Playing from chords.

(only bother to read the bits you need to.)

to see sheet music for these titles click here (Another article which tries to unblind you with less science).

1. What a chord is.

If you don't already know what a chord is it might be worth reading Chordbuilding 1, 2 and 3, because it would be an awful waste of webspace to repeat it all here.

2. Knowledge necessary to use this article. You need to know what a chord is and how it is constructed, and how to make a few notes on your instrument, how many notes there are in a normal scale, and what a sharp or a flat is. It would also help (but is not essential) if you know how to transpose for your particular instrument and it might help to have a keyboard handy.You should be able to deduce the musical bits from the three chordbuilding articles, but I don't know how you will get a keyboard. Please do not steal one. That would be behaviour unfitting for a real musician.

I would like to add that for actual playing practice playing slowly seems more useful than playing fast.

Chord sequences are a 'list' of the running order in which the chords to a piece are played, and are usually written out in 'bars'. A bar is a fixed amount of time, and in most but not all cases is 4 beats long. Tap your foot in time to a recording and you will notice the beats happening - and if you listen carefully you will hear the chords changing.

For ease of following, it is a good idea when writing chord sequences to write four bars per line, thus (for instance):

We've Been A-rockin' and We Want Some More.

		II	C	I	C	I	C	I	C	I



The I's are substituting for 'bar lines', which are just vertical lines dividing one bar from the next, and the double barlines mark the beginning and end of the sequence. (Apart from one other song I know which has only two chords this is the simplest chord sequence I have come across. But if you listen to the recording you may be surprised how much can be done with it).

(If you want to know what this might sound like before proceeding, I have put a single chorus of LETSwing singing this chorally in this section. To hear it click this link to We've Been A-rockin' and We Want Some More)

The choral work (if you want to do it as a 'gospel' type number) for this piece is surprisingly simple. The voices (of which there can be any number from 4 upwards in any type of voice) only sing a maximum of 3 notes during the whole piece, and if you wish to expand it there is room for two more notes. In bars 5 and 6 one of the notes (not shown in the chord sequence above, but nevertheless OK to sing) is the 7th of that chord - an Eb. The mode of going about it was this:

Or it may be easier to see it as a table:

Notes sung in 'We've Been A-rockin'...'
bar no:bar 1bar 2bar 3bar 4bar 5bar 6bar 7bar 8bar 9bar 10bar 11bar 12
second voice:EEEEEbEbEEFFEE
third voice:GGGGAAGGGGGG
optional notes:nonenonenonenoneFFnonenoneBBnonenone

If you have enough singers you can add the other bits to the chords by having somebody singing F during the two F bars and B during the two 2 G bars.Anyone who has been observant about this will realise that in fact the chords are not always 'complete' during the above without the addition of these notes. However, they are not essential as it all sounds fine even with those notes missing.

We've Been A-rockin' and We Want Some More was written to teach children about jazz singing and about harmony, but if you want to improvise to these chords it is possible - even quite easy if you set about it right. You just need to know what notes are in the chords and what notes there are that are not in the chords but which would still fit with them.

Here's a way of going about it:

(Always bear in mind that the notes somebody else likes may not please you, and vice verse, but also bear in mind that there are certain 'standard' things you can do that near enough the whole world will like. Personally, I enjoy playing to the audience, so these latter are of much importance to me)

There are some much more complicated sequences on this site, and it might be worth trying them, but just to get you started in that direction, here are the chords for Hugh Harris's Pavanne. It is fairly easy to play because it is so slow. Pavanne is normally played at a tempo of less than one beat per second - somewhere round about 55 beats per minute. It requires playing with peculiar delicacy. On this site there is a recording of LETSwing playing this, but also: to hear Hugo Brunelli playing this sequence click the link below:

Pavanne (a recording of Hugo Brunelli playing this sequence)

		II	Gm	I	A7	I	D7	I	Gm	I

		I	Gm	I	Cm6	I	A7	I	D7	I

		I	Gm	I	A7	I	D7	I	Gm	I

		I	Gm	I	Cm6	I	D7	I    Gm   F7	II (end of section)
(last bar has two chords played one after the other - two beats each.)

(middle 8)	II	Bb	I	Eb	I	F7	I	Bb	I

		I	Bb	I	Eb	I	F7	I	D7	II

restatement)    II	Gm	I	A7	I	D7	I	Gm	I

		I	Gm	I	Cm6	I	D7	I	Gm	II
									      fin (finish)

(Or repeat.)

As you can see this whole sequence is 32 bars long, so it should take at least 2 minutes and 8 seconds (128 secs.) to play through once. If it takes less you are playing it faster than was intended.

This would be no surprise because people seem to have great difficulty playing anything very slowly.

Hugo Brunelli must have used a metronome because his recording is exactly 128 seconds!

As you can always come back to this article, I would suggest you try some of the various sequences in the chord sequences section. Click 'back' on your browser to go back to the menu or click here to go to chords menu direct. I particularly recommend the article 'chord sequences with titles'.

or back to main menu