Lesson 17: Chords

Lesson 17: Chords

In my last blog post, I discussed scales, which are the series of eight notes that comprise a musical key.  In this lesson, we’ll be looking at chords, which are another component of every key in music.

When playing any piece of music, there are often underlying notes besides the primary melody that contribute to the harmonies in the music.  The notes that create harmonies in music are called chords, which are often built by skips and contain at least three notes.  Chords follow the key signature of whatever major or minor key in which they are written.  Check out a C major chord, which is comprised of the notes C, E, and G:

When a chord is written with the keynote on the bottom and the other notes following in skips, it is in root position.  However, it is also possible to invert, or flip around, the order of the notes.  With inverted chords, the notes will not be arranged with the same distance between them all, but the key of the chord remains the same.  A C major chord spelled as E-G-C is in first inversion, and spelled as G-C-E is in second inversion. Have a look at both of those below:

Chords written with the notes stacked on top of each other are called block chords, meaning that you would play all of the notes at the same time.  You can also play the notes in a chord one by one.  In this case, the notes would be written individually with space between each note.  Chords like this are called broken chords, or, in Italian, arpeggios.  Have a look at these broken C major chords in root position, first inversion, and second inversion:

Choose a key signature from the circle of fifths and see if you can build the keynote chord in root position.  From there, try inverting the chord to see the notes in all possible arrangements, and play the chords both as blocks and as arpeggios.

The next lesson will explain the functions of chords in musical keys.

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