How Music Works
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Playing with Chords

Playing with Chords

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(7.9)  Substitution for Simplicity

There are times when you might wish to simplify the chords in a piece of sheet music to make it easier to play.

As a beginning player, it can be very disappointing to get hold of the sheet music of your favourite song, and then discover that you can't play half the chords in it!

The harmony of most songs can be simplified by omitting chord changes, or finding alternatives for chord types that you don't know how to play.

You should be aware that simplifying the harmony will cause the song to lose richness, but if the substitutions are done carefully, the song should still work well enough to get you started.

Let's see an example.  We start with a relatively complex chord progression, with extended chords and rapid changes.  This is typical of what you might find in a jazz piece.

Our first step is to recognise the high profile of the ninth degree in these chords.  Recall from our discussion of chord types earlier that the ninth is a harmonic extension of the seventh.

So, an easy starting point is to reduce these ninth chord types back to their equivalent seventh form.  In other words, a m9 becomes a m7, a maj9 becomes a maj7, and so on.

So far, so good, but we still have a lot of chord changes here.  We would like to remove some, but which ones?

The main harmonic structure of a song is usually created by the chords at the start of each bar.  The chord changes occurring within bars play a secondary role, and they can often be successfully dropped.

We can repeat the first process again, this time by reducing the remaining seventh chords back to their triad form.  You should always retain the major or minor character of the chords, or you will completely lose the essence of the harmony.

And finally we have reduced the progression down to its most basic form, making it a lot easier to play.  There has been a price for this, though.

At each step, the music has become less colourful and less interesting as the harmonic detail is stripped away.  You should simplify chords with caution and try to play as much of the detail as you can.

 

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