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HOW TO SPEED READ PIANO CHORD SYBMOLS

HOW TO SPEED READ PIANO CHORD SYMBOLS


Index of Chapters
Moving from Dominant 7th to Dominant 7th
Moving from Minor 7th to Dominant 7th (The
“two – five” pattern)

CHAPTER 6

Diminished 7th Chords Page 96


Using the starting position to find diminished
7th chords
How Dominant and Diminished chords relate
More tricks to find Diminished chords

CHAPTER 7

Major and Minor Chords Page 103


Using the starting position to find major and
INTRODUCTION
minor chords
About the System Page 1 “Greensleeves”
About “Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method” ”Be Still My Soul”

CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 8

Chord Basics Page 22 The Extra Stuff Page 116


The note names on the piano An introduction to 9ths and 13ths
How chords are named Slash Chords
The intervals you’ll need to know
CHAPTER 9
CHAPTER 2
Using the System Page 132
Fourths Page 51
“The Water is Wide”
How to Find Fourths
“They Didn’t Believe Me
How to Use Fourths to Find Major Chords

CHAPTER 3

Major 7th Chords Page 65


How to use the starting position to find Major
7th chords using smooth voice leading.
How to move from Major 7th chord to Major 7th
chord

CHAPTER 4

Minor 7th Chords Page 78


How to use the starting position to find Minor
7th chords
How to move from Minor 7th chord to minor 7th
chord using smooth voice leading.

CHAPTER 5

Dominant 7th Chords Page 84


How to use the starting position to find
Dominant 7th Chords.
Introduction
I N T R O D U C T I O N

Introduction part 1: Breaking


chords down to their essential
elements
When people first start to learn to play piano chords, they probably learn a few of
them either out of a chord encyclopedia or out of a general book on how to play
piano. The problem with the way chords are taught in these books is that they
demonstrate the chords in a way they are easy to understand, rather than in a way
in which they’ll sound the best. So, you’ll learn a chord usually all in one octave
starting around middle C.

C Major – as you might see it in a chord encyclopedia

Middle C
R 3 5 R
You’ll notice that we have four notes here, the Root, the 3rd, the 5th and the octave
of the Root.

The problem is, you’ll hardly ever see a C chord in music used in this fashion.
Usually, only part of the chord is used, and usually it’s divided up between the left
and the right hand.

In this book, we’ll learn how to structure your chords so that they sound great and
are easy to find and play. Also, we’ll learn how to move between chords in a way
that sounds great – another thing a chord encyclopedia can’t teach you.

Let’s look again at the chord diagram of the C chord. First of all, the 5th is not
necessary – so let’s drop it for now. We want to simplify the chords and learn the
most essential elements and leave out the extra stuff while we are learning the
basics of the system. Later, you’ll be very glad that we kept it simple. As my
grandfather the circus clown always used to say, “learn to juggle three balls before
trying to juggle six balls, a scimitar, and a flaming torch.” So for now leave out the
5th. That will give us this:

1
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C Major – leaving out the unnecessary fifth

R 3 R

Now another thing we’re going to learn in the book is what notes in a chord you
can double. While doubling the Root of the chord is perfectly fine and nice
sounding thing to do when you want your chord to sound fuller, it is also
unnecessary – so again, let’s leave out the unnecessary elements. So take off the
higher Root.

C Major – leaving out the unnecessarily doubling of the Root

R 3
Now we are down to the essential elements in a C chord: the Root and the 3rd.

Now we’re going to do one more thing to the chord, which is we’re going to drop
the Root down the octave.

C Major – Root dropped down the octave

Play in left hand

R 3

When you listen to music on the radio, there is usually a melody line (usually sung)
and there are chords played on such instruments as a piano, keyboard or guitar,
and there is usually a bass line. We want to imitate these three distinct voices
when we play on the piano. By dropping the Root down an octave, we move it
down into the bass range, where it might be played on a string bass or an electric
bass.

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Introduction part 2: Chord Quality


When you learn piano chords, it’s better to understand how they are constructed
than to memorize them one by one. This is because there are patterns in the way
chords are constructed that will allow you remember them more easily.

For example, many chords are one note away from being other chords. The
chord:

C Major 7th

R 7 3
has only one note different from

C Dominant 7th

7
R 3
Do you see how only the middle note is different?

What if next time you wanted to figure out a chord, instead of looking in a chord
encyclopedia, you said to yourself, “Oh, I’ll just take the middle note down a key”?

Knowing how chords are constructed will keep you from having to always refer to
chord encyclopedias.

Knowing how chords are constructed also will help you when you get into playing
more creatively and improvising. Specifically, you’ll know how to move from one
chord more smoothly to the next, and you’ll know which notes in a chord to
choose depending on the melody note.

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Chart 1: Seven Flavors of C chords

Dominant7th
Major 7th Major
Diminished 7th
Minor
Minor 7th
Diminished

In this book, the notes


played in the right hand
are written in notation
AND written below the
staff, for those who don’t
read music

As you can see from the notes written underneath the staff, most of these chords
are only a note or two different from the rest of the chords.

Learning the differences between these seven different qualities and how to find
them quickly is the major focus of this book.

The first chord above in chart 1 would look like this on the keyboard.

C Major 7th

C B E

Played in right hand

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Seventh Chords

All Seventh chords are made up of these three chord elements: The Root, the 3rd
and the 7th. In fact, Seventh chords are so named because they contain the 7th. As
you’ll remember from above,

to make a simple C chord, all you needed was


ƒ the Root
and
ƒ the 3rd.

To Make a C major 7th chord, you would need


ƒ the Root,
ƒ the 3rd
and
ƒ the 7th.
The Root of the chord
is in the name of the
chord. The Root of The first four chords below are 7th chords.
all these chords is the
note C.

The top row is the 3rd


of these chords

The next row is the 7th


of these chords

Both the 3rd of a Seventh chord and the 7th of a Seventh chord can either be Major
or Minor. See in chart 1 how some of the notes have the note “E” and some have
the note “Eb”? “E” is the Major 3rd above C. “Eb” is the minor 3rd of above C.

Depending on the pattern of 3rds and 7ths in the chord, it will be one of these
qualities of 7th chords.

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Here are the four seventh chords above put on a piano diagram for you. Play
through them and notice how the Major and Minor 3rds and 7ths sound.

C Major Seventh

R 7 3

Major 7th and Major 3rd

C Minor Seventh

7 3
R
Minor 7th and Minor 3rd

C Dominant Seventh

7
R 3

Minor 7th but Major 3rd – creates


Major vs. Minor clash!

C Diminished Seventh

3
R 7

Diminished 7th and Minor 3rd (same


clash as in Dominant, but with both 3rd
and 7th down a half-step)

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Non-Seventh Chords

The last three chords below are non-seventh chords. The top row is the 3rd
of these chords

The next row is the 5th


of these chords

The non-seventh chords that you’ll learn in this book are commonly called triads,
because they traditionally use three notes, the Root, the 3rd and the fifth. But you
don’t need the fifth, you could simply play the Root and 3rd.

C Major

R 5 3
C Minor
Major 3rd
3
R 5
Minor 3rd
C Diminished

5 3
R

Flat Fifth

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Introduction part 3: Chord Quality


determined by 3rd and 7th of chord

Look at the chart below. You’ll see the same seven qualities of C chords we saw
previously in chart 1, except that now the interval from the Root of the chord is
written underneath the staff instead of the note name.

If a chord has a minor 3rd, it If a chord has a major 3rd, it will


will have a mellower, sadder have a brighter more energetic
sound. sound.

Minor chord (m) Major chord (no symbol)


Diminished chord (dim) Major 7th chord (M7)
Minor 7th chord (m7) Dominant chord (7)
Diminished 7th chord (dim7)

Root with Minor 3rd (C and Eb)


These four chord
qualities will contain at
least the Root and the 3
Minor 3rd.
R

Root with Major 3rd (C and E)

These three chord


R 3 qualities will contain at
least the Root and the
Major 3rd

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Using Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method, you’ll find the starting position for a
chord, and then you’ll learn how to move the fingers in order to reach the final
chord. This is going to save a lot of time during the learning process.

Starting position

R R 4

Actual Chord

R 7 3

Do you see which notes moved between the Starting position above and the
actual chord? That’s right, the top two notes both moved to the left.

Learning the chords using this starting position will help you to see how different
qualities of chords with the same root are related.

For example, how

C Major 7th

R 7 3

relates to

C Minor 7th

7 3
R

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Do you notice how in the C Minor 7th chord the 7th and the 3rd are down one key
from where they are in the C Major 7th chord?

