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Piano Chords – More Than Just a Group of Notes

by Erik Thiede on August 14, 2014

At their most basic, piano chords are formed by playing three or more notes simultaneously. The combinations that result set the mood of a musical piece – happy, sad, powerful, soulful, etc.

Historically, major chords have always evoked positive emotions while minor piano chords evoke the opposite. That’s a fairly simplistic observation, but it gives you an idea of one of the most primary effects chords have on music.

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It’s a good idea to understand the various chord types. Each has a formula that creates a specific musical effect no matter which key you are playing in. Here are some examples and, bear in mind, these explanations only cover the most basic of each chord type:

  • Triad – three notes consisting of the root (the key you are playing in), the third and the fifth.
  • Sixth – a fourth note added one full step above a triad’s fifth position.
  • Seventh – a fourth note is added to a triad at the seventh position above the root note.
  • Extended – a note is added to a triad chord above the seventh position, such as a ninth for example. Since a scale has only seven notes, it doesn’t seem to make sense that you could have a ninth. However, a second and a ninth are the same note.
  • Added Tone – a chord that includes an added note, such as a sixth, but doesn’t include the basic triad’s third.
  • Suspended – a chord that substitutes the third with either a second or fourth note from the scale. This is an interesting chord type since, when it is heard, the listener generally anticipates the next chord being the standard triad containing the root, third and fifth.

Piano chords are said to “color” music from various genres.

For example, country music tends to utilize sevenths, and jazz/blues tend to incorporate ninths or thirteenths. Rock, especially hard rock, favors “power chords” that are made up of the root note and the fifth, often with the octave serving as a third note at the top of the chord.

Most chords are further distinguished by what’s often referred to as their quality.

  • A major chord, which tends to evoke pleasant emotions, features a major third in the triad. In a C chord, this would be C, E, and G.
  • A minor chord, which most often appears in somber music, has a minor third in the triad. In a C chord, the notes would be C, E flat, and G.
  • An augmented chord raises the fifth position one-half step, common in blues, country and jazz. You might be interested to know how different augmented piano chords are related; for example, the augmented chords for C, E, and G sharp all contain the same notes.
  • A diminished chord features a minor third and a “diminished” fifth. More specifically, you lower the third and fifth of a major triad by one-half step. These are common in classical, jazz and gospel.

Chords are further designated by their scale degree, and the two most essential examples are the tonic and dominant chords. Appropriately, a tonic chord begins with the tonic note, which is the first note of the scale in which you are playing. If the song you are playing is in the key of C, your tonic chord has a C as its bass note and it is, naturally, a C chord. The dominant chord is a chord in the key of your scale’s fifth note. In our example, the dominant chord is the G chord and begins with G as the bass note.

The final element of chords we will learn about here is an inversion. The number of inversions available to a chord is the number of notes in a chord minus one. A triad has two inversions; start with the tonic chord, also called the root when discussing inversions, which is not an inversion. Then there is a first inversion, which is the same chord but it begins on the third note in the scale. You may have already guessed this next one; the second inversion is the same chord, only it begins on the fifth note in the scale.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this discussion on chords. If you who already have a basic playing ability will no doubt begin to vary your chord construction to add personality, effect and emotion to your performances. Good luck!

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Top 10 Ways To Improvise On The Piano

by Tania Gleaves on August 6, 2014

1. Use fake books. Fake books, as one of the top 10 ways to improvise on the piano, are gentle introductions to what could be interpreted as the Wild West of improvisation. Improvisation is largely based on freedom of expression. Without having a good foundation of the basics, beginners may feel intimidated by the possibilities. Fake books however contain music that provides opportunities of expression. Since it’s music lacks full notation, fake books allow the musician to fill in the missing parts with what *could* be there or what *should* be there without leaving *everything* up to the pianist.

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2. Make up your own songs. Making up your own songs really isn’t as easy as you might think. If you’ve been trained in the classics for example, you might find it difficult to break from instilled patterns. See if it helps to hum a random melody right off the top of your head at first. Then fill it in with interesting chords. You could probably fill up an entire album of improv this way!

