Piano Chords

 

 

    A chord is any group of 3 or more notes that are played at the same time. Broken chords, also known as arpeggios, are chords which are played one note at a time, but add up to 3 or more notes.

     Chords are made from scales.

     scale is simply a row of notes in some consistent pattern. The word “scale” comes from a Latin word meaning “ladder” – notes ascend or descend the ladder rung by rung.  The most-used scale is the major scale, which is a row of notes in alphabetical rotation in the following pattern:
 

     Notice that the distance between the 1st and 2nd notes of the major scale is a whole step; between the 2nd and 3rd notes is a whole step; between the 3rd and 4th notes is a half step, and so on.

     For example, if we began our major scale on F sharp, it would look like this:

 

     If we started on B, it would look like this:
 



 

       Notice that the only half steps are between the 3rd and 4th notes and the 7th and 8th notes – all the other notes are separated by whole steps.
 

     Here is a chart which shows the notes of all 12 major scales according to their position in the scale. Note the relationship of whole steps and half steps:
 

 

 

1st note (do) 2nd note (re) 3rd note (mi) 4th note (fa) 5th note (sol) 6th note (la) 7th note (ti) 8th note (do)

C scale

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

Db scale

Db

Eb

F

Gb

Ab

Bb

C

Db

D scale

D

E

F#

G

A

B

C#

D

Eb scale

Eb

F

G

Ab

Bb

C

D

Eb

E scale

E

F#

G#

A

B

C#

D#

E

F scale

F

G

A

Bb

C

D

E

F

Gb scale

Gb

Ab

Bb

Cb

Db

Eb

F

Gb

G scale

G

A

B

C

D

E

F#

G

Ab scale

Ab

Bb

C

Db

Eb

F

G

Ab

A scale

A

B

C#

D

E

F#

G#

A

Bb scale

Bb

C

D

Eb

F

G

A

Bb

B scale

B

C#

D#

E

F#

G#

A#

B

 

     In the preceeding chart, you will notice that there are no sharp scales listed. This is simply because D flat and C sharp are really the same key – just written differently. The same is true of E flat and D sharp, G flat and F sharp, A flat and G sharp, and B flat and A sharp. These are known as enharmonic scales – the sound is identical, but one scale is written as a flat scale while the other is written as a sharp scale.

     So melodies use scales, and like a climbing vine, they wrap themselves around the harmony of the song.

     Chords occur in different qualities. Three note chords are known as triads. There are four types of triads:
 

  • Major

  • Minor 

  • Augmented

  •  Diminished

     Major chords (triads) consist of a stack of 2 intervals: a major 3rd on the bottom, and a minor 3rd on top:

 

     Minor chords (triads) consist of a stack of 2 intervals: a minor 3rd on the bottom, and a major 3rd on top:

 12 minor chords

 

     Augmented chords (triads) consist of a stack of 2 intervals, both of which are major 3rds:

Augmented piano chords

     Diminished chords (triads) consist of a stack of 2 intervals, both of which are major 3rds:

Diminished piano chords (triads)

     Chords can be turned upside down: they are known as inversions. A chord with the name of the chord on the bottom is termed root position. A chord with the 3rd of the chord on the bottom is called 1st inversion, while a chord with the 5th of the chord as the lowest note is termed a 2nd inversion chord.

     Chords containing more than 3 notes are termed tetrads, but more commonly referred to as “4 note chords”, “5 note chords”, or "extended chords", because they extend beyond the mere triad. There are many extended chords, but here are some of the more common:

 

·         6th chords

·         Minor 6th chords

·         7th chords

·         Major 7th chords

·         9th chords

·         Major 9th chords (the "major" refers to the major 7th in the 9th chord)

·         11th chords

·         13th chords


 

    Chords can also be altered through the use of sharps and flats. For example, a 7th chord might be altered by lowering the 5th 1/2 step. It would be notated as a C7-5 chord. Another example would be a flat 9th chord, notated as C-9.

     Chords can also be used on top of a note which is not part of the chord. These are known as "slash chords" because they are notated like this: C/B   F7/G   etc.

     In addition to standard music notation, there is a "shorthand" kind of notation known as chord symbols. They typically are found above a melody line (tune of the song) and instruct the musician as to what chord to use at any given time:

     *It should also be noted that not all musicians agree on the names or symbols for all chords. There is no "authority" that passes down rules for such things; no congress that enacts laws about chords and how they are named. But there is general agreement on perhaps 90% of all chords; only on the more complex chords will you see much disagreement.

      In the charts below you will see some of the most common chords, all show in root position:


 

 


 
      Notice that the only difference between a major triad and a minor triad is the 3rd of the chord is lowered 1/2 step:
 

     A diminished triad not only contains a lowered 3rd, but also a lowered  5th:
     An augmented triad is like a major triad, except the 5th is raised 1/2 step.
 
When an extra note is added to a triad, a "tetrad" is created -- more commonly refered to as simply a 4-note chord or an "extended chord", although technically an extended chord involves additions greater than an octave such as 9ths, 11th, and 13ths. Here is a major 6th chord -- the 6th note of the major scale is added to the major triad:
 

     Minor 6th chords only differ from major 6th chords in that a minor triad is used instead of a major triad:

     Here's where it gets a little tricky: a 7th chord is a triad with the lowered 7th degree of the scale added -- not the 7th degree of the scale. It is often refered to as a "dominant 7th" chord, although it is not always used that way. Just remember to add the 7th note of the major scale flatted.

 
     In contrast, the major 7th chord does include the 7th degree of the scale along with the major triad.

     There are many other piano chords from 9ths and major 9ths and flat 9ths to 11ths and 13ths, suspensions, alterations and even polytonality (multiple chords at once). But this will suffice for an introduction to piano chords.
 

 

 

 

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