Here the 7th and 3rd are Major:

C Major 7th

R 7 3

And here the 7th and 3rd are Minor:

C Minor 7th

7 3
R

Since the quality of a chord is determined by the 3rd and 7th of the chord,
all we need to make a great sounding chord is the root, the seventh and
the third. There are many more notes you can add, but at first you’ll
want to keep it simple

If the chord is a non-7th chord, all you’ll is the Root and the 3rd

This relationship will be true for all Major 7th and Minor 7th chords. Once you
know this logic, you’ll know how to find chords you haven’t memorized!

For example, if you need to find F Minor 7th from F Major 7th, you’ll just lower the
top two notes down a half-step each.

The top two keys of

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F Minor 7th

7 3
R
are each down one key from the top two keys of
F Major 7th

R 7 3

.
Ok, well, how do we find the 7th and 3rd? From the reference point, from this
starting position.

The starting position will put us close to the 3rd and 7th, but leave open whether
they are major and minor.

For example, the starting position for all C Chords will look like this:

C, C and F Starting position for C chords

or

the Root,
Root and 4th R R 4
from the note
C.
Here’s the starting position written with the note names

Starting position for C chords

C C F
Well learn rules on how to arrive at the different qualities of chords from the
starting position.

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For example. To find C Major 7th, you would know to move the top two notes down
a half-step from the starting position.

Starting position for C chords

R R 4

Top 2 notes down ½ step


for Major 7th chords:

C Major 7th

R 7 3

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty theory of it,

ƒ The Major 3rd is down a half-step from the 4th

and the

ƒ The Major 7th is down a half-step from the Root.

But instead of thinking of these pitches individually, the system will allow you to
find them as a unit! Once you know how to find the starting position, and you

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start to learn the rules on how to find certain qualities, you’ll find you can read
chord symbols very quickly. In fact, I taught one student who had played piano
for years but didn’t know how to read chord symbols. She learned the system and
played very well with it after only 20 minutes! Now many of you it will take weeks
to master because you don’t have the foundation in theory that she had. But if
you’ll take the time to understand the logic, the system will fall into place for you
very quickly!

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The Essentials of Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method


Here’s a quick sketch of the system. If this doesn’t make sense yet, don’t worry, I’ll work through
this in more detail in the upcoming chapters.

1. m7 chords. If the chord is a Minor seventh chord, move the top two notes
down two keys (two half-steps) each from the starting position.
C Minor 7th

7 3
R

2. M7 chords. If the chord is a Major seventh chord, move the top two notes
down one key (one half-steps) each from the starting position.

C Major 7th

R 7 3

3. 7 chords. If the chord is a dominant seventh chord, move the top note
down one key and the middle note down two.
C Dominant 7th

7
R 3

4. dim7 chords. If the chord is a diminished seventh, move the top note
down two keys and the middle note down three.
C Diminished 7th

3
R 7

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The Essentials of Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method for


Non-Seventh Chords

1. m chords. If the chord is a Minor chord, move the top note down two keys
(two half-steps) from the starting position; then move the middle note down a 4th
(I’ll teach you fourths soon!)
C Minor

3
R 5

2. M chords. If the chord is a Major chord, move the top note down one key
(one half-step) from the starting position; then move the middle note down a 4th.

C Major

R 5 3

3. dim chords. If the chord is a Diminished chord, move the top note down
two keys (two half-steps) from the starting position; the move the middle note
down a 4th, and then move the middle note down a half-step (so that it’s the flat
fifth!)

C Diminished

5 3
R

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A Note on Fingering:

Depending on the melody note, you may use different fingering. Generally for
now, play the root in the left and all the other notes in the right. This is how you
would play if you’re doing chord stabs in the right hand and a walking bass in the
left.

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A more advanced discussion of mixing the melody


and the chords
The following discussion maybe too difficult for those who are very new to reading
music, so if you find this too much to grasp, skip it for now and go on to chapter 1.

The first thing we’re going to learn is how to find chords from the symbols written in
popular fake books. Look at the example below. You’ll see a written melody with
chord symbols written above certain notes. You will hit the chords on those notes.

As you become more sophisticated in your playing, you may hit them around those
notes. There are many ways to do this, and we will get into those in later chapters.

To understand the sort of thinking involved in playing the above example, I want to
walk you through it. You obviously, don’t know how to find the elements of the
chords yet, so just pretend you do, for a minute so that you can understand where I’m
taking you in the book, before you set out on the journey!

On the word “am” from “I am a melody”, you’ll see you have the note E in the
melody and a CM7 chord written above. Using Nate’s three finger piano method,
you’ll learn to find a CM7 chord quickly.

So assuming you already know this, you’ll see that you’ll need to play:

ƒ C in the left hand (the Root)

ƒ B and E in the right hand

ƒ E in the melody (which always goes on top)

Now since E is both the top note of your chord, and the melody note (which should
generally go on top), you see you have some overlap. This means, you’ll only be
playing 3 notes, instead of the four notes you would play if the melody note were
different from the notes in the chord.

So it would look like this on the keyboard:

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C Major 7th

R 7 3

Both the melody and the top


note of the chord
ƒ The R stands for Root, which will be played in the left hand.

ƒ The 7 stands for the 7th of the chord, and it will be middle note (for now)

ƒ The 3 stands for the 3rd of the chord, and it will be the top note (for now)

OK, so now let’s look at the next part of this selection. On the “dy” of “melody”,
you’ll see we have Am7 with C (an octave above middle C) in the melody.

So again assuming you already know the method, you’ll see that you need:

ƒ A in the left hand (the Root)

ƒ G and C in the right hand

ƒ C in the melody (which always goes on top)

Now, again you’ll see the the top note of your chord and the melody note are
redundant, so again, you’ll only play three notes.

A Minor 7th

R 7 3
As in the last example, the
melody and the top note of the
chord are the same.

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OK, let’s look at the next part. Using Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method, you’ll see
that you need:

ƒ D in the left hand (the Root)

ƒ C and F in the right hand

ƒ E in the melody (which always goes on top)

Now we have a problem. It’s much easier when the melody and the top of the chord
are the same note. So we need to put E on top, so take the F (the top note of the
chord) down the octave and you’ll have a decent solution:

This is how Dm7 usually looks:

D Minor 7th

R 7 3

Now if you add the melody note on top, and take the top note of the chord down an
octave, so as not to conflict with the melody note, you’ll get this:

Dm7 with the melody note E added

R 3 7 M

M Stands for Melody


Note

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Now later on in this book, we’ll learn that the note E is the 9th of the D chord, so you
could call the above chord Dm9 instead of “Dm7 with the melody note E added”.

Many times in fake books such as the “Ultimate Jazz Fakebook C Edition”, you’ll see a
9th chord written, but it is the melody note as well, so you don’t need to figure out the
9th. The 9th of the chord is always optional anyway, so while you’re learning to read
chords, you can just leave it out at first (Unless, of course, it’s also the melody note!).

OK, now to the next part of the selection. Using Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method,
you’ll find that you need to play:

ƒ G in the left hand (the Root)

ƒ F and B in the right hand

ƒ D in the melody (which always goes on top)

Now if you play your G7 chord so that all three notes fall below middle C, you can just
add the D melody note on top, like this:

G Dominant 7th with added melody note D

R 7 3 M

You can play the top three


notes in the right hand

OK, now to our final part of this selection. You see you have a C chord, with C in the
melody. Using Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method, you see that all you need to make a
C chord is the Root and the 3rd.

ƒ C in the left hand (the Root)

ƒ E in the right hand

ƒ C in the melody (which always goes on top)

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Now, you can always add the fifth to a chord to make it richer, and in this case, since
you only have two distinct notes in your chord, I think it’s a good idea, so add the fifth
as well.

R 3

C with added 5th

R 5 3

C with added 5th and C in the melody

R 3 5 M

I took the 3rd down the octave,


so that the melody is on top

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1
Chapter
B A C K G R O U N D I N F O Y O U ’ L L N E E D T O K N O W

The Essentials of Piano


Chords
All about Chords and Intervals

B
efore we get into the system, you’ll need to know some basics of music theory.
If you’ve already studied music, you can glance over this chapter and then
move right on to chapter 2. If you’ve never studied music before, you might
need to spend a little more time on this chapter.

Chords
A chord is a group of notes played at the same time that sound good together. For
example, go to your piano and play the note C in your left hand. (It’s the note that’s
just to the left of the two black keys.)

C E

Now in your right hand, play the note E. (It’s the note just to the right of the two
black keys).

These two notes played together make a chord! Chords can have lots of notes or just
two notes.

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For example, we could add another C to the chord, just below the E, and the chord
would still sound about the same.

C C E

Play the top two


notes in the right
hand for now.
Fingering doesn’t
matter just yet.

