Part 4 - More Chord Tricks

"Sitting at the piano and playing songs without the hours and hours of practice time involved with traditional piano methods is absolutely thrilling. I would not be able to do this very thing if it were not for someone showing me the chord method along with the secrets to playing by ear!" - Guy Faux


Here's what you'll learn today in Part 4 of Playing Piano By Ear!

  • The Best Technique At Any Level
  • Knowing The 6 Most Common Chords In Any Key

In Part Four I discuss the 6 most common chords in any key. Once you know these 6 chords, you can begin the process of matching up your melody line to the correct chord progression.

Keep in mind, there is never a set chord progression to any one specific melody...

The 1 Exception: If you're playing with other musicians, then everyone has to work from the same chord chart, but if you're learning a song for your own personal pleasure, or as a solo instrumentalist, then you can re-harmonize any melody to your own personal musical preferences, and there's a great deal of room to be creative. The more chords you know, the more creative you can be.

However, if you're fairly new to this concept of playing piano by ear, just finding any chord that sounds good with whatever melody you're currently working on may be a real challenge for you, but with just a little knowledge you can begin to match up chords and melody lines.

Let's say that you're learning a song in the key of C major. The 6 most common chords in the key of C are: C, G, F, Am, Em and Dm.

If you can hear where the chord changes take place in relationship to the lyrics, then draw a short horizontal line directly above the lyric or melody note where each chord should be played. This is where you'll write in your chord symbol once you start figuring out the chords.


Note: "I'll cover this topic in more detail if you find it challenging hearing where the chord changes occur. In next week's issue I'll give you the exact method I used to learn how to play piano by ear."

Once you're armed with the six chords listed above, go through the entire melody and place a chord at each location that you marked with a horizontal line. During this phase of the process, you'll only be writing in chords that contain the melody note at that specific location.

For example, if you come to a place that you marked that has an E melody note at that specific location, then you can use one of three chords. The C, Am and Em chords all contain an E.

Now I do realize that this may be too many choices if you're a complete beginner, so the best way to proceed at the very, very beginning is to use only the C, G and F major chords, thereby reducing your choices to only one chord that contains an E, and that's the C major chord.

If the C chord doesn't sound quite right, you can always go back later and try the other two chords. Remember, this is a multi-step process.    

In this first phase, you're just looking for common notes from the melody line that match up with the most common chords in the specific key you're currently working in.

Now, if you come to a place that you marked that has a B melody note at that specific location, then there's really only one choice if you're working with just the C, G and F chords, and that's the G major chord, which is the only chord that contains a B.

The reason that this technique works so well is because over 90% of the time the melody note that lines up with each specific chord symbol is a note from that chord.

If you understand this 90% rule, know the key you're working in, and can figure out the 6 most common chords in that key, then you are free from having to start this whole process from scratch.

Part 5 - Even More Chord Tricks