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Music Theory for Singers - Chords

Chords

Chords are the building blocks of music. Scales are what the chords are made of, but even a atonal piece of music can be put into chords. Even serialism (google music by Schoenberg if you want to know what that is) can be broken down into chords, though they won't always make sense. Most pop songs use only four chords for the whole song, but some genres use a huge variety. Jazz, especially, is famous for incredibly complex chords.


For now, we are starting with a small intro to some chords. First of all, a chord is a group of notes. Most often there are three notes in a chord, but there can be many more. There are four basic chords. Nearly all other chords are in some way modifications of these chords. There are hundreds of modifications, but all come back to these four chords. Some modifications add notes, some remove, and some add sharps, flats, or naturals to the chord. Anyway, the four chord types as shown in the image above are minor, Major, diminished, and Augmented.


Chords are built using intervals, so I will describe these chords with intervals. A minor chord is built using a minor 3rd followed by a Major 3rd. A major chord uses a Major 3rd followed by a minor 3rd. Diminished is two minor 3rds and Augmented is two Major 3rds. It doesn't matter which note you start from, the chord types must have these intervals (or inversions which will be mentioned in a future post) present.


So a pop song will use four chords total. Does this mean it has to use all four types? Not at all, some songs only use Major chords and some only minor. Typically, you'll see pop songs avoid diminished and Augmented chords entirely. Rather, they switch letters. So you'll se a C Major chord followed by a G Major chord and an F Major chord with an A minor chord at the end to add some variety. When you see someone playing basic chords and singing on a guitar or piano, these are what they play.


So how do you know if a chord is Major or minor if you don't read sheet music really well? Some people just practice reading music a lot, some practice ear training to hear the chord changes better, and some learn how to create the chords on their instrument. As singers, you usually have to learn by ear and how to sing the three notes in a chord after hearing the chord.


Finally, how are these chords written in pop charts? If you see a song on a chord chart you usually see things like this:


chords

This is all Major and minor chords. The first chord above the word "Wise" is a D Major chord. Musicians have universally decided that major chords and the fundamental chord, even of the four chord types, so instead of putting something after to indicate its Major they just leave it alone and since there is nothing after the letter we know its Major. The next chord, over the word "men" is an F# minor chord. You see F# is the bottom of the chord and then the lowercase m lets you know its minor. Following that, we have B minor, G Major, D Major, and A Major in that top line.


If you're trying to play guitar and sing or piano and sing, you can google how to make these chords on the instrument, but since this focuses on singers, I'll just say to make sure you can hear the notes in the chord and blend with/stay in tune with them. If you need additional help with theory, feel free to sign up for a singing lesson with me or leave a comment below.



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