Making Notes (Part 4)
Forming Left Hand Chords
This new workshop series goes right back to the basics of reading music. Its direct approach is aimed at all our readers who have not had the chance to get to grips with music notation.
If you follow my articles in their logical sequence of musical stepping stones, they should help to clear many of the misunderstandings you may have had regarding 'Music Theory'. The difficulties that many have with this subject should be slowly disappearing if you can understand my simple interpretation of the established rules of music.
The Major Scale formation in last month's article formed the basis for understanding "Key Signatures". This is not their sole purpose as I will be using the Major Scales again this month for forming left hand chords.
The melody notes on the treble stave have to appear on the manuscript but musicians have a choice for reading the accompanying left hand chords, which can be shown as notes written upon the bass stave or as "Chord Symbols" normally written above the treble stave.
To read the traditional bass stave notation, the names of the lines and spaces must be identified (which can initially be confusing as they occur in a different position from the treble stave), but this has to be achieved to reproduce the musical arrangement exactly as it is written.
A left hand chord is written as a group of notes on the bass stave (see Figure 1). The individual note represents a pedal note when playing an electronic organ or similar instrument such as a synthesiser with a bass pedalboard.
One problem arising here can be that the name of the chord is seldom known and the manuscript is followed "to the dot" is an almost mechanical fashion, which does not stimulate musicians into learning how to develop their own musical interpretation, and they will rely upon being shown the accompaniment as notes on the bass stave.
Being a music teacher for a number of years, I have tried to analyse how a player reads and interprets the bass stave on to the keyboard. There seems to be no hard and fast rules, but here are some of the replies I have had when asking this question.
A left hand chord on the bass stave can be identified by:
1) Naming each individual note and mentally grouping them together into the chord.
2) Taking each group of notes as a whole and recognising the pattern on the bass stave, without giving each note a name.
3) By forming and recognising a hand and finger shape on the keyboard. No prizes awarded for instantly replying, "We are not supposed to be looking at the keyboard as we play". Can I suggest a self-analysis exercise for my readers? I would be pleased to receive your views on this subject.
Most music teachers use the traditional two or three stave method for pupils taking exams in grades of music, but have also extended this form of teaching to include the home musician playing for pleasure.
The chord symbol, written above a single treble stave, is shorthand for writing the name of a left hand chord and requires the player to identify the group of notes which make up the chord. The single stave method is used by many keyboard players for instant sight reading, as the eyes do not have to accommodate so much information at one time. The chord symbols, when used to their fullest extent, convey to the player not only a left hand chord and bass pedal note but also chord progressions, counter melody and harmony without having to continuously read a bass stave.
Another point in favour of an arranger using chord symbols and a single treble stave is that the manuscript can be condensed to avoid unnecessary turning over of the pages.
In the past there has been unnecessary controversy about using chord symbols instead of the traditional bass stave, perhaps their full worth was not appreciated, or was not recognised in the world of music.
The origination of left hand chords is seldom explained; in other words, where do the chords come from in the first place? Chords are formed upon specific notes of the major scales, and once the major chord, or triad, is formed upon the ROOT NOTE (1st note) — 3rd note — 5th note of a major scale, any type of chord can be built upon it using a very simple method of chord structure based upon note numbers of the major scales (see Figure 2).
Find the chord of "G" major (G-B-D) and add the 5th note of "E" (G - B - D E) to play the "G" sixth chord "G6". Substitute the 7b note of "F" for the note of "E" to play the "G" seventh chord "G7" (G - B - D - F). The "G" minor, "G" minor sixth and "G" minor seventh chords are created by "flattening" the 3rd note of "B" to "Bb" in each chord (see Figure 3).
Any left hand chord formed upon the 1st note, or root note of a major scale, is said to be in its "root position". The "7b" note in the seventh and minor seventh chords is the normal seventh note of the major scale, flattened by a semitone.
To read the chord symbols, its "Letter Name" will indicate a major chord, i.e. "C" for "C" major. Instructions to adapt the major chord appear after the letter name, i.e. "Cm", the small letter "m" means "minor", turn the major chord into a minor chord. Numbers following the letter name are simply note numbers of the major scale added to the major chord. Figure 3 shows how to interpret the chord symbols correctly.
