Tag Archives: music-theory

What is piano chord?

Posted on August 12, 2020 by songtive

piano chords with Piano Companion

A piano chord is one of the main building-blocks of music in western culture. Along with scales and intervals, piano chords are responsible for the creation of cohesion and structure in essentially every song and piece of music.

A piano chord can also be defined as a collection of notes in a predetermined type of ordering. This ordering is based on the idea of stacking two notes over a root at a determined interval (distance) called a third. The three notes that make up a piano chord are respectively called root, third, and fifth due to the order in which they appear. A simple approach to playing your first piano chord would be to visualize them as a simple but abstract three-note structure that can be imposed over the white keys of the keyboard. Basically, an initial note then skips one key, press that one, and repeat the previous step.

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Musical intervals and piano chord

To be able to learn to quickly construct piano chords, we should first examine their most fundamental building blocks, the aforementioned intervals. A musical interval is the measure of the distance between any two given pitches within a reference system. A good way of understanding intervals is through the use of the smallest possible distance between two distinct notes, the half step. This method to measure distance can be exemplified by playing any key of the keyboard and then playing the most immediate key over or under it. For example, C and C# or C and B. It should also be noted that our tuning system only contains twelve distinct pitches, meaning that after 12 half steps the system repeats itself with the last note carrying the same name as the initial one.

These intervals are then categorized in a series of numbers directly correlated to the number of half steps and keys implied.

 

Interval Name Amount of Half Steps
Minor second 1
Major second 2
Minor third 3
Major third 4
Perfect fourth 5
Augmented fourth 6
Perfect fifth 7
Minor sixth 8
Major sixth 9
Minor seventh 10
Major seventh 11
Perfect octave 12

Types of piano chords

Triadic piano chords are the most simple and common types of chords we can find in music. These are essentially small collections of three notes which follow a certain ordering of third intervals within a scalar reference system.

Western tonal music and its particular tuning system produce only four distinct types of triads. Namely, major, minor, diminished, and augmented. On top of having a radically different sound and emotional properties, these chordal structures are differentiated from each other by the ordering and quality of the intervals between its constituent factors. These intervals are always thirds, both major and minor. The order in which they appear will determine the quality of the piano chord at hand. These are exemplified in the table below:

Type of chord Quality and order of thirds* Amount of half steps and total intervallic content
Major M3+m3 4+3=7
Minor M3+M3 3+4=7
Diminished M3+m3 3+3=6
Augmented M3+M3 4+4=8

*Where “M3” is the major third and “m3” is a minor third.

Like most things in music, like rhythm, form, or dynamics, chord types aren’t absolute and isolated objects. They are a product of the distance relationships between its constituent members (notes) and as such, conform abstract, distance-based structures that can be applied to any given note of the chromatic system (twelve-note system), using it as root to produce a chord. That’s why to produce any chord of any type, you should just choose a starting pitch and apply the structure and order of the intervals over it.

Finally, it should be noted that piano chords are simple musical structures of very low order in terms of hierarchy. Furthermore, they are somewhat similar to single words in written language, meaning that they carry a particular meaning by themselves but not a fully developed idea. Also, they are susceptible to being combined with other chords to make up progressions (similar to the way words combine to produce sentences in written language). These progressions are common patterns or successions of certain chords that produce coherent musical ideas and phrases.

Extended piano chords

Following the same logic applied to the formation of simple triadic chords, we can create more complex structures by stacking even more thirds over the root note. By adding a single extra note on top of the triad we get a seventh chord.

Depending on the original triadic structure on which these chords are based, the quality of the new one may vary. For example, if we add a major third over the last note of a major chord, we get a major seventh chord, if we add a minor third over the same structure, we get a dominant seventh chord.

