How to improvise a piano mashup (Overcooked & Rachmaninoff)

Wouldn’t it be fun to combine two unlikely pieces of catchy music, especially a modern piano piece with a classical piece?

What if we combined music from Overcooked (a videogame) with… Rachmaninoff?

My new friend Sydney joined me on this adventure. She runs Smart Game Piano where she teaches people how to play cool video game music by rote! Check out her website, Instagram, and Youtube!

This is our mashup! I explain the behind-the-scenes on how we mashed the pieces with a little improv in the article below…

a. Pick proper music

I’ve started playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude No 6 again, and it seems challenging to mash with Overcooked, so here we go!

Sydney had the Overcooked menu theme sheet music, and it turns out it’s in the same key as the Prelude, E flat major.

The major difference is the rhythm, as the Overcooked theme is more waltz-like with the jumpy left hand.

I wanted to improvise on this mashup, so I didn’t write anything down. Sydney and I played our own parts separately, but we would send our playing to each other so we could start off where the other person ended, to get a cohesive piece.

The Prelude has a lot of flowy left hand action and big chords in the right hand, whereas Overcooked has more block chords, like a waltz.

When I transition from Overcooked to Prelude, I keep the waltz-y left hand for a few bars (more on this later).

That’s a good rule of thumb for mashing: when you’re transitioning from one piece to the other, keep one element consistent from the old piece for a few bars, so it doesn’t sound like you completely switched to a new piece.

b. Find chords to transition!

Overcooked uses dissonant chords (we’re lucky with the music! As you may know, Rach enjoys funky chords) like iv flat 3, raising or lowering the thirds for the cute, quirky theme.

At first, I pivoted from one piece to the other using chords that are either almost identical or almost beside it, so I can invent a flat 3 chord and go back to the other piece.

For example, many of the Prelude No 6 passages have a C minor 7 chord, and one of the main Overcooked themes starts with a C minor chord, which I can easily add a 7th (B flat) to, without sounding too out of whack. I can use that chord as a transition, or pivot, between the pieces.

I experimented with different patterns in the left hand because I didn’t want to suddenly start playing block chords in Overcooked.

My go-to is playing broken triads, but it feels like a drastic change from the chromatics.

Finally, I figured out that if I play triads with a lot of passing chromatic tones between the triad notes, it sounds more like Rachmaninoff. E.g. for an A flat major chord, I’d play A flat, B flat, B natural, C, D, E flat, E, and so on.

c. The fun part of song mashups

Once you understand the structure of the music…

The fun and challenging part is not picking pivot chords to move from one song to the other. It’s inventing your own pivot chords and segments so that the transitions are your own.

When I’m doing this, I don’t think about the music theory or chords in my head. I’m still learning this, but I’ll try my best to explain.

Intuitively, I know that if I’m ending with a G min chord and I want to get to that C min 7 chord, for example, I make up chords that move down towards that C:

  • starting with iii chord in E flat major (G minor),
  • which goes to ii (F minor),
  • and eventually to vi, which is the destination C minor chord.

A good starting point for improv is knowing which chords progressions typically sound pleasant. There are a bunch of common progressions like, ii-vii7-I, ii-V-I, I-V-VII, and if you play them obsessively enough, you’ll be able to roll them off without thinking.

I–VI–IV–V(6/4)–V(8–7)–I is the required ARCT technique cadence, and it’s actually really useful for improv.

c. Jamming your mashup!

Sydney starts by playing the Overcooked theme, then adding a few Prelude chords in the right hand. She sends this to me.

Then I play Overcooked where she left off, and transition to the Prelude using some of the pivot techniques above.

We go back and forth a few times.

“I don’t know how I’ll top that,” Sydney says.

Then, she pulls out a mystery surprise in the end.

d. Keep making mistakes

I can transition pretty smoothly between the two pieces of music now, and add my own transition sections.

When you’re starting to mash music on-the-fly (improvise), try to pick similar enough pieces of music, and know your cadences.

Improv takes practice. If you pretend there’s a screechy record player inside your piano and expect to hear wacky chords once in a while, you should be fine.

Alright, let me know… what did you think of our mashup? If you’re wondering how to learn music faster, check out my chunking technique.

P.S. Be sure to check out Sydney’s website, Instagram, and Youtube if you’re interested in video game music :)

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