How do you know what chords to play ?
While we are finding new ways to enjoy our piano hobby, there are times when we need to know what chords to play when our friends drop in and want to sing. We might also want to sing and accompany ourselves.
What, exactly, are chords?
We are playing chords when we play a group of notes together to provide harmony. We can spread the notes across both hands, or we can play the root (the main note of the chord) in the left hand and the group of two or more notes in the right hand. Chords can be very simple consisting of two or three notes or they can be quite complex, such as those that are used in jazz performances. In jazz/blues we might use a chord consisting of five or six different notes. Right now we will just look at a simple song to get the general principle of how chord playing works.
We are going to look at a simple interpretation which helps us find the chords, play them at the right places and observe the pattern in the music. As an example we will look at a well known song which is set in the major key of F.
What a wonderful world
Let us look at the first part of the music sheet of this song. We are concerned, not with the notes on the staves at this time, but with the letters above the top line, and how the chords change.
Each bar of this song counts 1,2,3,4 regularly until the song is done, and during each bar the chords are played to match the lyrics (words) so that the singer and the pianist are in sync. So in the example above, the chords are played :
- F for 2 beats for the word ‘trees’
- A minor for 2 beats for ‘green’
- Bb before the word ‘red’
- A minor for ‘too’ and so on.
Notice for ‘world'( 3rd line down), there are four chords (F, F+, Bbmaj7, C7) played for 2 beats each, before the singer starts again. All chords are held for 2 beats. Let us listen to this song and be aware of the chord changes as they arise.
Introduction of Imagine by John Lennon
Now here is a song that has chord changes C to F (4 counts each)for that famous introduction. This is easy for you to play. Wouldn’t you like to try playing the chords?
What are the notes in each chord ?
Notes in a chord have to be studied and practiced over several months or years depending on how much time you put in. here are a few images of 2 chords.
The notes C, E and G are played simultaneously to give the chord of C major, and the notes F, A, C are played simultanoeusly to give the chord of F major, the simplest chords of C and F.
Where can you find the chords of your favourite song?
If you purchase the music sheet for your song, you will likely see a piano version of the song, and on each sheet is an indication of all the chords inserted at the correct position in the song. They might not all be as simple as the example above, but they are there for you to play and sing along. These are the same chords to be played on a guitar. Of course the fingering on a guitar would be different.
Can you play piano chords without a music sheet?
Many musicians prefer to play chords without a music sheet. For a beginner it would be best to find out the names of each chord, listen to a recording, and note the changes from one chord to the next and where this occurs. A good song to listen to is “Lively up yourself” by Bob Marley.
That entire song is played on two chords and , if you listen carefully, you will become aware that of the two chord changes from D to G. Listen to that bass and try playing along. There are only two chords and the song made such a hit.
So who uses chords anyway?
People who read music are actually interpreting what they learned, like :
- how many counts of each note
- what is the note
- where to locate it on the piano
- what is each hand playing
They are literally reading the music like how you read a book. Of course, like me, you can be taught to read notes and then later learn to play by listening. One area where there has been a change over reading music to playing by ear is in the use of songs for worship. Much of church music was written in the past as hymns for which the actual notes were printed but with praise songs taking centrestage, and with the coming of four and five piece bands for accompaniment in worship, church musicians are playing by ear a lot more.
Those who play by ear are actually listening and anticipating the changes. They are aware of the patterns in the song and can accompany a song whose music they have never seen, but through experience they are able to find the chords and do the transitions evenly. They might even be more able to correct errors without the audience noticing, meaning they can use passing chords to cover their mistakes. This also lends to a great degree of creativity in performance as heard in jazz bands and pop bands.
What about you ?
Do you read music by notes? Are you aware of the chords involved and the transition from one chord to the next? Maybe it is now a good time to start playing again but this time with an emphasis on :
- revising the basic chords
- purchasing sheet music for your favourite song and learning the chord progressions
- learning more complex chords and the sound of them
- instead of reading every single note on the music sheet, focussing on the chords while you sing
- looking at the different inversions and fingering that help transitions from one chord to the next
- trying to find the chords as you listen to your playlist
Are you ready to move your music skills to a higher level?
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