One of the greatest things about the piano is that it allows you to play many very complex chords much more easily than you would be able to play them on a stringed or wind instrument. These chords typically employ exotic intervals. You’ll tend to find more advanced chords used in music from the 20th century onward. Some of the intervals used in these chords were actually forbidden in some eras due to their characteristic dissonance. These are staples of forms such as jazz, however.
Here are some chords that you can experiment with to have a bit of fun and to learn what your piano can really do.
Diminished seventh chords use a flattened seventh degree of the scale to get their characteristic effect. The basic E diminished seventh, which is typically written Edim7, is E, G, C#. Note that, instead of using the fifth as the final note of the chord, the diminished seventh uses the major sixth interval to fill that role. To make it into a more interesting chord, add the flat fifth. This will give you the chord E, G, Bb, C#. It’s a very dark, disturbing sound and it’s used to great effect in everything from jazz to movie soundtracks. You can create any diminished seventh chord by following this same formula
7b5 chords, pronounced “seven flat five” are also great if you want to get a more disturbing effect. As an example, we will use a chord in the key of D. The normal triad for the D7 chord would be D, F#, A. this will give you the very consonant, bright sound associated with a major chord. Add the fifth, which would be C, and you get the tendency to want to resolve. Flatten the fifth, so that the chord is D, F#, Ab, C, and you get a truly disconcerting sound out of your piano.
If you want to make a seventh chord more interesting, consider flattening the fifth. It’s an easy way to make a song more interesting and to lend a bit of moodiness to a sound.
Ninth chords might be a little bit confusing to you, at first. After all, the diatonic scale only has eight notes in it. The ninth refers to the second degree of the scale one octave above the root. For example, a D9 chord would be D, F#, C, E. adding that second degree of the scale tends to make the listener a bit anxious. The C wants to resolve up to the D, but adding the ninth degree of the scale adds a bit of sonic interest.
Abbreviated “sus”, suspended chords are staples of modern music. These are very easy to create. Simply take any triad chord and omit the third of the chord. Replace the third with a perfect fourth interval. Again, this has the effect of creating tension. As an example, a C major triad would be C, E, G. To make that into a suspended chord, simply change the notes to C, F, G. In many pop songs, it’s common to alternate between the third and the fourth within a suspended chord.
The basic augmented chord is an augmented triad. To make one of these chords, you simply play the regular major triad and sharpen the fifth. For example, a C major triad would be C, E, G, whereas an augmented version would be C, E, G#. This is a very dissonant sounding chord. Some hold that it has a bright but dissonant sound to it.
To create a diminished chord, simply flatten the third and fifth notes of any triad. Again using the C major scale, the diminished C chord, abbreviated Cdim, would be C, Eb, Gb. Just as you may expect, this results in a crowded sound that can be used to great effect.
Learning Advanced Chords
There is a point in modern music where the traditional definitions of chords tend to break down. In jazz, for instance, you’ll see 9ths, 13ths and other chords used. In some classical music, you’ll hear terms such as Grandmother Chord, which refers to a 12-note chord. It can get very complex once you get into the 20th century.
Remember that any chord can be made more exotic by sharpening or flattening various intervals. In particular, this is done in seventh chords. Here are some songs that use exotic forms of seventh chords that you can learn.
- Happy Phantom by Tori Amos
- Do You Wanna Dance by The Beach Boys
- Carry that Weight by The Beatles
- Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
- Rock the Casbah by the Clash
- Like a Solider by Johnny Cash
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