Certain notes tend to change the flavor of a chord. For example, if we add the note B
Flat to the notes C and E, we’ll get a very different sort of sound.

B Flat is the right-most of the three black keys. It is written with the flat symbol, which
looks like a cursive letter b.

b
B

C E

So when you add the note B Flat to the notes C and E, you get what’s called a C7
chord.

In sheet music, you might see it like this:

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What you see here are two chord symbols, the symbol for the chord C7 (“pronounced
C Seven”) and the symbol for the chord F. Underneath you see five notes. This is the
melody.

So what we’ll want to do is play the chord along with the melody note written below it.
Often, the melody note will be part of the chord – as we see here. The note E, which
is the first note of the melody, is also the top note of the C7 chord you’ve learned.

So you would play those three notes, the C in the left hand, the Bb and E in the right.

Then you would play the three melody notes that follow, the D, C and E. You can
either hold down the chord while you play those other notes, or let go of it, depending
on the style and your skill at the keyboard.

You would then play the next chord along with its melody note. (We’ll learn the F
chord in a minute.)

That’s the essence of how to use chords. Now let’s learn how Chord Symbols
constructed.

HOW CHORDS SYMBOLS ARE BUILT:

ROOT QUALITY EXTRA STUFF

F#m7b5
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Root
Usually the bottom note of a chord, the Root is the fundamental note of the chord to
which the other notes relate.

R 7 3

Root Note
Related notes

Quality
The next part any chord symbol is the Quality of the chord. This changes depending
on the related notes. For example a C chord has the note E in it, while a Cm chord
(pronounced “C minor”) has the note Eb in it.

Here’s a C chord.

C E

Here’s a Cm chord.

E
b
C

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The quality usually depends on two related notes: the third and the seventh.

For example the note E is the third of the note C. The note Eb is the minor third of
the note C.

Major 3rd Minor 3rd

When you play the Root and the third together, you get a chord. If you play C and E
together you get a C Major chord (Often just called a C chord – the Major quality is
assumed). If you play C and Eb together you get a C Minor chord.

The other most important note for determining the quality of a chord is the seventh.
The seventh of the note C is the note B. The minor seventh of the note C is the note
Bb.

(The note B is just to the right of the three black keys.)

C B

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When you play the Root, the 3rd and the 7th, you get what’s called a seventh chord.

C B E

This is a blanket term for all the different types of seventh chords.

There are four qualities of seventh chords you will see:

ƒ the Major 7th chord

ƒ the Minor 7th chord

ƒ the Dominant 7th chord

ƒ The Diminished 7th chord

Confusingly the Dominant 7th chord is often the “default” seventh chord, so if
someone said to you, “play a C Seven chord,” they would actually mean a dominant
chord. Most people don’t use the proper term, dominant, because it’s a long word.
To distinguish the dominant from the other chords, these improper folks will
describe the other seventh chords by their whole name. “Play C seven, and then
play C minor seven”. You would understand this to mean “Play C dominant, and
then play C minor seventh”.

To save yourself from confusion, remember that All “seven” chords are “seventh”
chords, but not all “seventh” chords are seven chords.

In other words, the dominant chord (which is often called “seven”) is a type of
seventh chord, but not all seventh chords are dominant.

The chord above using C, B and E, is a Major 7th Chord. The chord on page two
using C, Bb and E is a Dominant 7th Chord.

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C Major 7th uses the notes B and E in the right hand. C Dominant 7th uses the notes
Bb and E in the right hand.

C Minor 7th uses the notes Bb and Eb in the right hand. C Diminished 7th uses the
notes A and Eb in the right hand.

(The note A is the right-most of the two white keys between the three black keys.)

E
b
C A

Extra Stuff
The “extra stuff” is the third thing you’ll see tacked on after the quality. This is for
alterations to the chord or for added-on notes. For example, the symbol C7b5
(pronounced “C Seven, flat five”) is just a C Dominant chord with the flat fifth added
on.

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The flat fifth of any C chord is the note G Flat. It’s the left most of the three black
keys.

G
b

Here’s a C7b5 chord. Compare it to the C7 chord we talked about earlier. Do you see
how it’s the same chord, just with one added note? That’s the essence of the “extra-
stuff” part of chord symbols.

b
B G
b
C E

Try playing these


two notes in the
right hand, while
the C and Bb are
played in the left

Now the extra stuff adds some complexity to what we’re doing, so we’ll leave off the
extra stuff for now. If you see C7b5, just play C7. OK? This will make things easier at
first, and then, whenever you’re ready, you can it back in.

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Learning the Sharp and Flat Note Names


The black keys on the keyboard don’t have their own names. They borrow their
names from the keys to the left and right.

For example, look below at the notes A and B. B is the note just to the right of the
three black keys. A is the right-most of the two white keys between the three black keys.
They have one note in between them, which can be named either B flat or A sharp.

In this first diagram you see the sharp names for the black keys. These names come
from the note just to the left. So C sharp is one key “higher” than C. “Higher” on the
key board means to the right on the keyboard.

C# D# F# G# A#

C D E F G A B

In this second diagram you see the flat names for the black keys. These names come
from the note just to the right. So D Flat is one key “lower’ than the note D. “Lower”
on the keyboard means to the left.

Db Eb Gb Ab Bb

C D E F G A B

“Lower pitches” “Higher pitches”

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Often, you’ll see sharps as the music goes up in pitch (as you move from left to right
on the keyboard).

Often, you’ll see flats as the music goes down in pitch (as you move from right to left
on the keyboard).

Usually a chord is spelled with either all sharps or all flats, not both. So an Eb minor
chord would only use flats. You would spell it Eb and Gb, not Eb and F#. Even if F#
is much more common way to spell that piano key.

An E flat minor chord is spelled with all flats.

E
b
G
b

You could also call this a D sharp minor chord. But then you need to spell all of the
notes with sharps.

A D sharp minor chord is spelled with all sharps.

#
D
#
F

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The Intervals You’ll Need to Know


The method this book will teach you requires you to know a few intervals. Intervals
are the distances between notes.

First of all, you’ll need to know half-steps. Half-steps are the smallest interval.
Basically from any one key to the next key is a half-step – regardless or whether that
key is a white or black key.

Here are some examples of half-steps.

ƒ C to C# is half-step.

ƒ D to D# is a half-step.

ƒ E to F is a half-step.

ƒ D# to E is a half-step.

C# D# F# G# A#

C D E F G A B

This is what half-steps look like.

So it doesn’t matter whether the key is white or black, as long as it’s adjacent, the
distance is a half-step.

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The next interval you’ll need to know is a whole-step. A whole-step is basically two
half-steps. Whole-steps have one key in between them.

For example

ƒ C to D is a whole-step (C# is in between)

ƒ D to E is a whole-step (D# is in between)

ƒ E to F# is a whole-step (F is in between)

ƒ F# to G# is a whole-step (G is in between)

C# D# F# G# A#

C D E F G A B

Examples of whole-steps. Notice most whole steps either go from a white key to a
white key, or a black key to a black key. They’re a little tricky around the notes E and F
because there is no black key in between. So, these ones use both white and black
keys. The same is true between B and C, although you can’t see it on this diagram.

Here are some of the trickier whole-steps that use both white and black keys.

ƒ Eb to F

ƒ E to F#

ƒ Bb to C

ƒ B to C#

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The last interval you’ll need to know for the system, and the most important one, is the
fourth.

Fourths have four keys in between.

Db Eb Gb Ab Bb

C D E F G A B
So for example,

ƒ C to F is a fourth (Db, D, Eb and E are in between)

ƒ D to G is a fourth (Eb, E, F and Gb are in between)

ƒ F to Bb is a fourth (Gb, G, Ab, and A are in between)

Easy Two Easy Tricks for Finding Fourths


Between White Keys
To find a fourth between white keys, just skip two white keys. So for example:

ƒ To find a fourth above C, skip two white keys (C and D) and you’ll find the
fourth, F.

ƒ To find a fourth above D, skip two white keys (D and F) and you’ll find the
fourth, G.

Just watch out for the one exception! F to B is not a fourth. See below under
Exceptions.

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Between Black Keys


To find a fourth between black keys, just skip one black key. So for example:

ƒ To find a fourth above Db, skip one black key (Eb) and you’ll find the fourth,
Gb.

ƒ To find a fourth above Eb, skip one black key (Gb) and you’ll find the fourth,
Ab

Just watch out for the one exception! Gb to Bb is not a fourth. See below under
Exceptions.

Exceptions
There are two exceptions to our trick for finding fourths. Here they are.

Exception 1
If you use the trick for white keys starting on F, it doesn’t work. This is the one
exception to the white key rule.

