How Chords Expedite The Learning Of Piano

The definition of a chord is 3 or more notes played simultaneously.  A 3-note chord is called a ” Triad”.. All Western music is based on chords.

I like to teach chords to my students from day one, regardless of the age of the student. When a student learns his or her 60 triads, by the way this usually takes less than 2 lessons, then we add a melody line in the treble clef , or right hand. So now the student is playing 4 notes simultaneously, 3 notes in the left hand and 1 in the right, in the very first few lessons.  The student is playing a very rich, full sound for only haven taken lessons for a few weeks! And with minimum reading of notes. Imagine how long it would be until a a student was striking 4 notes together in a ” traditional ” piano lesson, more than likely at least 1 year. We don’t have a year! If the student is not playing a recognizable popular tune in the first month, it is unlikely they will be motivated to continue.

Teaching students how to construct and play chords is very ” concept-based”.  This is not rote learning.  Rote learning is fleeting. Concepts stay with us for our entire life.  For example, once you understand that an ” Augmented ” chord means to raise the 5th of the chord up a half step, then you are able to form that chord at any time. Similarly, when you understand that a minor chord is the same as a major chord  except you lower the 3rd or middle note by half step, you then can ” find ” or form that chord at anytime.

Most professional pianists, particulary jazz pianists know all there chords and can play from what is called a ” leadsheet” .  A leadsheet is simply a single melody note written on the treble clef and chord symbols written above the melody. A major chord is indicated by a capital letter. So a C major chord is written ” C ” ,  a D major chord is written ” D” etc.. The symbol for a minor chord is usually a small ” m ” but can also be notated as a dash  i.e.  Cm, or C-

Augmented chord is notated as a ” +” symbol.  There are only 2 more types of triads.  The sus 4 chord and the diminished chord.

Learning your chords are the key to playing the piano life-long!  How many times have you heard a parent say ” I took piano as a kid , but can’t play a note today”.  This is as common as it is tragic.  Imagine saying ” I studied arithmetic for 5 years , but I can’t add today!”.

The reason piano students can’t play after years of ” traditional” lessons is because they were only taught  how to read the individual notes on the staff. Understanding how to read and play notes on a staff of music is analagous to knowing the alphabet.  I know the spanish alphabet and can pronounce any word in spanish.  But does this mean I understand spanish.  I don’t think so.  Music is a language also. The alphabet of music is the notes on the page.  Yes , you can play the notes on the page but that is learning at the ” alphabetical” level.

The higher level of learning a language is at the ” word ” level.  Words are specific combinations of letters.  Words have meaning. In the language of music, Chords are our words.  Chords are specific combinations of notes.  And just like sentences have a certain syntax or order to their words, so too music has a certain order or syntax when analyzing their chord stucture.

So, in teaching piano to students, it is vital that we teach them at the ” word ‘ level and not just at the ” alphabet” level.

I always ask my students: ” How many chords do you think you need to know to play the piano? “.. the answer is less than 200!  So even if you learned 2 chords a day, you could be playing piano in less than 3 months. But not if you study in a ” traditional ” way.. because you will not be taught at the ” word”  or ” chord” level, therefore you won’t see the patterns and structure of music .