3. Imagine how a master would play a song. Here, you can put your imagination to use and let your fingers tell the story. Ask yourself what Alicia Keys would play for a crowd — impromptu of course. Since her music is already a bit unconventional, your mind shouldn’t have too much trouble inventing new tunes for “her” (er… we mean, for you).

4. Improve a song with elements from your culture, the current holiday, etc. Every culture has it’s own unique set of chords and rhythms so why not incorporate them into the contemporary music that you play? This way, you can spice things up. You could for example, give the National Anthem an Brazilian spin or Italian twist.

5. Try to forget whatever you’ve learned about notes, intervals, scales, chords, and all the rest. Approach the piano as if you’ve never seen the thing before and you wonder what it does. Touch it’s keys and see if your random play generates any interesting tunes. If you should ‘accidentally’ discover a cool tune, melody, chord, or rhythm, build on it. Think of another section that would go well with the element that you just discovered. Keep following this pattern and you’ll have an entire song in no time.

6. Remember that when improvising, there are no mistakes. Okay, that’s not entirely true — but the idea is to break you from fearing improvisation. The thing that prevents a lot of us from even trying improvisation is our own fear.

7. Try different elements within a single song. Mix and mash different rhythms, octaves, dynamics, and more just to see what results. While you might not find anything appropriate for an entire song, you just might discover a unique passage that would fit well in an existing song.

8. While you’re experimenting, record your efforts. You can easily create a database of unique passages if you record your efforts into a sound database. Your database needn’t be anything fancy, as a simple file of wav files will suffice. Just remember to give your recordings descriptive names.

9. Chord it. Play a steady beat and a single chord with your right hand in other words, and use then use your left hand to decorate the chord with an interesting melody.

10. Try playing a song that you’ve committed to memory — only play it backwards. You’re sure to find some unique and creative passages using this method!

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How Popular Chord Progression Works – A Simple Guide

June 24, 2014

What is a popular chord progression? Chord progressions are actually series of chords which are played one after the other to produce a harmonious tune. By now you have learned the different piano chords and may have memorized them a bit. The knowledge you have about chords will help you a lot in playing the […]

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Seventh Piano Chords In It’s Many Forms

June 22, 2014

Seventh piano chords are just like the triad chords PLUS the 7th note in the scale. It’s used a lot in jazz, gospel and blues piano music. Just like with the triads, seventh piano chords can have several forms: Click Here To Get The Lowdown On Seventh Piano Chords! Dominant Seventh: Symbol: 7 The dominant […]

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The Piano Chord – Making Sense of This Versatile Music Concept

June 21, 2014

The first key to remember when trying to make sense of the piano chord is that they’re based on…you guessed it…piano scales! In our examples, we will use the key of “C” but the formula applies to all keys. Remember that the major piano scale for the key of C is C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C – where the […]

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Piano for Beginners – Different Ways of Learning

May 30, 2014

There is a bit of a mini-revolution going on in the world of piano teachers. And it all has to do with teaching piano for beginners. You see, there’s the old way of teaching piano. This way focuses on learning notes, learning to site read music, and learning where each individual note is on the […]

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Top Five Ways To Play Piano By Ear

May 19, 2014

Learn scales and try to pick them out in the music you hear. One of the top five ways to play piano by ear is by learning (at the very least) what scales are and what they sound like. Scales are a series of octave-specific notes that are played in a particular pattern or order. […]

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Top 10 Ways To Effectively Practice Piano

April 21, 2014

Let us start by admitting piano practice isn’t always fun. At times, it can be as grueling a task as mopping the floor or teaching your York Terrier to roll over (even when he hasn’t done it for the hundredth time). The key thing about piano practice however, is that it isn’t really supposed to […]

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Free Piano Chords – They’re The Path To Beautiful Music

March 8, 2014

Piano music is much more beautiful when it’s played with free piano chords because chords create harmony. Built from single notes starting with the first note or root of the simple major triad chords are the result of playing a root note (also called the tonic or degree I), a third tone above the first […]

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E Chord Chart for Piano

August 26, 2009

Using the the piano chord chart table, Here are the E Chords: E Chord Name Symbols Chords Notes* E Major (implied if without notation) EM or Emaj or E E G# B E Minor Em E G B E Augmented Eaug or E+ E G# C E Diminished Edim or Eo E G A# E […]

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