F to B is not a fourth! The “skip two white keys” rule will mislead you here. You just
have to memorize this exception.

F B

The fourth above F is Bb.

Bb

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Exception 2
If you use the trick for black keys starting on F# (or Gb – same note just spelled
differently) it doesn’t work. This is the one exception to the black key rule.

F# to A# (or Gb to Bb) is not a fourth! The “skip one black key” rule will mislead
you here. You just have to memorize this one exception.

F# A#

The fourth is F# to B!

F#

Here’s a list of fourths. For homework, see if you can find them all on the piano:

ƒ C to F

ƒ C# to F#

ƒ D to G

ƒ Eb to Ab

ƒ E to A

ƒ F to Bb – (exception to the white key rule)

ƒ F# to Bb – (exception to the black key rule)

ƒ G to C

ƒ G# to C#

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ƒ Ab to Db

ƒ A to D

ƒ Bb to Eb

ƒ B to E

The Essential Elements of a Chord


So far we’ve talked about the Root, the 3rd and the 7th. The Root is the foundation of
the chord around which the other notes relate. The 3rd and 7th are the notes that
determine the quality of the chord.

There is one more element of the chord that you will see much more in other chord
books, but I try to minimize, and that’s the fifth. The fifth is not an essential element
of the chord. You will often see it in other chord books because they teach you the
chords in terms of triads. Triads are chords that use the Root, 3rd and 5th (all three
notes are third away from one another, hence the name triad).

The fifth helps strengthen a chord and make it more powerful, but it can also cause
problems as far as voice leading, and until you are more advanced, I would
recommend leaving it out. Eventually, when your ear is stronger, you’ll sense when
you should add a little fifth, or when you should leave it out.

On the following pages, we’ll review the essential elements of a chord and how to find
them.

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The Third
The third is the next most essential note in a chord after the root. In fact, you can
make a chord with simply the root and 3rd. Remember the 3rd for C Major? Thanks
right, E.

R 3

Root Note
The third

Major Thirds and Minor Thirds


Thirds can either be higher or lower in pitch. If they are higher in pitch, they will be
more to the right on the keyboard.

R 3

Root Note Major 3rd is further to the


right on the keyboard

And if they’re lower in pitch, they’ll be more to the left on the keyboard.

Root Note
Minor 3rd is further to the
left on the keyboard

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Finding the Minor or Major 3rd of a chord


In this book we’ll be learning to find the 3rds of your chord by first finding the 4th and
then counting down either a half-step or whole-step.

This is why we needed to learn how to find fourths!


The minor 3rd will be down a whole-step from the 4th

R 4
The 4th

Root Note
Minor 3rd is down a whole-
step from the 4th

The major 3rd will be down a half-step from the 4th

R 3 4

The 4th

Root Note
Major 3rd is down a half-
step from the 4th

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Practice finding the Major 3rd

First, find C on the key keyboard with your left hand.

Then pair it with another C higher on the keyboard (further to the right).

C C

Now find the note up a fourth from the higher C. Remember the rule for white notes?
Just skip two white notes to find it. (So skip D and E, and you’ll land on F). To test to
make sure it’s a fourth, you can count the number of keys in between, and it should be
four. (So, Db, D, Eb and E – that’s four!)

C C F
Now to find the major 3rd, just take the top note down a half-step. And there we have
the Major 3rd, the note E. If you play all three notes, you’ll get a C Major chord.

C C E

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Practice finding the Minor 3rd

First, find C on the key keyboard with your left hand.

Then pair it with another C higher on the keyboard (further to the right).

C C

Now find the note up a fourth from the higher C, which is F.

C C F
Now to find the minor 3rd, just take the top note down a whole-step. Remember, with
a whole step we skip one note (in this case the note E), so the minor 3rd is the note Eb.

If you play all three notes, you’ll have a C minor chord.

E
b
C C

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The Fifth
The fifth is an extra note that is added for flavor. Unlike the 3rd, it’s not necessary to
make most chords.

R 5 3

Root Note
The fifth The third

Finding the fifth


The fifth can be found down a 4th from the Root. Another good reason to know how
to find fourths!.

R 5 R 3

The fifth – down a 4th from


the Root

Root Note (up the


octave)

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Triads
Triads are chords that use only the Root, 3rd and 5th.

R 5 3

7th Chords
7th chords use the Root, 3rd and 5th, and add one additional note, the 7th.

R 5 7 3

Finding the 7th


The 7th of a chord is a lot like the 3rd of a chord, except, instead of finding it from the
4th, you’ll find it from the Root.

R 5 7 3

Down ½ step from 4th


Down ½ step from
Root

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The minor 7th will be down a whole-step from the Root

R R
Root (up the
octave)
Root Note
Minor 7th is down a whole-
step from the Root

The major 7th will be down a half-step from the Root

R 7 R

Root (up the


octave)
Root Note
Major 7th is down a half-
step from the Root

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Practice finding the Major 7th

First, find C on the key keyboard with your left hand.

Then pair it with another C higher on the keyboard (further to the right).

C C

Now to find the major 7th, all you need to do is go down a half-step from the higher C.
Remember, a half-step is the next (adjacent) note.

C B

If you play these two notes, by the way, it’s not a chord, because a chord needs a third.

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Practice finding the Minor 7th

First, find C on the key keyboard with your left hand.

Then pair it with another C higher on the keyboard (further to the right).

C C

Now to find the major 7th, all you need to do is go down a whole-step from the higher
C. Remember, with a whole step you skip one note (in this case the note B). B flat is
the minor 7th of C.

b
B

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Finding the 7th and 3rd in pairs


One of the best tricks you’ll learn in this book is to think of the 7th and 3rd in pairs
when finding them. This will eliminate many steps and allow you to visualize them
more easily on the keyboard.

R 7 3

Root Note
Both notes down a ½ step from
“starting position”

The Starting Position


The starting position is a visual guide to help you find any chord; it is a valuable
learning tool while learning to read chords. A fancy way to describe would be that it’s
a metachord – a reference point to the other chords you’ll learn.

Since the 3rd is found from the fourth, and the 5th and seventh are found from the
Root, you will want to start with The Root and the 4th.

R 4

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So our starting position will look like this. It’s going to be the Root note, twice (in
octaves) and then the note a fourth above the higher root.

The Starting Position

R R 4

How we’ll use the Starting Position.


Once you have found the starting position for a chord, you’ll move down to find the
major or minor 7ths depending on the quality of the chord. This will be discussed in
great length in later chapters.

But let’s look at an example quickly.

If you take the top two notes down a half-step each you’ll get a Major 7th chord. For C
Major 7th, the top two notes would be B and E.

Major 7th chord

R 7 3
Maj 7th and the Maj 3rd

If you take the top two notes down a whole-step each you’ll get a Minor 7th chord. For
C minor 7th, the top two notes would be Bb and Eb.

Minor 7th chord

7 3
R
Min 7th and the Min 3rd

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From the starting position you’ll find different


qualities of chords
As you can see, once you have found the starting position for a chord, it’s simply a
matter of knowing the right moves to find the quality of chord you want.

If you are looking for an F minor 7th chord, you would first, find the starting position
for F:

Starting Position for F Chords

4
R R

You would then take the top two notes down a whole-step each. (Remember,
down means to the left on the keyboard). This would give you an F minor 7th
chord.

F Minor 7th

7 3
R

So you can see the system breaks down into two major parts:

ƒ First, learning to find the starting position for the all 12 keys.

ƒ Then, learning the moves from the starting position (in terms of half-steps and
whole-steps) to finding the final chord

While learning the system takes some thought, it will save you from having to think in
the long run, because you’ll know the theory in a visual way, rather than having
memorized the chords by rote, therefore you’ll be much more flexible to improvise
around a melody with accompaniment you come up with.

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An Overview of Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method


Steps 1-2: Finding the Starting Position
At first, you will want to find the Root of the chord in octaves, then the fourth above
the higher root. This will be the starting position.

For example, for all C chords, you will find C, C and F. Then depending on whether
it’s Major 7th, Minor 7th or many other qualities of chords, we’ll move the top two notes
to find the chord.

The Starting Position for All C Chords

R R 4

Step 3: Finding the Quality from the Starting Position


Depending on the quality of the chord (M, m, 7, M7, m7, dim7), you will move the top
two notes to the left in certain patterns.