Type of chord Triadic origin Quality and order of thirds* Amount of half steps and total intervallic content
Dominant seventh Major M3+m3+M3 4+3+4=11
Major seventh Major M3+m3+m3 4+3+3=10
Minor seventh Minor m3+M3+m3 3+4+3=10
Minor – Major seventh Minor m3+M3+M3 3+4+4=11
Half – Diminished Diminished m3+m3+M3 3+3+4=10
Fully – Diminished Diminished m3+m3+m3 3+3+3=9
Augmented dominant seventh Augmented M3+M3+º3 4+4+2=10
Augmented major seventh Augmented M3+M3+m3 4+4+3=11

*Where “M3” is a major third, “m3” is a minor third and “º3” is diminished third.

How to read piano chords

Notation and reading of chords are actually very simple and intuitive processes. The root of the piano chord at hand will always be capitalized and then followed by other characters that explain their particular qualities and peculiarities.

Type of chord Notational symbol (examples in C)
Major C
Minor C- or Cm
Augmented Caug or C+
Diminished Cdim or Cº
Major seventh Cmaj 7
Dominant seventh C7
Minor seventh Cm7
Fully diminished Cº7

If you are looking for a piano chords dictionary or piano chords scale. Feel free to check out our Piano Companion for iOS, Android, macOS. Additionally, if you want to learn notes, chords, theory then you can check ChordIQ for iOS, Android.

Great Chords of Pop

Posted on October 10, 2017 by songtive

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Great songs often use great chord progressions. Today, we bring you the legendary I – V – vi – IV progression, which is used by these legendary artists to create songs that are to be considered modern classics. Check it out!

  • Let It Be – The Beatles
  • Another Girl, Another Planet – The Only Ones
  • All You Wanted – Michelle Branch
  • No Vacancy – One Republic
  • And We Danced – Macklemore
  • Save as Draft – Katy Perry
  • Ain’t Your Mama – Jennifer Lopez
  • Bailando – Enrique Iglesias

See how this chord progression is used for different music styles from a rock ballad, through punk rock to today’s pop classics such as Bailando!

Depending on how you use it with our Songtive app, you’ll get different results, but we’ll get to it in a moment.

The Progression

This chord progression is derived for the 50s progression, which we discussed already, but the chords’ order is changed in order to get a different kind of feeling. As the 50s progression sounded more melancholic due to the I – vi chord change (major chord to a minor chord), this time the order is changed to I – V (major chord to major chord) to achieve a cheerful tone that will help you to reflect the positive sensation of your song. So, the mood of your song will mostly go from happy (I – V) to inspirational (vi – IV).

Let’s use The Beatles’ Let it Be as an example:

The notes are:

C – G – A – F

Now, if you take these notes and make them the root of their own chords in the key of C Major, you’ll get the progression:

C – G – Am – F

And by writing it as a chord chart you’ll get the following:

Using it like scale degrees with roman numbers, you can transpose it to any other major key with the Songtive app:

In D major:

In E major:

E – B – C#m – A

etc.

Why it works?

This progression works so well because of the notes of each chord change are related. For the I – V chords there is one common tone that links both chords. For example, in Let it Be, the C major chord (C – E – G) is linked to G major chord (G – B – D) by one chord tone, which is G. This helps to establish the positive section of the song.

Then, we change from V to vi, for which there are no common tones and we shift from major mode (happiness) to minor mode (melancholy). But then we change to the IV chord, and since it is a major chord, going from melancholy to happiness again turns your song into an inspirational sound.

How can I use it?

  • Enter the Songtive app, and tap the menu
  • Select “My Stuff” and then “Songs”
  • Tap the “+” button to add a new default song
  • Tap the musical note at the bottom right and select your root, i.e. your song’s key
  • Tap the “CHORDS” section to add or change the chords of your song
  • That’s it! Now try for different styles by using the “Mixer” at the bottom right!

Remember to try different keys and different styles to get as many artistic results as you like! Step up your game by creating the right progressions for your songs by keeping up with our blog, in which we review new songwriting tools every week!

