As a pianist, there are certain basics you need to know: Scales, arpeggios, pieces/songs, and last but certainly not least, chords. This article is about the importance of chord knowledge as a pianist – what chords are, what they’re for, and all the ways good chord knowledge can help you as both piano player and musician in general.
What Are Chords?
A chord is the name for two or more notes being played together. From two note “diads,” for example power chords, to the basic triads including major and minor chords, through “four note chords” such as a major 7 or minor 7 chord, and beyond. Whether constructed to create harmony or dissonance, and played in whatever rhythm, any group of notes played simultaneously is a chord.
How Are Chords Used?
Typically, though not always, chords are played to support a melody being sung/played by a vocalist, another instrument, or in your right hand on the piano, for example, with the chords being played by the left. Again, this is regardless of genre – which may affect the articulation, rhythm, tempo, etc., but will not affect the fact that chords are generally played in support of a ‘lead’ instrumental or vocal part.
What Is ‘Chord Knowledge’?
Essentially, by the term ‘chord knowledge’ we mean knowing which notes comprise which chords, how those resulting chords therefore sound, and what they’re called. There’s not time to run through every possible permutation here of course, but I’ve drawn up a quick table to demonstrate the idea of ‘chord knowledge’ so you can begin to develop it.
The Importance of Chord Knowledge
The importance of chord knowledge is vast and far-reaching. Notes, and the chords they form, are the building blocks of all music. Here are some of the main ways in which chord knowledge is important to your musicianship:
Whether you’re going to study music theory as a qualification in its own right, as a component of a class or course you’re taking, or just want to understand it to better your musicianship and be able to communicate your ideas to other musicians, chords are an essential component.
When studying music theory sample questions, so often the process involved in answering the question begins with “OK what are the underlying chords here?” “What cadence do those chords make up?” and many other examples.
Simply put, arpeggios are chords played one note at a time, up and down. Therefore, arpeggios and chords have a sort of mutual, intertwining relationship. If you know an arpeggio, all you have to do is play its component notes together rather than separately and you have it in chord form, and vice versa. De-construct a chord by playing it each note in turn, and there you have it in arpeggio form!
Chords are chords. By which I mean that whereas a change in musical genre may mean all kinds of things for your expression, articulation, tempo and so on, chords are chords, at all times. A Cmajor7 chord consists of C-E-G-B no matter what.
As such, strong chord knowledge can be a really good anchor point when changes to other musical components can create some challenges.
Your chord knowledge needs to be good if you have any aspirations to accompany a singer or other instrumentalist, play in a band, take part in an ensemble, etc. Chordal parts are the essential structure of playing the part of an accompanist, so chords should be well known for this reason, as well as all the above!
Good luck, and enjoy!