How To Play Piano Using Chord SymbolsHow To Play Piano Using Chord Symbols

Chord symbols (for example, Fm7, Cmaj7 or G6) are a type of notation used frequently in jazz and other areas of modern music to notate chord progressions and changes. This type of notation differs from that of classical music in that chord symbols don't show the function of a chord the way the Roman numeral notation does. Chord symbols, for modern music with lots of changes, are much easier to read. They function as a sort of shorthand for change-heavy music and are written with four chord parts in mind: the root, the quality, the extension, and the alterations.

The first part in chord symbols, the root, tells the musician which note is the root of the chord. In an E6 chord, for instance, the E serves as the root. Chord symbols also allow for inverted chords, or chords with a root other than the bass note. These chord symbols express that by showing the bass note with a diagonal slash under the original symbol.

Quality, the second part in chord symbols, denotes whether the chord is major, minor, diminished, or augmented. In a Cmaj7, the maj tells us that the C chord is major. The abbreviations for this area in chord symbols are maj, min, dim, and aug, respectively.

The extension in chord symbols, written after the quality, shows the musician if the chord differs from a triad (a third chord), such as an eleventh or seventh. This part of chord symbols is not always shown; if there is no indication of an extension, the musician is to assume that the chord is a triad.

The last part in chord symbols, the alteration, is usually but not always expressed. Think of this part as the "notes" section in chord symbols; it gives the musician any specific (and sometimes irregular) instructions for playing the chord and is always written in parentheses after the extension (or the quality, if no extension exists). For instance, (no fifth) would tell the musician that the chord is to be played with the fifth tone left out. Sus ? short for 'suspension?, would mean to play the 4th scale note instead of the 3rd. A minus sign would mean to lower (flat) a chord tone, such as C-9 which would mean to flat the 9th of the chord. Conversely, a plus sign would mean to raise (sharp) a particular chord tone.

Reading music using chord symbols allows a person to use written music as a map, rather than a note-for-note approach. By just reading the melody note and the chord symbols, musicians can improvise to their hearts content and create their own sounds on the keyboard.

The best of all worlds, however, is to be able to read music as it is written in a sheet music score, but also be able to read the chord symbols. Then the musician is free to choose which is best ? the written part, or an improvised part. The sky is the limit for musicians who can do both.

by Duane Shinn
References and Bibliography

Duane Shinn is the author of over 500 music courses for adults including "How To Add Runs & Fills To Your Piano Playing" He is also the author of the popular free 101-week online e-mail newsletter titled "Amazing Secrets Of Exciting Piano Chords & Sizzling Chord Progressions" with over 60,400 current subscribers

Rated:NR/0 Votes
Add To My Article Reading List
Add To My Article Reading List
Print Article
More Article By Duane Shinn
More Article by Duane Shinn
More Articles From Music
More Articles From Music
Related Articles and Readings
How To Play More Notes On The Piano Without Reading More Notes By: Duane Shinn
Most professional musicians play from a book called a "Fake Book". I bought my first fake book containing only about 200 songs when I was a teenager -- they were illegal then, but most musicians owned them -- for $50. That would be equal to $500. or more now. But ...
Show Off Your Piano Skills By: Shubhanyu Jain
Showing off your piano skills is not a tough job, but is not that easy either. Most people learn piano playing by playing just the written music- playing the exact notation. This leaves little room for creativity, and, therefore, little room to show off, right?To show off your amateur skills, ...
Playing The Piano Using Chord Symbols Instead of Being Tied To The Written Sheet Music By: Duane Shinn
Piano improvising and arranging is an art but definitely not a science. It is all based on chords and chord progressions. There aren't any steadfast rules for creating an arrangement, nothing to dictate the limitless potential of your imagination. Musicians learn to arrange by simply arranging ? and improvise by ...
How To Predict Which Chord Comes Next In A Song By: Duane Shinn
Wouldn't it be nice if you could predict which chord would probably come next in a song?I've got some good news for you.It is possible. Not 100%, but somewhere on the order of 75% to 85% accurate.That's because music has FORM -- like the skeleton that holds your flesh, muscles, ...
Guitar Beyond The Chord Chart By: Mike Beatham
We've all been there - soon after we get hold of our first guitar we know that to play anything people are actually going to listen to we need to "learn a few chords". These first few chords for most beginners end up being the open position chords, down at ...
The information provided in this article and/or the comments is the sole responsibility of their respective authors and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of  does not endorse any article and/or comments published by our web users unless otherwise noted. 

Member Panel

login to submit articles and more


  • » Active Categories: 419
  • » Active Articles:252470
  • » Active Authors:32056
  • » Active Members: 38202
  • » Statistics Updated:
    - Wed Jan 15th, 2020 03:31PM EST