The 7 Common Qualities of Chords


(You don’t need to know all of this right now,
just take a quick look at it for now)

ƒ M – Major Chord{R, Major 3rd }

ƒ m – Minor Chord {R, Minor 3rd }

ƒ dim – Diminished Chord {R, Minor 3rd, Flat 5th}

ƒ M7 – Major 7th Chord{R, Major 7th and Major 3rd }

ƒ m7 – Minor 7th Chord {R, Minor 7th and Minor 3rd}

ƒ 7 – Dominant 7th Chord {R, Minor 7th and Major 3rd}

ƒ dim7 – Diminished 7th Chord {R, Diminished 7th and Minor 3rd}

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2
Chapter
F O U R T H S A N D H O W T O F I N D T H E M 3 6

Fourths
The interval you’ll use most in the system is the 4th.

Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method uses the interval of the fourth a lot – so we’re going
to take this chapter to get to know this very important interval.

Look at the diagram below. Each of these notes is a fourth away from the next.

E A D G C F
Can you figure out the pattern between them? Try counting the white keys between
them. Do you see how there are two white keys between of these keys with a letter
written on it?

This is going to be our rule for finding fourths between white keys.

Rule: To find fourths between white keys, go up three white keys, or down three
white keys.

Now to show you a little of how the system works. I want you to play the first note on
this chart, the note E.

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Now play both E and A.

E A
Now I want you to play the black key just to the left of A. This note is called G sharp.

#
G

Now play both E and G#. Since the note A is a fourth above E, the note just to the
left is called the major 3rd. So G# is the major 3rd of E. They sound nice together,
don’t they? A major chord can be made simply from a note and its major 3rd. Of
course in music, the third will probably be an octave higher than the root note – like
this:

#
G

Now let’s go back and find E again, only this time, let’s find the note E higher on the
keyboard.

Now find the note a fourth down from E. Remember it’s the third white key down
(skip two white keys).

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You should get this note:

Now play them together:

B E

Now add back in your note G#:

#
G

E B E
Play the
bottom note
here in the So the note E is the root of the chord. The note G# is the major 3rd, and the note B?
left hand. The note B is the fifth.

It maybe a little confusing at first, but the 5th of a chord is down a fourth from the root!

Rule: The 5th of a chord is down a fourth from the root.

E 2 3 4 B 6 7 E

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Now this principle will work for all of these chords. Say you want to form a D chord,
look at the fourths chart again.

E A D G C F
The fifth will be the note a fourth to the left (A).

The third will be down a half-step from the note a fourth to the right (F#)

A D G

#
F

A D
So this is a D chord. Very easy to find when you know fourths!

Of course, the root will usually be played down an octave or two.

#
F

D A

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How about a G chord? Again, look at the fourths chart.

E A D G C F
Now take the notes a fourth up and a fourth down.

D G C

Now find the note down a half-step from the highest note. This time it won’t be a
black key, because there isn’t a black key to the left of the top note.

D G B

And there you go, the G chord. Now try it with the middle note down an octave (and
in the left hand)

G D B

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Fourths between the black keys on the Piano


Below you see another chart of notes a fourth apart, only this time, between black keys.
Do you see how there is one black key between each key with a name label on it? This
is our rule for black keys.

b b b b b
B E A D G

Rule: To find fourths between black keys go down two black keys, or up two
black keys (skip one black key).

The same process I was showing you for finding major chords works with the black
keys as well. For example, let’s say we want to find the chord Ab Major. Simply take
Ab, the note a fourth to the left on the keyboard and the note a fourth to the right on
the keyboard – this will be your starting position for figuring out the chord.

b b b
E A D

Now take the right-most key down a half-step and you’ll have a major chord.

b b
E A

C
So this is an Ab Major chord. You could also take the middle note (the root) down an
octave or two and play it in the left hand.

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The First Exception to the Fourths Rule.


There are two exceptions to the fourths rule. First, remember the rule for white keys,
well, this doesn’t work between the notes F and B. These two notes, even though they
have two white keys between them, are NOT a fourth! This exception you simply
have to memorize. The fourth above F is Bb.

F B

NOT A
FOURTH

A Fourth Above F is Bb. A Fourth Below Bb is F.

b
B

An “Exceptional” Fourth

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The Second Exception to the Fourths Rule.


The interval between F# and A#, while it skips one black key is NOT a fourth. But
F# to B is!

#
F
#
A

NOT A
FOURTH

A Fourth Above F# is B. A Fourth Below B is F#.

#
F

An “Exceptional” Fourth

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Practice Finding Chords Around the Exceptional


Fourths
To find an F chord, you’ll need a fourth above, Bb, and a fourth below, C.

b
B

C F

Then take the top note down a half-step, so Bb will go to A.

C F A

This is an F chord. The note C is the fifth, the note A is the major 3rd.

How about an Bb chord? You can use the rule for black keys to find the note above
(Eb), but the fourth below is one of the exceptions, so you just have to know that a
fourth below Bb is F.

b b
B E

F
OK, now take the top note down a half-step and you’ll have a Bb chord.

b
B

F D

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OK, now let’s look at chords that are built using the fourth between F# and B. The
first such a chord is the chord F# major. Here’s F# and the notes a fourth down and
a fourth up from F#.

#
C
#
F

OK, now bring the top note down a half-step. This is an F# Major chord.

#
C F
# #
A

How about a B chord? The fourth down from B is F# and the fourth above B is E.

#
F

B E

Now take the top note down a half-step and you’ll have a B chord.

#
F
#
D

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Now practice finding fourths on the keyboard, from this notation. In this first
example, you see two measures of music. In the first measure are the notes A and E
played simultaneously. In the second measure, you will take the A down a half-step to
G# (to the black key just to the left of A). Above these two notes, you’ll see the chord
symbol for the chord E, which is simply the letter E.

Here’s another example. The D, the fourth above it (G) – and then the note a half-
step down from G, F#. F# is the major 3rd of a D chord.

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Fourths Study One

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Fourths Study Two

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Fourths Study Three

If you feel you know your fourths and would like to test yourself, visit the online quiz:

http://www.patternpiano.com/fourths/

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Using Fourths to Find C Chords

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Using Fourths to Find F Chords

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Using Fourths to Find G Chords

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Using Fourths to Find Bb Chords

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Using Fourths to Find D Chords

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Using Fourths to Find Eb


Chords

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Using Fourths to Find A Chords

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Using Fourths to Find Ab Chords

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Using Fourths to Find E Chords

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Using Fourths to Find Db Chords

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Using Fourths to Find B Chords

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Using Fourths to Find Gb Chords

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3
Chapter
M A J O R 7 T H C H O R D S A N D H O W T O F I N D T H E M

Chapter 3: Major 7th Chords and


How to Find Them
OK, Now let’s get into using the system!

Demonstration: Finding CM7 and Cm7 from the


Starting Position for all C Chords
Starting Position for C Chords

R R 4

From the Starting Position (R, R and 4th), you will move the top two notes down a
half-step each to find a Major 7th Chord.

C Major 7th

R 7 3

Down a half-step from


Starting Position

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From the Starting Position (R, R and 4th), you will move the top two notes down a
whole-step each to find a Minor 7th Chord.

C Minor 7th

7 3
R

Down a whole-step from


Starting Position
Note: a whole step is the same as two half-steps.

NOTE: People sometimes are confused that you move the top two notes a half-
step for a Major 7th and a whole step for a Minor 7th.
They wonder, why do you move “more” for minor than major?

The starting position is higher in pitch, and therefore more to the right on the
keyboard than any of the final chords. That’s why you move further to the left
for a Minor 7th chord than a Major 7th chord, because the Root and 4th (in the
starting position) are the highest position in the chord, you will be moving down
(to the left) to find the 7th and and 3rd of each chord.

-----------------------------
When you talk about “high” and “low” on the keyboard, “high” is more to the
right, “low” is more to the left.

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Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method: Finding the


Starting Position

Step 1
Find the Root of the Chord in Octaves. If it’s a C Major 7th Chord, you would find
two Cs:

R R
Play the left Root in the left hand and the right Root in the right hand.

If the chord were F# Major 7th Chord, you would find two F#s:

R R

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Step 2
Now find the root in your right hand and find the note a 4th above (to the right). If
you’re finding a C Major 7th Chord, the 4th above the Root (C) would be F.

R R 4

If you’re finding a F# Major 7th Chord, the 4th above Root (F#) would be B.

R R

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Finding the Quality from the Starting Position


What you have so far is what we’ll call the starting position. The starting position is
the Root of the chord in octaves with the fourth above the higher root (the one in your
right hand). The Third step is to move the top two notes to left. You will do it one of
six different ways. The first way is when you want to find a Major 7th Chord.

Step 3 for Major Seventh Chords, Move the top two notes (the higher Root and 4th)
down a half-step (one key to the left). For C Major 7th (CM7):

Starting Position for C Chords

R R 4

C Major 7th

R 7 3

For F Major 7th (FM7):

Starting Position for F Chords

4
R R

F Major 7th

R 7 3

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OK, while you don’t have to read music to understand this book, it will help if you
have a sense of it.

