Musicians can be divided into two groups: those who read sheet music and those who play using the “chord method”.
If you’re a sheet music player, you may think that you don’t need to know about chords. However, I believe that understanding how chords are used in a composition will make it much easier for you to read and understand the piece.
Even for classical music! Just like today’s songwriters, composers of classical music used chords to create their harmonies. Chords are the foundation of all our music.
Here is an example:
This is the first phrase of “Largo in Eb major” by Chopin.
Now I’m not a particularly good sight-reader and this looks pretty intimidating to me. But when I write down the chords, it instantly becomes a lot easier for me to read.
Because I know how to form chords, I can predict what the notes will be and what shapes my hands need to assume.
Here is the same phrase with added chord symbols:
It may be a little hard to read in the picture, but the chords are: Eb, Bb7, G7/B, Cm, G7, Ab, Fm, Eb/Bb, Bb7, Bb7/Eb, Eb.
I notated some chords as “slash chords”, for example G7/B. This is a G7 chord but with a B tone in the bass.
Now it’s just a matter of playing the correct melody note in the right hand and the bass note in the left hand, and filling in the rest with chord tones.
I don’t really need to read each individual note: I can assume with a large likelihood of success that most of them will be tones from the chord. And if they are not, then playing a chord tone will still sound acceptable.
I do this on all my sheet music pieces now: first find the chords and write them above the music. It makes the structure of the piece more understandable to me, and I learn it quicker.
By making the chords visible, the dots on the page are no longer arbitrary and unrelated.
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