How to Read Piano Chord Charts

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Piano songs have their own special symbols for chords on their charts that you need to understand in order to play. Interpret chord charts quickly with help from a professional pianist in this free video.

Part of the Video Series: Piano Instruction
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Video Transcript

Hi, my name is Kirk Wilson. I live in the Los Angeles, California area, and I perform live as well as sessions in Hollywood and Burbank and also teach piano at Orchepia School of Music. And today, I'm going to show you how to read piano chords and I have two songs up here on the piano, All The Things You are; it's a, a classic, one of my favorites and also It's Only A Paper Moon and both of these are, are what we will call jazz standards. Okay, so, this first chord we look and we see this F minor 7 and there are many publications that uses the minus sign instead of the M. And so, of course the minus means minor and the plus means are, are major. So, on many cards, when you see F Mi 7, it's F minor 7 and of course, F, F major is F A C; then, F minor is F A flat C and then the seven, being the seventh note of chords. So there's, there's the 7. And so, is, if it's F minor 7, then you flat the 7. So, it's almost like or mathematically equation there; sometimes, when I'm reading chords, you know, what goes through my mind is more like Math than anything; that, it's, it's thinking about what note in the scale do I need to add to the basic fundamental chord. So, when I see F minor, that's the basic fundamental, F minor. It's easy to sickle to, you know. C major, C minor; you know, those basic fundamental chords, the first three notes in the chord, that's what I mean when I say the, that basic fundamental section of the chord. It's either going to be a C major, C minor, C augmented or C diminished. And so, when, that's when we're looking at C. Here, this first note in All The Things You Are is an A flat and that A flat is actually a part of the chord F minor and then, there's a seven there added. So, whenever you see the chord, you see the letter chord F and then M; that's another letter. M means minor. Okay? But then you start seeing numbers like seven. Okay, so, this is seventh note in the scale. B flat the same thing; here's B flat minor. So not B flat major, but B flat minor and now, we add the 7. And then, many times when you read chords especially in jazz, you have what you called alternate chord progressions and, and so, that's the E minor 7 to the A 7. That's an alternate, instead of playing just the E flat 7. You can play the E minor 7 to the A 7 and so, we play that like this and then, E flat major 7. Now, see there's a difference. Now, that's an M A 7. On, in many, many publications if we look at some of them, you have like a little triangle and that is the symbol for major. So, if you see that triangle, the triangle in 7, that means, that would mean A flat major 7. So, in this case it's A flat M A 7, so that's the same thing; A flat major 7. So, the basic chord A flat major and then, the seventh note of the scale, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Now, you add that note to A flat major chord and there's A flat major 7. So, when you're reading chords, you're basically taking numbers and putting with the basic fundamental piece of the chord. And, and of course, it gets more and more complicated as you go because as we go down here, if we look at the fourth line in section A in All The Things You Are, there's the A minor 7, but then the 5 is flat. So, that's A minor and here's the 7; but then, the fifth note of the scale, one, two, three, four, five, that is now flat like here. So now, that chord is played like that and, and then of course, there's D dominant 7 which is here's D, but instead of one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, this seventh is going to be minor because they didn't say major 7, it says D 7. So, that 7 is going to be minor and that's what we call dominant 7, D dominant 7. So typically, when you're reading chords, you want to look at the basic part of the chord and then adding the numbers thereafter. So, once you get to the ninth and the eleventh and the thirteenth, just remember that you have to include all of the odd numbers notes in this. So, the ninth has the seventh included as well as the, the ninth, the eleventh has the ninth included and the major and minor determines the, the earlier part section of the chord. So, once you have that going on, then, it's much easier to read chords on the piano, understanding the building blocks of how chords are made. And my name is Kirk Wilson and that is how to read piano chords.


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