Here are steps one through 3 for both CM7 and FM7. If you read music, this will be a
review of the last few pages. If you don’t read music, use this opportunity to try to
start understanding music some.

Top two notes


are written on
the top staff,
and are played
in the right
hand

The bottom
note (the
Root) will be
played in the
left hand, and are written here in
the bottom staff. Most of the
time, I won’t write out the bass
for you, since the bass note is
given in the chord name.
Here is the same thing, but with the notes written out for those of you who don’t read
music well yet.

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Practicing moving from CM7 to FM7


These two chords are quite common, and I want you to familiarize yourself with them
right away, because I will be using various C and F chords to demonstrate much of the
theory in this book. Yes, there are many other chords, but it will be easier to
understand the concepts if we just concentrate on these two roots for now.

In the first measure above, you’ll see the two chords you learned on the previous page
written out in notation. The numbers underneath indicate what chord degree the
notes represent. In other words, in the first chord, CM7, the 3 represents that the top
note of that chord is the 3rd. The 7 represents that the middle note of that chord is the
7th.

Where is the bottom note? Well, to save space in the book, I’ve written only the
treble clef. The bottom note will always be written in the chord name. So for the first
chord, the bottom note (played in the left hand) is C! For the next chord, it’s F! That’s
easy isn’t it. This is also good practice, because fake books don’t give you the bass
either!

Common tone

Here, I’ve given you the same selection, but with the note names written underneath
(very handy if you don’t read music). Notice that in the second measure the 3rd o f the
CM7 chord (E) becomes the 7th o f the FM7 (E, as well, of course). This is a
phenomenon that will become very clear to you as we go through the book. That’s
because these two chords are related by the circle of fifths. I know, it sounds

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mysterious and powerful doesn’t it? Like Stonehenge or the Knights of the Round
Table. But the circle of fifths is quite easy. All it means is that the roots of the two
chords are related by a 4th.

C to F is a 4th

Chords that are related by the circle of fifths are used all the time in every style of
music from Bach to Rap. Because they are used so often, it is good to learn patterns of
chords moving around the circle of fifths with smooth voice leading.

Smooth Voice leading means that the notes in one chord move to the notes in the
next chord in the smoothest way possible. As you can see below, in the second
measure, the B moves down a whole-step to the A, which is much smoother than what
happens in the first measure, where the B jumps up almost a whole octave to the A.

Poor voice Leading Smooth voice Leading

Both notes jump a Top note stays the


4th: not smooth same, bottom note
moves down a
whole step: much
smoother!

Voices are the notes in a chord. If the top note of each chord above is a voice, in
would stay on the same note in the second measure (which is quite smooth) and it
would jump up a 4th in the first measure (not very smooth). The middle voice drops
down a whole step in the second measure (a smaller, smoother interval), and it jumps
up a 4th (the same as the top note) in the first measure (not very smooth).

As you can see, playing chords with smooth voice leading is a very desirable skill to
learn, and we will discuss it in the second half of this book – but first, you’ll have to
learn how to find the notes in chords before you learn how to move smoothly between

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them. In this book, we will learn two ways to play chords – in the first one, we’ll put
the 3rd on top and the 7th in the middle.

As soon as you start to grow confident playing them in this first voicing, we will learn
the second voicing, in which the order of the notes are reversed: the 7th will be on top
and the 3rd in the middle. This is the voicing of FM7 you see in the second measure up
above. By switching the order of the 7th and 3rd of the second chord when you switch
between two chords related by the circle of fifths – you will create very smooth,
pleasing chord changes.

Since these patterns are used so often, it is usually preferable to memorize these
“changes” or groups of two chords, and how to move between them smoothly, rather
than learning the chords individually. So, for those who can start memorizing these
patterns right away before learning all the chords, I would recommend it. When you
read, If you can look at two chords and know what to do instead of one, it will allow
you to read faster as well as smoother.

Moving from CM7 to FM7 with Smooth Voice Leading

C Major 7th

R 7 3

F Major 7th

R 3 7

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Things to remember when moving around the circle of fifths between two chords:

ƒ The root will go up a fourth

ƒ the top note stays the same

ƒ the middle note drops either a whole step or a half-step (depending on the
qualities of the chord – If moving from a Major 7th to a Major 7th, as
demonstrated above, the middle note will go down a whole step).

Moving from DM7 to GM7 with Smooth Voice Leading


OK, so let’s look at this same smooth voice leading pattern with two other common
chords. This is the exact same pattern as with CM7 to FM7, but everything has been
taken up a whole step.

D Major 7th

7 3
R

G Major 7th (voicing two)

R 3

As an exercise, try to transpose this pattern up another whole step (EM7 to AM7)
without finding it later in the book.

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Practice Finding Major 7th Chords


Use Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method.

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Note: every 2nd chord is a


voicing 2 chord, written as Moving from Major 7th Chord to Major 7th Chord
“v2” in parentheses. To find
the second chord in each
measure, just

a) take the middle note of the


1st chord in each measure down
a whole step (for example, B to SAME NOTE
A in the first measure) and
DOWN WHOLE
b) change the Root of the 1st STEP
chord to the Root of the second
(for example, C to F in the
first measure). (Remember, I
haven’t written the Root of
each chord out in notation,
because it’s in the name of the
chord!

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4
Chapter
M I N O R 7 T H C H O R D S A N D H O W T O F I N D T H E M

Chapter 4: Minor 7th Chords and


How to Find Them
OK, we’ve learned
Major 7th chords, now th
Step 3 for Minor Seventh Chords, Move the top two notes (the higher Root and 4 )
let’s learn Minor 7th th
chords. The only down a whole-step (two keys to the left). For C Minor 7 (Cm7):
difference is that
instead of taking the Starting Position for C Chords
top two notes (the
ntoes in the right hand)
down a half-step as
you did for Major 7th
chords, you’ll be taking R R 4
them down a whole-
step for Minor 7th
chords.
C Minor 7th

7 3
R

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For F Minor 7th (Fm7):

Starting Position for F Chords

4
R R

F Minor 7th

7 3
R

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Learning the differences between Major 7th chords


and Minor 7th chords.
The only difference between Minor 7th chords and Major 7th chords is that the 7th and
3rd o f the chord (the notes played in the right hand) are a half-step lower for Minor 7th
chords than for major 7th chords.

The right hand in these two measures

is down exactly a ½ step from the


right hand in these two measures

So, if I were to tell you that B flat Major 7th is the notes “Bb, A and D”, you should be
able to figure out that B flat Minor 7th is the notes “Bb, Ab and Db”.

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Practice Finding Minor 7th Chords


Use Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method. The right hand (the top two notes) is down a
half-step from its Major 7th Chord equivalent.

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As with the Major 7th


chords, when moving between Moving from Minor 7th Chord to Minor 7th Chord
two minor 7th chords using
smooth voice leading,
the top note will remain the
same, and the middle note
will move down a whole step.
The Root note, in the left
hand, is in the name of the
chord, and therefore, I don’t
write it out. (For example,
the first chord, is C in the
left hand with Bb and Eb
in the right hand)

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5
Chapter
D O M I N A N T 7 T H C H O R D S A N D H O W T O F I N D T H E M

Chapter 5: Dominant7th Chords


and How to Find Them
Step 3 for Dominant Seventh Chords, Move the middle note down a whole step and
move the top note down a half-step. For C Dominant 7th (C7):

Starting Position for C Chords

R R 4

C Dominant 7th

7
R 3

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For F Dominant 7th (F7):

Starting Position for F Chords

4
R R

F Dominant 7th

7
R 3

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Understanding Dominant 7ths


The dominant 7th is a hybrid of the Major and Minor 7th qualities. The third (the top
note in voicing 1) is major, while the 7th (the middle note in voicing 1) is minor. This
creates an intense sound harmonically that wants to resolve. Dominants are used in
music to create a strong harmonic desire to resolve to the next chord around the circle
of fifths (the chord with its root up a 4th).

Dominant 7ths have a Major 3rd and a Minor 7th.

It uses the minor 7th, as do Minor 7th chords.

And it uses the major 3rd, as do Major 7th chords.

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Practice Finding Dominant 7th Chords


Use Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method. Move the top note down a half-step from
the starting position and move the middle note down a whole-step from the starting
position.

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Smooth Voice Leading with Dominants


Using smooth voice leading between dominant 7ths is more difficult than for Major
or Minor 7th chords. This is because the top two notes both move down a half-step.

