Todays’ post is about learning “thirteenth chords” on piano. In this video, you will learn a good way to learn and retain all twelve of the standard 13th chords without resorting to rote memorization. In my experience, I discovered early on that learning scales and chords by rote — that is, note-by-note, without any understanding of the patterns they all have in common — is the worst way to go. Learning the underlying patterns that consistently define all scales and chords is absolutely where it’s at!
Here’s a follow up to my recent post about “Fourth Chords.” I made this second video to give more insight regarding how “fourth chord” shapes can be superimposed over various roots, to create refreshing voicings for standard chord types, such as major, minor and dominant seventh chords. The goal here is to focus on the practical side of putting these shapes into use!
“Fourth chords” are chords built as a “stack of fourths,” rather than as a “stack of thirds.”An example of a “stack of fourths” would be: D, G, C, and F, where D is the lowest pitch, and the rest make up a series of fourths above that.
The greatest thing about these stacks is that any given stack can be superimposed above multiple roots, to create a variety of voicings for various chord types.
Using the stack mentioned above as an example:
A “Dmin7” chord using the stack D, G, C, and F, results in a nice open-sounding voicing, with an added 11th (the “G” note is the 11th).
D, G, C and F also sounds great over a B-flat root, creating a “Bb69” sound! That is, a B-flat major chord, with an added 6th and 9th. (G is the 6th, and C is the 9th).
And so on…my video here explains this in depth. (Check back soon for Part Two, with more insights on this.)
NOTE: Website pianodrumteacher.com, mentioned in the video, is my older site, soon to be retired.
DESCRIPTION OF THIS VIDEO:
Piano and Music Theory – FOURTHS and FIFTHS – “Perfect and Not-so-perfect.” Essential knowledge for building chords without rote memorization, and for understanding chord progressions, plus understanding general music theory.
In order to understand tutorials on piano playing, it is essential that you know some basic terminology from the world of music theory. So here’s an important video on “major and minor thirds.”
If you aren’t clear about major and minor thirds, you might want to watch this. Afterward, you can read the rest of this article, using your newfound vocabulary!
Chords are often understood and learned as a series of “stacked thirds.” For example, a major seventh chord can be seen as the following stack:
Major third, Minor third, Major third.
Let’s look at the CMaj7 (C Major Seventh) chord as an example of stacking thirds to build a major seventh chord from any root. The notes of the CM7 chord are C, E, G, and B. Starting from the root C, we can stack thirds to create the chord. First we pile on the E, which is a major third above C. Then we put a G on top of the E. The musical distance (interval) from E to G is a minor third. Finally, we top off the stack with a B, which is a major third above the G. We now have a really tasty sandwich!
OK so here’s the vid with some tips on finding major and minor thirds on your keyboard, starting from any piano key.
Questions, comments? Please jump in. Let’s make this a community!
My “jazz piano bible” is a series of four books by John Mehegan, referred to collectively as the Jazz Improvisation series. Books can be an invaluable part of your training as a musician, especially in the area of jazz, since a solid understanding of classic jazz can get fairly heavy on the music theory side of things.
I have included links to these four amazing books here, if you want to check them out. Just below those four links is a single volume by Mehegan that covers the most essential information from the four-volume set.
These books are systematic in their approach, which I love. Lots of other books on jazz piano are full of great ideas, but they tend to be collections of “try this, try that.” Books of that type are overwhelming to me. I always want to look for the core principles behind things.
The great jazz pianist Bill Evans appreciated the fourth volume of this series so much that he wrote a great introduction for it.
I highly recommend that you read somewhat casually through all four volumes first, in sequence, and then go back and study the details and techniques that seem most interesting to you. As you do that, decide on certain things that you will practice on a regular basis, and put in the work!
I’ve noticed that I tend to focus on volumes one and four, although volume four makes occasional references to material in the other books, so it’s best to have all four volumes handy.
The first thing I put into major practice is what Mehegan calls “Contemporary Left-hand Voicings.” (I have a couple of videos on that topic that I will be posting here soon.) These voicings, covering major, minor, dominant, diminished, and half-diminished sevenths, which Mehegan calls the sixty-chord system (five chord qualities on each of the twelve roots) are essential to have in your toolbox.
I keep these four volumes around the house and pick them up now and then for review. I’m amazed at how much this material can have a new freshness to me when I re-read it, especially after having applied it for a while.
Be advised, Mr. Mehegan uses the Roman numeral approach to chord progressions almost exclusively, as in II-V-I. For example, he provides chord charts to tons of songs, and all are in that format. It is good to be able to think in those terms. That is, instead of learning a jazz standard as Am7, Dm7, G7, C, you can learn it as VI, II, V, I, thereby setting yourself up to be ready to play that tune in any key.
I encourage anyone who is familiar with these books, or is beginning to study the material, to share please your insights, opinions, or questions in the comments section of this post. Let’s make this site a community!
I’ve had lots of happy feedback about this lesson, ever since I first posted it on YouTube. People are basically saying that this is the easiest way they have found to learn the notes of all twelve major scales, quickly and painlessly. I learned about tetrachords in my college theory classes, and I have found them to be a little-known “secret” for organizing one’s thoughts about scales and modes. Let me know what you think!