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Now it is time to start playing chords and making music. The starting point will be to learn about harmony in music.
Primarily chords are what make up the harmony of music especially when they combine with chord to make a melody. This is what finalizes a piece of music. Harmony can be made up of more detailed parts. When you learn how chords are played, you have a better grasp of the song you are learning and will be able to commit it to memory more quickly regardless of the type piano you are playing.
What is a Chord in Music?
Very simply, chords are a group of music notes that are played all at the same time. Usually they are the first, third, and fifth notes on a minor or major scale. In music theory pianists refer to these notes by the term degrees. To illustrate, when thinking about the major scale of C, the scale’s 5th degree is G, its 6th degree is A. Then, follow along with this same pattern.
When a chord includes the first, third, and fifth degree as in this example, you will refer to this chord as major. This type chord strikes a pleasant sound. However, some musicians describe it as uninteresting and stale. If a pianist lack familiarity with chords, the major chords provide a great starting place because they are easy to understand and easy to perform.
A Major Chord
When playing a chord that is referred to as major, the first, third, and fifth degrees of the corresponding scale are required. If you want to play a chord in the key of C major, you would use C, E, and G. You would play these notes with the first, second, and fourth fingers of the left or right hand. In a similar fashion, the G major chord includes B, G, and D because only one sharp is included in the major scale of G.
- Select a scale that you are comfortable with.
- Begin with the first degree and strike it first.
- Move three keys upward and strike that key along with the initial note.
- Continue up the scale three more keys and strike that key with the other two notes.
- You have now played a major chord
You’re doing great! Just know, this will take time, commitment, and practice, but you will be able to get the hang of it. Through lots of repetition and practice, this will soon feel automatic to you. Always be mindful of finger placement. Proper finger is essential because it provides the optimum placement for your fingers and hand without causing strain on the fingers, wrists, and hands. Fingerings are especially useful when you play music pieces that have a fast pace.
A Minor Chord
You will notice a similarity between major and minor chords. The biggest difference, of course, is the fact that one is a MAJOR chord and one is a MINOR chord. First, you must be able to identify the minor chord scale that you desire.
For instance, three flats appear in C minor. This minor scale includes E flat, A flat, and B flat. Chords are usually comprised of the scale’s first note, its third note, and its fifth notes.
The finger placement does not change. Once you have mastered minor and major chords, you are ready to make up your own tune to be played with your right hand and use your left hand for accompaniment to add the rhythm that you prefer.
You will detect a slightly melancholy tone when playing minor chords. However, these chords are not reserved for melancholy pieces. By changing from major to minor and vice versa, you can alter the mood of the music.
Piano Chord Progressions
To learn how chords work together to create harmony, you must read carefully and have lots of patience.
One chord will not make much music, but when chords are played together, things start sounding very nice. For a musical selection, it usually takes three chords.
The popular music you hear on the radio is referred to as Western harmony. This uses the three-chord structure and adds other chords to make it even better. Chords will be given one of three names: dominant, subdominant or tonic. For starters, a pianist can use these chords and some a little bit of improvising to make music.
Getting Started with a Trio of Chords
To begin, we will create a tonic chord using C major.
This provides the beginning or starting place for a musical piece. The selected key is C thus we will have a chord in the key of C major. This major scale’s fourth degree will be the note F.
Every note is named for identification purposes. This particular note is referred to as sub-dominant. During a melody, this chord is the transition point. If this were a journey, the F major would be considered the middle point of the trip.
When considering the journey again, the following chord, the dominant chord, would come near the end of the trip. You would play F major then C, followed by a chord in G major and concluding on C major. Once you understand the process, everything seems almost automatic.
A song can be ended with the G chord; however, beginning and ending on the same chord is recommended. This makes the song make sense and seem finished.
While there may be some suggested guidelines, there is not hard and fast rules about the order in which chords should be played. This is where creativity comes in. With music, most tips are just that – guidelines. You are not obligated to follow any rules.
Keep in mind that when a song reaches a chord like these, it changes temporarily to a key signature that is different. When you play the F chord which is the subdominant then your music piece enters F major as well. F major contains only one flat. It is best to allow the improvisation and melody to go into the proper key as well.
One exception may be noted – when you play a chord that is dominant and it keeps your key from changing because the song will return to C major any way with no flat keys or sharp keys.
All this information may be overwhelming, but when you start it to make music, it will all make perfect sense. It is important to know how harmony is organized in music.
Finally, let’s consider chord embellishment.
Thinking back to the journey illustration, let’s consider the mid-journey point when we played the F major chord. When you add B flat to the chord of C major, your transition phase is very fluid.
The B flat is referred to as the dominant seventh. This has a very distinctive sound. To do this, you will play a C note, E note, G note, and B flat note with fingers one, two, three, and five. You will hear this sound often in jazz, blues, and music that you hear today.
When you flatten the seventh degree, you can use it for other chords and produce a similar sound. You can make this type chord embellishment very easily. You simply move from the chord you are playing to the one you desire.
Since the seventh degree flattened does not naturally occur in C major, you may prefer to alter the melody a bit.
For our learning, the chords will be arranged in this order:
- the chord in the major key of C
- the chord in the major key of C with the seventh flattened
- the chord in the major key of F
- the chord in the major key of C
- the chord in the key of G
- the chord in the key of C
When you hear the sound of these chords together, you will gain more harmony knowledge. Soon your ear will be turned to hear this in songs.
Hopefully, you now know how to construct and play chords in a sequence. This helps you understand and make sense of playing the piano. Take time to go back over all information. Memorize the names of the chords. This will make future lessons easier.
Once you can identify and play both major as well as minor chords, you should be able to compose a musical selection. Your music should be easily played on the piano or another musical instrument.