Why you move the top two fingers for dominant 7ths
a) The top note is moving from a major 3rd to a minor 7th. If it stayed on the
same note, it would be the major 7th of F (like when we practiced moving
from CM7 to FM7).

b) The middle note is moving from a minor 7th to a major 3rd. If we moved it
down a whole step, it would be the minor 3rd of F (like when we practiced
moving Cm7 to Fm7)

Major 3rd becomes Minor 7th

Minor 7th becomes Major 3rd

Yikes! That’s a lot of info!

If you feel like this is all too much to remember, rest assured you don’t need to know
the info on this page very thoroughly. What you need to remember is a) how to find a
dominant 7th chord using Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method and b) that you move
the top two fingers down a half-step to move around the circle of fifths with
dominant 7th chords.

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Moving from Dominant 7th Chord to Dominant 7th


Chord
Remember, after you find the first of each pair of dominants, you can just move the
top two notes down a half-step each AND change the Root to the next Root and you
will have arrived at the next chord.

Down half-step each

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Moving from Minor 7th Chord to Dominant 7th Chord


Remember when moving from a Minor 7th to a Minor 7th, you had to take the middle
note down a whole-step, right? Well, if you take it down a half-step, you’ll get a
Dominant 7th chord for the second chord. These are one of the most common
patterns found in music.

Middle note
goes down
a half-step! Middle note down a
half-step

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6
Chapter
D I M I N I S H E D 7 T H C H O R D S A N D H O W T O F I N D T H E M

Chapter 6: Diminished 7th Chords


and How to Find Them
Step 3 for Diminished Seventh Chords, Move the middle note down 3 half-steps and
move the top note down a whole-step. (I’ll show you two easier ways to find
diminished chords in the following pages, but I also want you to understand them this
way.)

For C Diminished 7th (Cdim7):

Starting Position for C Chords

R R 4

C Diminished 7th

3
R 6

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For F Diminished 7th (Fdim7):

Starting Position for F Chords

4
R R

F Diminished 7th

3
R 6

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How Dominant 7ths and Diminished 7ths relate


Diminished 7ths relate to Dominant 7ths the way Minor 7ths relate to Major 7ths, that
is the top two notes (the notes in the right hand) are down a half-step each in
Diminished from where they would be in Dominant.

M7 is to m7 . . . as . . . 7 is to dim7

(Both notes down a


(Both notes down a
half-step from CM7)
half-step from C7)

How Minor 7ths and Diminished 7ths relate


Diminished 7th chords are the same as Minor 7th chords, except the middle note (the
7th) is down a half-step further in diminished.

An easier way to find


diminished chords:

It is probably easier to think


of diminished chords as
minor chords with the middle
note down an extra half-step,
rather than to think, “OK,
middle note down three half-
steps and top note down (middle note down (middle note down
two”. two half-steps from three half-steps from
Root) Root)

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Another easy way to find diminished Chords


ƒ The diminished 7th is down three half-steps from the Root

ƒ the Minor 3rd is up three half-steps from the Root

So just think, “up three and down three” from the Root in octaves and you’ll have a
diminished 7th chord.

For C Diminished 7th (Cdim7):

Root in Octaves

R R
“up three and down three”
C Diminished 7th

3
R 6

For F Diminished 7th (Fdim7):

Root in Octaves

R R
“up three and down three”
F Diminished 7th

3
R 6

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Practice Finding Diminished 7th Chords


Use the “up three, down three” method discussed on the previous page. Just go up
three half-steps from the octave root to find the 3rd (the top note) and down three half-
steps from the octave root to find the 7th (the middle note).

Up 3 half-steps

Down 3 half-steps

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Where you’ll see Diminished 7th chords


Diminished chords often appear in music when the bass of the chord moves in half-
steps. In the following example, which we’ll talk about in more detail later, the bass
(the roots of the chords) move entirely in half-steps.

Play through the above passage, and take note how the diminished chords help the
passage “slide” around smoothly.

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7
Chapter
M A J O R C H O R D S

Chapter 7: Major and Minor


Chords
Step 3 for Major and Minor Chords: Major and Minor chords are just like Major 7th
th
chords and Minor 7 chords, except that you don’t need the seventh, so you can take
everything you’ve learned about Major 7ths and Minor 7ths and just leave out the 7th.
The way to do this is to only move the top note down instead of both the top note
and the middle note.

Starting Position for C Chords

R R 4

C Major 7th

R R 3

C Minor 7th

R R

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Practice Finding Major Chords


Use Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method.

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Practice Finding Minor Chords


Use Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method.

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Be Still My Soul

Here’s a fakebook version of the first two phrases of this popular hymn.

Using what you’ve learned so from Nate’s three finger piano method, you should
come up with this chord realization:

Now using smooth voice leading, you can play the C7 chord in voicing two for a
smoother sound. (Just take the Bb up the octave).

Now let’s add the melody in along with our chords. Since the melody follows the
chords for the most part, you hold the middle note and the bass, while the top note of
the chord is left out, except where it’s in the melody.

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Since we’ll have four notes here, you can play the
Bb in either the left or right hand. The left hand’s
probably more comfortable, but beginners may
find it easier to play everything in the right hand
except the bass.

C Dominant 7th with G in the melody (like measure 3 above)

7
R 3 M

I would recommend playing some of the middle


notes in the left hand, as soon as you are ready. It
will be easier to visualize the melody and the
chords if you play them all in the right, but it’s
harder to fit lots of notes into one hand.

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Greensleeves
Here’s a fakebook version of “Greensleeves”. Try to figure it out by yourself first,
then study the realization on the following page.

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Greensleeves
Here’s a realization of Greensleeves. There’s a discussion of this arrangement on the
next page.

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Discussion of Note Choice for Greensleeves


When the melody is the 5th
rd
The Root and 3 , just as of a chord, you can play
the method suggests. the 3rd and 5th instead of
the Root and 3rd.

Since the melody is the 7th of the Since the melody is the 3rd and the
chord, just take the 3rd down the 5th, you can manage a complete triad
octave (this makes it a Voicing 2 by only playing the Root in the left
chord). hand as accompaniment here!

Since we’ve been playing very few notes per chord, you can
get away with just the Root and 7th here. If you added the
3rd, it would make another voice appear out of nowhere,
which can be distracting.

Since the melody note is below the


3rd, I’ve moved the 3rd down the
octave.

You don’t have to play the full chord


right when it says to! Here I’ve
added the seventh two beats later, so
that it creates movement in the
harmony.

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Taking the 3rd down the octave


The voicing you’ve learned so far in the book has the 3rd on top and the 7th in the
middle, with the left hand playing the Root. This is voicing 1

C 7 (Voicing 1)

7
R 3

The top two notes should be played in the right


hand, at least at first.

But what if the melody note is C?

C 7 (Voicing 1)

You don’t want the melody to dip underneath your chord, so you take the 3rd down the
octave. (Voicing 2 means the 3rd is underneath the 7th)

C 7 (Voicing 2) with melody note C

7
R 3 M

You can play either the top two or the top three
notes in the right hand in this situation.

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Switching voicings depending on the melody


So if you see four measures like this:

You would want to voice each measure differently.

Measure 1

Nate’s Three Finger Piano Method would lead you to the Root and the 3rd (C and E).
Since the melody is underneath the 3rd, you’d want to take the 3rd down the octave, like
this:

R 3 M

Measure 2

Here you can just play C the way the method suggests since the 3rd is in the melody.

R R M

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Measure 3

You can either just add the melody note on top, or you can leave out the doubled root,
which I recommend.

Recommended:

R 3 M

Also fine:

R R 3 M

Measure 4

Measure 4 is the same as measure 1, only the right hand will be up the octave.

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8
Chapter
E X P A N D I N G Y O U R K N O W L E D G E

Chapter 8: Other Basics


for Chord Reading
Slash Chords
In fake books, you will see a chord symbol, then a forward slash, then another note
name. That other note name is an alternate bass note. If a note other than the Root is
in the bass (the bottom-most note in the left hand), this is how it’s notated.

Cm7/Bb

7 3

R
I’ve brought the 7th down the
octave and the Root up the
octave (so that the voices are
basically in the same place)

Cm7/G

7 3

You can keep the Root in when an alternate bass


note is given, but I recommend you leave it out
for now. It’s less notes to think about, and
helps keep your arrangement at 3 voices.

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Slash Chord Exercise


Practice reading the following chords. When you see a slash chord, substitute the
alternate bass note (the note after the slash) for the root.

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Slash Chord Exercise as it would look in a


Fakebook

OK, I’ve taken out all the helpful info and left just what you might see in a fake book.

If you have trouble, just turn back to the previous page and study the examples.

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Moving the Root to the Right Hand


If the slash chord uses either the 3rd or the 7th as the alternate bass, you will usually
want to remove that note from the right hand, so that it isn’t doubled. Since you’re
chord will only be two notes at that point, you can add the Root back in, but this time
in the right hand.

