How to Teach Chords on a Piano

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Pianos offer the best way to teach what a chord is, and how to use it. Help people learn the power of chords 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 and I live in the Los Angeles area and I perform live as well as sessions in Burbank and Hollywood. I also teach the piano at Orchepia School of Music. Today, I'm going to show you how to teach chords on a piano. And the significant thing about chords is that, the building blocks to knowing how to teach someone chords is the basic scale. It all starts with the scale. Many people jump straight to chords and they won't understand like, like how to make the complicated chords and how to make pre-chords in music on the piano. The basic thing for understanding chords is the scales. Once you learn the scales, chords really become really really really easy. It's amazing how, how easy chords are once you learn scales. So, scales are kind of boring; but, you got to have it. Okay? It's the fundamental foundation of building blocks that you need to understand music in general. So, we'll start with the C major scale. The C major scale has this steps; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, octave, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. All of those notes that, that we find and, and beyond the scale; like I call it beyond the scale, once you get beyond the octave, that first octave, that nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, that is beyond the scale. Once you understand where those are, then, you can understand how to teach chords. So first, you teach your student where those notes are in the scale; one, two, three, four, five. You're going to use that and then, you use the one, three, five and you learn that one, three, five is use to, to make the major, what we call root position major chord which is C major. C, E, G; that's one, three, five. Okay. So, that's C major. Now, it's fairly easy. Well, you take the next note in the scale which is sixth and you add the sixth note to the basic C major scale and now you have C6. One, three, five and six and when I say one, three, five, I don't mean one, three, five finger; I mean one, one of the scale, three of the scale, the fifth note of the scale, the sixth note of the scale. You put all four of those notes together and you have the chord called C6. And then, you can take the seventh note of the scale which is one, two, three, four, five, six, seven; that's B natural and then you teach them, "Okay, you take the B natural and you're going to add the B natural to the C major chord and you have C major 7. So, it's a C major by itself; C, E and G that's C major. But now, you're going to add the B natural to it; C, E, G, B and now it's C major 7. And the reason it's called C major 7 is because the seventh note of the scale is added to the C major. One of the tricky things about the seven though, also I have to include this in here, if the seven is a minor like this, then, we call that C dominant 7. One, three, five, C dominant 7. One, three, five, minor 7. So really technically, you can almost call it C minor 7, but the third is a major. So that's a major third with the minor 7, so we call that C dominant 7 chord. When you change the third to a minor in referencing C minor scale, now that minor third makes the chord a minor chord. So now, we have C minor. So, when you're teaching chords, utilize the steps in the scale and use that in relation to the name of the chord and it's so much easier for the students to learn chords. When, once you go beyond the scale into then ninth, you add the ninth, the ninth note in the scale which is D to the C major 7 and now you have a C major 9. Okay. You go one, into one step further you have the eleven; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven; now, that's the F, an octave above the middle C where we started and you make that B flat, so you have a minor 7 which is a C dominant 7. You add a nine and now you have what you call C 9th. So, you want to teach that in relation to the position of the notes and relation to the scale and now the students can learn chords in a matter of minutes. So, C 9th is the C 9th because the ninth note of the scale; C 11, add one more. Now C 11 is C 11 because you took the eleventh note and you put on the top of the ninth and the ninth is the ninth because that mean on top of the seventh and so forth and so on. And use only the odd numbers. There's no such thing as C12 and so, sometimes students have a, a way of getting confused with the even numbers like the tenth and twelfth. You skip over that. Harmonics are always based in odd number integer; so only use Cs, the third, fifths, seventh, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth and the sixth is also included in that. That's like the only even number that you use in building chords. So, teach chord, chord progressions or chord structures based on the, the steps of the notes in the scale and you're home-free. Much easier to understand that way instead of trying to remember, memorizing how to spell the chords and getting this chord books where you have to memorize the notes that build up the chords. Teach it from the aspect of the, the building blocks being the scale and steps in the scale. And so, some examples are. All those complicated chords, you use the scale and it become so much easier. And my name is Kirk Wilson and that is how you teach chords on a piano.


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