Learning from the Masters – Part 3

Posted on September 29, 2017 by songtive

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Hi there! Today in Songtive we’re going to follow our ‘Learning from the Masters’ series reviewing the legendary Queen classic Bohemian Rhapsody! This worldwide known song has many interesting aspects worth to analyze and to incorporate in your composer’s toolbox. The singular structure, the musical approach of the ideas we’re listening, the combination of classical music elements into a (for that time) modern rock and roll setting; all of it combined to shape one of the most memorable songs ever written!

Before getting into it, let’s remember some bullet points that we will observe:

  • For analysis purposes, the most convenient way to get into it is to get the structure first.
  • The introduction will give you the essential information you need: the key, the main theme(s) and the character.
  • Verses present the main vocal ideas, and usually are repeated with only a variation in the lyrics, conserving the underlying chord progression to keep the balance and symmetry.
  • Chord-melody relationship will provide you information on why things sound appealing to our ears and are via chord tones and melody’s notes that this relation is established.

Released in 1975 as one of the lead singles from their A Night at the Opera album, the song stands as one of the most emblematic rock icons of the last 40 years! And much of its success can be owed to Freddie Mercury’s outstanding songwriting work on it.

First things first: the thing that makes Bohemian Rhapsody a timeless classic is its structure’s complexity. The song departs from the common verse – chorus – verse – solo – chorus formula, and it is set as more of a musical suite than anything else. That is, the song is planned to tell a story through multiple musical episodes, each one approaching a particular point of the main character. Let’s check it out!

Intro

At 0:05 starts the memorable introduction of Bohemian Rhapsody and it goes to 0:53. It presents the character and something that would be a recurring element throughout the song: an a capella choral arrangement (made entirely of chord tones) and the theme of the poor boy in trouble, which is the principal argument of the song. The main pieces of what Bohemian Rhapsody are established during this introduction section.
Lessons: Intro section needs to set the mood of your song, so keep it soft and with few instruments to make it a ballad.

1st Verse

The first verse starts at 0:54, the piano accompaniment pattern is established and will last the whole song, using the following chord progression: Bb – Gm – Cm – F. This can be read as I – vi – iv – V. We can hear the piano and electric bass supporting the melody Freddie sings, so the intention is to keep it subtle, as it is the story of an incident. The mood is that of a slow ballad.

Lessons: Using sparse writing, like arpeggios, chord tones for the bass and subtle-to-non percussion is useful to set a light mood for your ballads.

Bridge

At 1:24 begins the bridge, a section that will be used as a transition point between verses. Roger Taylor’s kits start here, to add motion and intensity to the song, as the melody goes higher. Note how the melody descends as Freddie sings “carry on, carry on”, adding more meaning to the fateful phrase.

Lessons: Enhance the emotional range of your melodies by placing them properly. Use middle-range melodies to establish the mood, ascending lines for stronger emotions and descending ones to release the tension of the moment.
The chords are: Eb – Bb – Cm – Fm

2nd Verse

Starting at 1:53, the second verse explains what is going on in the poor boy’s head as he has to face the consequences of his actions. Note how the same pattern is repeated: the piano+bass accompaniment, followed by the drums. Now, instead of a sung bridge, we get the same chords with a new addition: the first guitar solo.

Lessons: To add more verses, you can use the same chords as in the first one. Make sure to bring something different

1st Solo

Starting at 2:40, the solo serves two purposes for this song: as the close of the first section, exposing the situation (how the boy murdered someone) and the unforeseen consequences (the boy dealing with it by writing a letter to his mother). The second function is to serve as an interlude for the beautiful and legendary a capella choir that follows, in four-part harmony!

Lessons: Expand your solo ideas by recycling material. This is good to keep coherence. Note how the solo is being played over the same chords as the bridge: Eb – Bb – Cm – Fm

We hope that you have enjoyed the first section of Bohemian Rhapsody and got some great ideas from it using our lessons! In the following article, we’ll get deeper in the interesting a capella section and the exciting second half of this timeless rock classic!