance that makes The Pianist’s Search a totally directive system.

The Universal Dominant Chord Voicing

The right hand’s part of one of the Nine, Central, Two-Handed Chord Voicings (the 13 b9 chord) can be considered to be a universal dominant chord voicing because it can begin on any interval for a dominant chord, it can be used with any melody note, and it always sounds good. There is an exercise that has you play all twelve starting points of this chord within twelve different ii-7 V7 IM7 progressions in the key of FM. You’ll see how in each instance, the arrangement makes the quality of the universal voicing appropriate within that particular example. This voicing is used in practically every tonal style, and the particular harmonic nuances that it provides (by beginning on different intervals) make it often essential for the realization of a particular harmonic mood.

How to Use Minor Third Substitutions/Musical Examples

The Pianist’s Search includes many musical examples. Just like the exercises, they are to be ingrained into your muscle memory. They illustrate how to apply all of the materials that have been presented to specific musical contexts. All of the examples are arrangements and so this is where The Pianist’s Search has you bring together the use of chord voicings and chord substitutions with arranging techniques. Specifically, there are sixteen excerpts of Stella by Starlight, sixteen excerpts of All The Things You Are, nine excerpts of It Never Entered My Mind, twelve examples of the universal dominant chord voicing and a complete arrangement of Danny Boy.

Take a look at one reharmonized excerpt of Stella By Starlight and its arrangement.

Take a look at one reharmonized excerpt of All The Things You Are and its arrangement.

Building Chord Progressions

Every pianist who uses fake books encounters spots in tunes where a chord symbol is repeated several times, but where they would rather play different, changing chords. Another similar difficulty is when a ii-7 V7 is stretched over two, slow measures but a pianist would rather play four (or more) different chords instead of just another ii-7 V7 progression. The chapter on building chord progressions presents a method for changing a repeated chord, or a ii-7 V7 progression into different changing chords - but it’s really about more than just that - it’s a step by step procedure for building endless, expressive chord progressions. In addition, the step by step procedure provided in this chapter shows how to expand our method of reharmonization by using "neighboring chords" so that we are not limited to just using minor third substitutions.

This chapter presents the first four measures of It Never Entered My Mind.

Notice how the first five chords are all F chords.  The following columns of chords were derived using the method for changing a repeated chord into different, changing chords.  Realize that these possible chord substitutions were arrived at by a procedure that doesn't require that you can hear them before you find them. Here are the available chord substitutions for each of the five, repeated F chords:

Now, instead of being limited to playing five F chords in a row, we have fourteen different chord choices for the first chord, thirteen different choices for the second chord, and four different chord choices for the third, forth, and fifth chords - but it doesn't end there - each of these chords can be voiced various different ways!  The book then presents eight, reharmonized arrangements for the first five measures of It Never Entered My Mind using various combinations of the chords that were derived by our step by step procedure. Of course, every arrangement is demonstrated on the audio CD.  This method is a fantastic way to develop your harmonic hearing and imagination. I believe that for pianists who are dedicated to actualizing their true harmonic abilities, this chapter, which teaches the combined use of minor third substitutions with neighboring chords, by itself, is worth the price of the entire system!

Labeling Chords

Labeling chords with accurate chord symbols is often a daunting skill to acquire, but it doesn’t have to be. Realize that any chord is most easily viewed as a combination of various notes of a major scale (including notes of a major scale that have been sharped or flatted). The actual notes of a major scale are called diatonic pitches and are considered to be consonant. Notes of a major scale which have been sharped or flatted are called chromatic pitches and are considered to be dissonant. While chords are also derived by combining notes from other types of scales, such as modal, minor, diminished, whole tone, and pentatonic scales, even these chords can be clearly and more quickly understood when seen as a combination of notes taken from a major scale. Think of a major scale as being like the alphabet. Just as we group together letters from the alphabet to form a word, we combine notes of a major scale to form a chord. There is actually a relatively small amount of information that is needed to understand how to label chords with accurate chord symbols. This information is described very succinctly, it is illustrated in a helpful table, and there are also ninety-six different "closed position" chords starting on C which serve as examples that clarify how to label chords with accurate chord symbols.

Harmonic Reminder List

The practice regiments that are provided in The Pianist’s Search contain a vast spectrum of expressive and diversified harmonic materials. There are also many harmonic procedures that teach you how to use chord substitutions, build chord progressions, and arrange. This necessitates the need for a Harmonic Reminder List because it would be difficult to call forth so many new musical possibilities. The Harmonic Reminder List that is included with this system enables you to develop the ability to remember everything that you have learned after having worked your way through the exercises and examples. It is divided into three categories:

and it is intended to be referred to while you are working from a fake book, composing, or arranging.

Your Assignment

Once you have completed this system, you are faced with the challenge of personalizing everything that you have learned. As you enter this phase of your studies, your goal is to search for, find, and actualize the specific nuances of your harmonic hearing. This task is far more difficult than was working your way through this system because it involves a tremendous amount of decision making. The key to your success is to continue to be methodical. One of the most common obstacles to developing a personal command over harmony is the tendency to try to do everything at once. The Pianist’s Search solves this dilemma by providing a very specific, step by step course of action for the reharmonizing and arranging of fake book tunes. This same methodology is applicable to the composing of original music.