Gm7

R 7

Gm7/F

7 R

Gm7

R 7

Gm7/Bb

3
7 R

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Example – “Don’t Double the Third”


In the following example, when the chord symbol calls for the 3rd in the bass, I just
remove it from the right hand. Soon, we’ll add the fifth into the right hand, so that
we’ll still have three voices.

Adding the Fifth to the Right Hand


You can also fill out Slash chords that use either the 7th and 3rd as the alternate bass
note by adding the 5th of the chord. The fifth is unnecessary to the harmony most of
the time. But it can fill things out when you don’t want to double the 3rd or the 7th.

Finding the Fifth


The fifth of a chord is the note down a fourth from the Root of that chord. It can be
added to any of the chords we have learned so far without changing the quality of the
chord. I would generally recommend leaving out the fifth if you already have three
voices. There will be times where you’ll want to add the fifth in order to maintain
three voices.

R 5 R 3

Go down a 4th from the


Root to find the 5th of a
chord!

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CM7

R 5 7 3

The fifth can be added below the 7th, or above the 3rd (in the higher octave).

CM7

R 7 3 5

If you see something like, with the fifth in the melody, the fifth should go on top.

If you see something like this, where the 3rd and Root are in the melody, you would
add it below – although in this case, you don’t even need it.

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Notice how in the following example, when there is a slash chord that puts the third in
the bass, I add the fifth into the right hand (since we’re moved the third to the left
hand), in order to maintain three voices.

The example:

A nice realization:

Here it’s essential to have four voices. The


melody is neither the 3rd or 7th or the Root, so
you must add all of these three essential
elements to the melody note to make a complete
seventh chord.

Since the previous chord uses four notes, I


decided to add the fifth to this chord.
Sometimes, it will sound bad if the number of
voices changes abruptly. This is why I’ve added
the fifth of the C chord (G).

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Avoiding Collisions
Often in slash chords it will sound smoother to add the 5th rather than the Root into
the right hand, so that the Root and 7th don’t bang into one another.
In the following voicing of Gm7/Bb, the 7th and Root are only a 2nd apart, which
causes a strong sound that can be distracting. Sometimes, of course, this abruptly
strong sound is exciting to the ear.

Gm7/Bb

3
7 R
Major 2nd interval can be exciting or
jarring, depending on the context

Most of the time, though, you’ll want the harmony to not stick out. This is a good time
to take the Root out of the right hand and add the fifth instead, so that the harmony is
spread out.

Gm7/Bb

3
7 5

Down 4th from Root

If you want to get really fancy, you can add the Root on top as well. In this case you’ll
want to play the 3rd and 7th in the left hand (so that you don’t have to stretch your
fingers too far).

Gm7/Bb

3
7 5 R

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Extra Stuff
I would like to briefly discuss what I called at the beginning of the book the “extra
stuff”. This and much more will be discussed in Volume II.

9ths
The 9th is up a whole step from the Root. Also, a 9th chord is a dominant chord by
default. So if you see C9, it would basically be a C7 chord with the 9th added.

C7

7
R 3

C9

7
R 9 3

Or if you want to spread out the voices, you could take the 3rd down the octave.

C9 (Voicing 2)

7
R 3 9

By the way, if you want to substitute C7 for any 9th chord while you starting out --
that’s fine!

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6ths and 13ths


The 13th is basically the 6th of a chord, but it is over a dominant chord. This creates a
nice clash between the minor 7th and the major sixth, which would be a half-step apart
if they were in the same octave. Generally though, they are never played in the same
octave.

C7

7
R 3

C6

R 6 3

5 R
You will generally want to add the Root or the fifth to a sixth chord, because otherwise
it sounds like an inversion of the relative minor (the theory behind this is beyond the
scope of this book, so just trust me and add the fifth or the Root when you play sixth
chords!)

C13

7
R 3 6

The thirteenth chord combines the qualities of the 7th chord and the sixth chord.
Generally, the sixth will be on top. You can play the bottom two notes in the left
hand.

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Finding the Sixth


The sixth is down three half-steps from the Root.

C6

R 3 6

Down 3 half-steps

The sixth is also a fourth above the major 3rd, which is how I like to think about them
when I play a 13th chord – since it’s basically a voicing 1 Dominant chord with the 6th
up a fourth from the top note!

C13

7
R 3 6

Up a fourth

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How would you realize this example?

Here’s one solution:

In measure 1, I added the 3rd.

In measure 2, I added the 9th and the 7th. I could have also added the 3rd, but since I
was just playing it with the previous chord, I can leave it out without it being sorely
missed. This is something that comes with practice and listening. It’s much easier to
play without the third and sounds more open and clear. Usually, though, leaving out
the third is a bad idea. Unless it’s implied in the harmony or is in the chord just before
or after, you generally need the third of a chord.

In measure 3, I added the third down the octave, since the Root is in the melody. I
then added the sixth (D).

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Practice 1
The real practice will be from sheet music and fakebooks. I’ve written in all the
answers for you, so that you can familiarize yourself with the method.

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Practice 2

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Practice 3

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Practice 4

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9
Chapter
P U T T I N G T H E S Y S T E M I N T O P R A C T I C E

Chapter 9: Putting the System


into Practice
Now let’s try to put the system into practice. Here’s a fake book style version of a folk
tune.

On the following pages you’ll find an analysis of how to realize this song.

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Amazing Grace

Suggested realization
Remember that the left hand plays the note name of the chord, or the “slash chord”
alternate bass note.

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The chord tones for the suggested realization:

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Example – They Didn’t Believe Me


This tune uses the pattern of a minor 7th moving to a dominant 7th around the circle of
fifths. This is often called a “two – five” pattern. Herbert Reynolds
Jerome Kern

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Example – Working Through changes in a Fake


Book
So let’s work through “They Didn’t Believe Me”.

You can see that the first chord is Am7.

Using the system, you would find these three notes:

With A as the root, and G and C in the right hand.

Often, the chords don’t “fit” in the right octave to play comfortably in the right hand.

If you were to add the chord just as it’s written above, with the G down a 4th from
middle C, and the C on middle C; you’d have quite a stretch up to the melody note, A.

So, take the G up the octave, to where it rests just a whole-step below the melody note.
Then the right hand is much less stretched.

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So you can see that I’ve inverted the Am7 and D7 chords from where they were in the
previous exercise.

From the system, you’ll get the Root, 7th and 3rd.

But to fit a chord under the melody comfortably, or to make it sound better, you might
switch the order up.

The same thing goes for the D7 chord. So the patterns you learned for minor 7th
chords moving to dominant 7th chords (or any of the patterns you’ve learned so far)
can be flipped in the right hand.

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Another trick in your toolbox to make the chords easier to play is to put one of the
notes into the left hand.

For example in measure 11, you can start with A and D in the right hand, but then the
melody jumps down to F#. Since you want the melody on top, you’ll either have to
drop the harmony out (easiest solution) or bring it down the octave, as I’ve shown
here. But that makes the stretch in the right hand awkward, unless you play it in the left
hand.

I would put the A moving to G (on the words “beyond compare”) in the left hand
with the Root note.

Also, in measures 15 – 16, you can see that I’ve put the chords down low while the
melody note holds through. You also might want to put the middle voice (the A to
G#) in the left hand. Or you could (more easily) just stop playing the melody note and
play everything but the root in the right hand.

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10
Chapter
S P E E D D R I L L S 3 6

Speed Drills
Practicing Realizing Chords from Chord Symbols

In this chapter, you will begin to memorize the most common chords. For each example, you will first
study the chords, and get the pattern in your fingers. You’ll then look at the same example written out
“fake book” style and realize it looking at just the fake book chart.

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Suggestions for additional practice.


1. Run out and purchase “The Ultimate Jazz Fakebook” C Edition (C Edition
means for guitar and piano, don’t buy the horn version!). In it you will find
hundreds of standard songs. By using the method put forward in this book
and mixing in the melody you will learn immeasurably valuable “vocabulary”
for how music masters put it together. Oh, and find recordings of the songs
to study.

2. Buy “How to Speed Read Piano Chord Symbols – Part II” which continues
on where this book leaves off.

3. Start trying to play along with recordings of your favorite music. Even if you
can only figure out one note from the recording, and you play that note along
with the recording when you hear it, you’ll be training your musical mind to
play with style.

Contact the Author


You can set up lessons with me over the phone if you would like. Lessons are $40/hr.
We can cover whatever material you like. Thanks again for reading my book!

Nathan Andersen
23-12 24th Ave, Apt 2
Astoria, NY 11102

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