An introduction to chords


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Brass players (of any genre) should learn chords; it is not just for guitarists, pianists, composers or jazz musicians. Theory first, application second.

An introduction to chords – theory

I like naming these ‘chords’ as opposed to ‘arpeggios’ as it removes the connection of graded music exams and that approach of non-music learning; this is very much about learning how to play music more fluently. I believe it opens up how you approach the chord regarding inversions and extensions. approaching arpeggios is very much taught in root position ascending-descending form, but not much music does that!

In following posts I will give some exercises and more completely address the practicality of these; for now I want to look only at simple chords and explain how approaching these as chords and not arpeggios makes more sense.

1) I visualise the piano or guitar when I am thinking about chords, it opens up the approach to playing through the tones therein. When I think arpeggio I think of how confused I got with the dominants: ‘G dominant 7′ ‘do you want the dominant of G – D dominant or G dominant?’ – I think something was unclear in the scale book and it annoyed me. Of course being too shy I didn’t ask.

2) Playing through jazz tunes it is very beneficial to find ‘leading tones’ – tones which lead to the next chord. I think approaching chords as root position arpeggios is a way to begin learning them, but the root infrequently be the leading tone, at least in standards.

Eg. G7 (GBDF) to CM7 (CEGB) the F of the G dominant 7 chord leads to the E of the C major 7 chord. A V-I progression.

3) Approaching extensions becomes easier; you can incorporate the extension musically – incorporating it in an appropriate register.

Eg. C7sus4 you may choose to ‘voice’ differently; that is change the order and position of notes and tensions within the chord.

C7sus4 contains CEFGBb but you probably wouldn’t chose to play it like that – the 4th is a nice tension which sounds good beside the 5th and muddy beside the 3rd (as it is a semitone apart). So you may chose to play it like this:

F G Bb C E or C F Bb E G

NB: these wouldn’t be typical voicings for a pianist or guitarist, but they are a good way to see chords on a single note instrument.

Chords – application

Playing through chords in warmup time is a useful way to kill two birds with 1 stone; warming up the chops, long tones with the learning of chords and listening to intonation (when the horn is warm and settled in the room).

It is useful to run through jazz standards voice leading the chords – as before,

It is useful to think and identify chords when you find arpeggios in classical music; it can help you identify key centre – it is also nice to appreciate what is happening in the music.

The ballerina’s dance from Petrouchka is a good example – major and minor 7ths therein.

Have you got any ideas for chords; how you learn or how you approach them? Please comment below, or let us know in the forum!

One Response to “An introduction to chords”

  1. Anthony says:

    Ok chords smords how HoW do we use it in our playing ?? Do not mean to be rude

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