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Primary Chords

There are 3 major components to most music we hear today, which are:
  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Rhythm
While the melody of the song matters most, those who learn music must pay particular attention to the chords of a song. It would be great to be able to identify the chord sound and chord type upon hearing it. However, everyone mostly pays particular attention to the melody and not to the chords of a song.

What are chords?
Chords are the basic foundation of harmony that supports the melody. Using the ideal chords can sometimes vastly improve the sound of a piece of music sound when it is performed.

Why are chords necessary?

Without chords, music will be very bland and much less interesting. Chords enrich a tune and makes it much more enjoyable to listen to. Can we imagine listening to a piece of music totally void of chords?

How many types of chords are there?

There are 5 basic chord types namely; major chords, minor chords, dominant chords, augmented chords and diminished chords.

How do we begin to understand and appreciate chords?
The first step is to begin with the 3 primary chords of a major scale: I, IV & V.

Here is what you can do to help yourself get a head start.
- Acquire musicality by playing a lot of songs in any major key that uses the 3 primary chords.
- Listen carefully to understand and appreciate the connection between the moving melody notes and the primary chords used.

Here is an example that uses the 3 primary chords to the popular song 'When The Saints Go Marching In' from Piano Lesson Made Easy Level 1.

Version 1 is to apply the primary chords only where necessary.

Version 2 explores the use of the primary chords. Compare this with the above version and note the differences.

Here are two more examples to explore the use of primary chords. Follow these instructions:
- Work out the triads and inversions of the chords on your own or with your music teacher's help.
- Play the chords where indicated on the music scores below to get a listening comparison of how the chords work with the melody.

Using the 'Good Morning' song from Piano Lesson Made Easy Level 1, the first example uses only chord I & V. These two chords are the most basic to begin with.

The next example below adds the use of chord IV to the same song. Play this version below and compare with the one above and you will notice that the inclusion of chord IV makes the music sound better. So, the more chords you add, the better the music will become.

Let's apply C and G chord to the improvised melody of Mary Had A Little Lamb. In the video clip below, two young students play this together. One plays the chords in Alberti bass accompaniment, while the other plays the improvised melody.

Taken from YMSD Improvisation Workshop 3


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Making a choice! Decision time!

Growing up, never did I contemplate on being a musician for a career! In fact, it never occurred to me to ever consider being one. I never thought much about any career until I was nearing the end of high school. It was crunch time for me, as I have to seriously decide on my vocation.

I recalled that it was right after my high school exams (called MCE then) when my dad asked me what I wanted to do for a career and whether I would like to go abroad for further studies. I was unsure, so we took a family trip to Kuala Lumpur to visit some of the foreign embassies to inquire about tertiary education abroad. We explored and inquired about numerous vocations. However, my vibes told me nothing except that I am not quite ready to decide.

I did not have time on my side. I have only a few months to decide before my high school results were announced. I was under pressure to make a decision. Though my parents’ desire of me to study abroad, I cannot just go without due and proper consideration of what I want to study. I just wanted to be sure that what I chose is something that will hopefully make me happy for the rest of my life. Otherwise, it would be horrible!

Upon receiving my results proper, my parents asked the big question of whether I have made up my mind on which vocation, and where to go for my tertiary education. Guess their reaction when I said that I have not and that I need a bit more time? Of course, they got a bit annoyed and told me not to take too long to decide. They accepted my decision to hold off until I am more assured about what I want to be. I did not want to jump into anything without due consideration, only to regret my decision should I want out.

Meanwhile, I received a letter from my school stating that I have qualified and am eligible to continue with my ‘A’ level studies. So, that was what I did while contemplating my vocation.