Piano chords basics - make your progressions flow

Uploaded by billhiltonbiz on 19.06.2011

Today I want to think a little bit about how we make chord progressions flow on the piano keyboard.
You'll find this useful if you're just beginning to learn about chords on the piano,
maybe you're moving over from the guitar or you're just beginning to understand chord notation
and you've found chords online and you want to play them and work out accompaniments and sing over the top.
Or maybe even you want to write your own songs.
When you are just beginning to learn about piano chords,
one of the easiest traps to fall in to is to play every chord in root position.
Root position is where we play a chord like this very simply,
with the lowest note in the chord being the note that the chord is named after.
So that is a chord of C major in root position because C is at the bottom.
We can play it in other positions as well, which we call inversions,
but it's very tempting and very easy to stick to root position.
Not least because if you go online and look at a guide to piano chords
usually they'll teach you the root position of each chord.
So what that results in is, say you have a simple chord progression, you know,
just four bars that goes C, G, F and back to C.
People find progressions like that, and they work out a basic comping pattern like this:
[Plays basic comp]
and they do this... F...
and play every single chord in root position.
Now sometimes that can work, but often it can sound stilted and jumpy.
When you're accompanying especially, the last thing you want to do is do
anything that makes your listener think "Ooh, ah what's going on in the accompaniment there?"
It's just got to flow as neatly as possible.
One good way of doing that is to think about the way you can play chords in their inversions.
So our four chords there, only 3 chords, but in a sequence of four,
were C, G, F and back to C.
By playing around with inversions you can make those flow much more easily and stay much closer together.
Ultimately it will be easier to play because you've got less hand movement going on.
So for example, using a very similar comping pattern, you could play that chord sequence like this:
[Demonstrates chord sequence with inversions of C, G, F, C]
So we're going from that position, to that position, G,
to that position and to that position.
Notice the way I'm choosing the chord inversions (the particular positions I'm playing them in)
so that they're as close as possible to the chord before, often sharing notes with it.
Okay? So from C, I go to G.
That note stays the same because C major and G major chord share a G at the top.
Then I go to F. Now there are no notes in common between F and G,
but I can just shift down very quickly and simply, without going far,
without making a big leap, and then I go to C again and again there's a note in common.
[Plays inversions]
That sounds much neater and tidier and more musical than going:
[Plays chords in root position]
Same chords, but just played in inversions that make them smoother and which give them a better flow.
Now sometimes and in some styles of music, you'll find that jumping is what you need,
so in 12 bar blues
[Plays 12 bar blues]
you can jump around much more, it's much more of a tradition
and a recognised style within that particular type of music.
In most modern pop ballads however,
try when you can when you're making a comp to really makes the chords flow together,
and if you're going to do a jump up the keyboard, make the jump within the chord
and then change the chord when you change position.
So what I mean by that is if you're here and you want to get to an F...
So we're actually jumping up still on the C chord before we get to the F and
changing there rather than going
[Demonstrates jumping between chords]
Sometimes that will work, but if you do it over and over and over again, it gets distracting.
It works as a device sometimes but in general try to jump within the chords.
When you change the chord, see if you can keep it in the same hand position
or in a hand position that's very close.
If you've ever studied any classical piano that will come fairly naturally to you
because the rules we're talking about there actually commonplace rules of composition
dating back hundreds of years.
If you've ever played any Bach or Mozart or whatever, that stuff will kind of come naturally
because that is how those guys managed their chord changes, usually.
It's a really interesting thing that a lot of contemporary pop music has much, much more in common
with classical music than it does with jazz and blues or whatever.
Obviously it has its beats, it has its rhythms ultimately that have come out of jazz and blues,
but the way most modern writers of pop songs put together their chord sequences
has much more in common with Bach than it does with Duke Ellington or someone from the 1940s or 1950s.
So, just stuff to play about with.
When you get a chord sequence look at the inversions of the particular chords.
If you're really new to playing chords on the piano and you've got a set of chords in front of you,
think "Right, I can play C that way but I can also play it like that, or like that,
or like that, or like that. I've got to move to F. How can I do that? Well, from C I've got an F there,
or I could go up to there, or whatever".
The trick is, when you learn a new chord shape on the piano to play it in all of its different inversions.
If you're coming from a guitar background, this will make some sort of sense to you
because you'll know that you can play chords in different inversions on a guitar.
Fewer than you can on a piano
- I mean, there are hundreds and thousands of ways of playing any one chord on the piano -
but it's worth getting to grips with all the different ways of playing it rather than just
sticking to your root position,
[Demonstrates chords in root position]
which can sound really simplistic and a bit too straightforward sometimes.
Okay, I hope that was useful. What I'm trying to do at the moment is
to try to intersperse one or two tutorials that deal with really basic principles
like this into some of the more complicated stuff that I'm doing.
So if that was useful please let me know.
If any of it didn't make sense, do the usual thing: leave me a comment, send me a message
and I'll try to get back to you.
In general it's better if you can leave me a comment, if it's a very short message
because then other people can come and read it and join in as well.
If I don't get back to you right away, apologies, because I do get a lot of email at the moment,
but I'm always more than happy to help out.
Okay, so basic lessons there.
When you learn a new chord, learn all the different inversions.
Well, not all the different inversions because there are so many of them,
but get a sense of all the different ways, different voicings
- you might say, to use another technical term -
all the different voicings and inversions you might use for a particular chord,
and then when you'replaying a chord sequence, try to make those chords flow together.
Use the inversions and the voicings that are proximal to one another,
to give yourself a sense of flow and movement on the keyboard rather than sounding too jumpy.