The chord structure can now be used for left hand chord formation from every major scale. Experiment by writing the note names of the "Eb" major scale; Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb, illustrated in February's article, and using exactly the same note numbers as in the above chord structure from the major chord upon the ROOT NOTE (1st note) — 3rd note — 5th note of the "Eb" major scale (Eb - G - Bb). Now continue to form all the other chords upon it.
When a group of notes which make up a chord are moved to a different position on the manual, it is said to be an "Octave" movement. For example, the "G" major chord, G - B - D, can be played in three different positions on the keyboard (see Figure 4). When illustrating the left hand chord positions in my teaching books they are always shown on a full manual for correct playing position. When a chord is shown on only a small part of the keyboard, confusion can arise because most chords can be played in any of three positions, as illustrated in Figure 4.
A CHORD INVERSION is created when one note in the chord moves its position at a time, as against the whole chord octave movement. While one note moves its position, the other notes of the chord remain unchanged.
A three note chord such as "G" major can be played in two inversions.
The root note of "G" will move its position from the extreme left of the major chord to the extreme right of the 1st inversion, while the notes of "B" and "D" remain unmoved. The note of "B" on the extreme left of the 1st inversion will move to the extreme right of the 2nd inversion while the notes of "D" and "G" remain unmoved.
The "C" major chord of C - E- G (root position) becomes E - G - - C in its 1st inversion and G - - C - E in its 2nd inversion.
The "F" major chord of F - A - C (root position) becomes A - C - - F in its 1st inversion and C - - F - A in its 2nd inversion.
A seventh chord such as "G7", being a four note chord can have three inversions. Root position, formed upon the root note, G - B - D - F; 1st inversion B - D - FG; 2nd inversion D - FG - B; 3rd inversion F G - B - D. The extreme left hand note in each ascending inversion moved its position to become the extreme right hand note of the next inversion. In descending chord inversions, the extreme right hand note moves its position to become the extreme left hand note of the next inversion.
Chord inversions will enable chords to be moved into the correct playing position on the keyboard to create smooth left hand chord changing. It may then be possible to hold on to and pivot on one note if it is common to two chords in a sequence. On the electronic organ it is possible to play all the left hand chords with the exception of thirteenths, between the octave "F" to "F" either side of middle "C" on the lower manual.
For smooth chord changing in a four bar sequence, as in Figure 5, the "C" major chord is played in its 2nd inversion, to be positioned near to the chord of "F" major in its 1st inversion and the chord of "G7" in its root position. The following five steps will achieve this:
1) Play the 2nd inversion of the "C" major chord and hold the "C" note.
2) Move the "G" note to the "A" note with the little finger.
3) Move the "E" note to the "F" note to play the "F" chord: A - C - - F.
4) Hold the upper "F" note, move the notes of "C" to "B" and "A" to "G". Add the note of "D" and you should be playing the "G7" chord.
5) Hold the note of "G", release the "B" note. Move the "D" note to "C" and the "F" note to "E" to play the "C" major chord again.
To play a single stave arrangement with chord symbols, each chord is held until a chord change is indicated by a new chord symbol. In Figure 5, each chord is held (sustained) for the time value of one bar.
When playing an instrument with a bass pedalboard, the chord symbol represents the name of the pedal note to play with each chord: "C" chord — "C" pedal, "F" chord — "F" pedal, "G7" chord — "G" pedal, etc.
The letters "N.C." are an abbreviation for "NO CHORD" and are written in place of the chord symbol when you should not play a chord or a bass pedal note, even though you may be playing a melody.
Next month I will be continuing with the formation of advanced left hand chords: ninths, major ninths, eleventh and thirteenths, and illustrating simple transposition from one major key to another.
MEMO — Try to avoid looking down at the keyboard as you play. Find the notes by feeling for their position instead of looking for them, as you cannot read the music and look at the keyboard at the same time without losing your place on the manuscript.
Feature by Brenda Hayward