An Introduction to Chords

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2 An Introduction to Chords by David Gilson A chord is the musical sound produced by playing a number of notes at the same time. The sound of the chord is different depending on the key you are playing in, the distance between each note and the overall spread of the notes played, either by one hand or both. A chord generally provides a background harmony to a melody line. Chords along with bass notes also provide a rhythmic accompaniment to a melody line. Chords consist of a root note together with additional notes usually a third apart. The simplest chord is a triad, which has the root note plus notes a third and a fifth above it. The intervals refer to the distance between successive notes in the chord and are numbered according to the position of the notes in the scale. Scale of C Note numbers C D E F G A B C Root (Octave) The C Major triad is therefore the root note C, plus the third and the fifth notes above C, these being E and G. All triads are constructed in the same way. Examples of triads in C, F and G are shown below. The triads are shown on the treble clef for the right hand and bass clef for the left hand. Experiment yourself and try to become familiar with triads for all the different keys you play in. Inversions You do not always have to play the chords in their basic triad form. You can use inversions of the chord. The first inversion involves taking the root note from the bottom of the chord and moving it to the top. Therefore for the C chord, instead of C, E and G you now have E at the bottom followed by G and C. The second inversion follows on from the 2

3 first in that you now take the E from the bottom of the chord and move it to the top, so you now have G at the bottom followed by C and E. Both these inversions are shown below. If you play the chords, you will hear that they have a different sound. Again, try practising chord inversions in different keys so that they become familiar to you. You might ask why you need to worry about inversions as you can just play all the chords you see on a piece of music in their root position. You can do this in terms of chord accompaniment but it can sound disjointed if you are jumping about to always play the basic triads in their root position. The example below shows a sequence of chords firstly in their root position, followed by the same sequence of chords using some inversions. If you play the two sequences, you will hear the difference and find that the second sequence with the inversions sounds smoother and is easier to play, as your hand is not moving about as much. The chords are indicated on the bass clef to represent a section from an accompaniment to a melody. 3

4 You also need to use inversions if you want to play chords in your right hand along with the melody. If you need to play part of the melody where the chord is C but the melody note is E, you need to use the second inversion of the C chord (G C E) so that the E melody note can be played at the top of the chord. The two examples below show the start of the song Three Blind Mice in C. The first staff shows a simple melody line for the right hand supported by chords in their root position played by the left hand. The second example shows chords for both hands and this time inversions of the chords are used for the right hand part to tie in with the melody. The right hand has the second inversion of the C triad on the words three and see together with the first inversion of the C triad on the words mice and run. The third inversion of the G7 chord is played by the right hand for the words blind and how they. The way to form first and second inversions of a triad chord was covered earlier in this note. As the G7 chord has four notes it is possible to invert the chord three times as follows: 4

5 In addition, the left hand part uses the first inversion of the G7 chord on the word Blind. Minor Chords There are also minor chord triads formed in the same way as the major chord triads by using the root, third and fifth notes from the minor scales. For example, a C minor triad is C Eb and G. Similarly, an F minor triad is F Ab and C. The G minor triad is G Bb and D etc. You will notice that the only difference between a major triad and a minor triad is that the middle note (i.e. the third note of the scale) is flattened to create the minor chord. Again, you can use inversions of the minor chords rather than always trying to play them in their root position. Try playing major triads then alternating with their equivalent minor triads to become familiar with the minor chords and to see how easy it is to change between the major and minor triads. In the right hand if you are using your thumb, middle finger and little finger for the three notes you just move your middle finger down a semitone to flatten the middle note and change from the major triad to the minor triad. With the chords played by your left hand little finger, middle finger and thumb from the root upwards, you again move your middle finger down a semitone to flatten the middle note of the triad and change from major to minor. The example below shows the C minor chord with inversions on the treble clef for the right hand and bass clef for the left hand. 5

6 Seventh Chords Seventh chords are used in music in major, dominant and minor forms. To create a major seventh chord you take the basic triad and add the seventh note from the scale. The C major seventh chord is denoted as Cmaj7 and consists of C E G and B, i.e. the Root 3, 5 and 7 notes as shown below. Scale of C Note numbers C D E F G A B C Root (Octave) Experiment with other keys to create major seventh chords. Examples are shown below. Another type of seventh chord is the dominant seventh. This is denoted on the music with the chord name then 7, e.g. C7 for the dominant seventh chord based on C. Compared with the major seventh chord discussed above you will see that the dominant seventh notation does not say maj. The dominant seventh chord is the same as the major seventh chord, except that the seventh note is flattened. The dominant seventh chord for C, denoted as C7, therefore consists of C E and G from the C triad discussed earlier, and Bb, the flattened seventh note. Examples of dominant seventh chords are shown below. With the G7 chord, the seventh note of the G scale is F#, so to create the dominant seventh you need to flatten this seventh note changing it to F natural. 6

7 The third type of seventh chord is the minor seventh. Again, if we use C as an example, C minor seventh is denoted on the music as Cm7. It is the same as the C7 chord, except that the third note of the scale is flattened, in the same way that if you want to change from a major triad to a minor triad you just flatten the middle note of the triad. Cm7 is therefore C Eb G Bb. So, to create any dominant seventh chord major or minor, take the basic major or minor triad and add the flattened seventh note of the scale. To get a feel for the sound of the different seventh chords, play the music indicated below which starts with the Cmaj7 chord then moves to the C7 chord and finally to the Cm7 chord. 7

8 Try out this sequence in other keys to become familiar with the chord sounds and shapes. Again, try inversions of the chords to allow for a smoother style of playing than can be achieved by always using chords in their root position. This will also allow you to add chords in the right hand to support melody lines. Bass Notes It is common when playing chords to use the root note of the chord as the bass note you play on the organ pedals, i.e. with a C chord you play C, with an F chord you play F etc. You can, however, create sounds that are more interesting by playing a different bass note. For example with the chord of C major, you could play one of the other notes from the triad in the bass such as E or G. This is a technique often used if you are playing the same chord in a bar with a moving melody line. You might play the C chord with E in the bass for the first two beats of the bar then the C chord with C in the bass for the last two beats or vice versa. If the music requires the bass note to be different to the root note of the chord, it is indicated alongside the chord separated by a forward slash e.g. C/E means play a C major chord with an E in the bass. G7/D in the example below means play a G7 chord with a D in the bass. This example shows notes for the right hand, left hand and bass pedals. 8

9 Putting it all together To show how the use of seventh chords and bass notes which are not the root note can change the sound of the music and create more interest, I include below the basic tune and chords for the carol, Silent Night. Following this is my arrangement with some of the chords changed. Try playing them both to hear the difference. I normally use the basic chords for the first and second verses of Silent Night then use the revised chords for the final verse to add interest. 9

10 The alternative version of Silent Night uses a combination of the chords discussed earlier in this note from basic triads to minor chords, minor seventh chords, major seventh chords and chords where the bass notes are not the root of the chord. On the word peace, a chord symbol D9 is indicated. Ninth chords are formed from taking a dominant seventh chord and adding the ninth note of the scale. In the case of D9, if you go all the way up the D scale from D to D you have covered eight notes, an octave, therefore the ninth note is the next note E. The D9 chord is therefore the D7 chord D F# A C plus E. It is a stretch to play all these notes with the right hand so the root note D is omitted as it will be covered on the bass pedal. The remainder of the notes are played. I have included them in the music above for reference. In a further paper I will explain other types of chords plus how chords are linked together to create introductions, endings and in the case of the 12 Bar Blues sequence, whole songs. 10

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