How to Read and Play “Slash Chords” in Sheet Music

Slash chords in sheet music look like this:

G7/F

F#m/C#

etc.

Here’s a detailed tutorial on how to interpret slash chords on piano.  This lesson includes insights into several ways that slash chords are used, such as indicating an inversion, implying a descending bass line, or a simply notating a fresh chordal sound.

Composers and songwriters can use the “slash chord idea” in their creative thinking. That is, the effect of playing any given chord over bass notes that are not the actual root of the chord opens up endless possibilities. Some of the thinking behind these possibilities is discussed in this lesson.

Do you need to read music to learn jazz or blues piano?

Wassup! Today I’m sharing my reply to a question from a student at Udemy.

STUDENT QUESTION:

Hi, Kent!

This is a two part question; first off, is there anything you recommend (videos, specific techniques, etc) to improve my sight-reading that won’t make me want to shout profanities?

I’ve Googled it obviously, but I’m curious about your opinion, as I enjoy your method of teaching.

Secondly, do you find skilled sight-reading necessary for jazz and blues? In other words, in your professional opinion, can I learn to be a proficient jazz and blues pianist without tackling my fear/hatred of sight-reading?

Continue reading “Do you need to read music to learn jazz or blues piano?”

Tetrachords, Scales, and Modes: Answer to a Student Question

Hey there folks, I got some more theory for you today.  Yipee!

The following is a question and answer thread from my YouTube channel, regarding my video about how to quickly visualize any major scale on your keyboard, by using something called the major tetrachord.  First, the original video, and then the Q&A.

Student: Is there something that is just as easier to use to identify minor scales?
Me: Thanks for your question! I will answer in terms of the “natural minor,” although this answer applies to the harmonic and melodic minor scales as well. First of all, the standard minor scales, as well as each of the “modes” of the major scale (dorian, mixolydian, etc), can all be broken up into tetrachords. The bad news is, the lower tetrachord of a minor scale has a different whole-step/half-step pattern than the upper tetrachord. (The cool thing about the major scale, on the other hand, as I describe in this video, is that the lower and upper tetrachords have the same pattern.) You may still find it helpful to break any scale type into two tetrachords. I hope this helps!
Student: Thank you for your reply. Do you have any videos going through each modes (Lydian, Mixolydian etc) and the easiest way to identify them using the tetrachords? Different modes have different patterns.
Me: I don’t have any videos on that yet. When I get a chance I will make a blog post (soon) on pianowithkent.com, which will give a description of my own approach to memorizing the modes. Meantime, try using C-major as your master reference. Starting there, realize that the modes of C Major all share the same pitches as C-major (the white keys of the piano). That is, Dorian mode of C Major starts on D. Phrygian starts on E. Lydian, on F. Mixolydian, on G. Aolian (aka the natural minor scale) starts on A. And finally, Locrian, which starts on B. Since these are all the modes of C major, they all use just the white keys of the piano. Use these modes as your master reference to building any given mode starting on any note. It helps to attack the problem from several angles. One angle is to break up each mode’s unique pattern into two successive tetrachords. Another is to be able to find the major scale (the parent scale) associated with the mode you want. For example, E-flat Dorian is the “Dorian mode of D-flat Major.” (By definition, they share the same pitches). Yet another angle is to become a master of every major scale and every natural minor. Then learn the modes as distinct variations of either the major or the minor. For example, Mixolydian is simply a major scale with a flatted seventh. This last approach is the one that I find easiest But in different contexts I use all these approaches. As far as the modes go, focus on Dorian, Mixolydian and Lydian. These are by far the most commonly used modes.

 

Chord Symbols: add2 or add9? (includes my video on using added ninth to chords)

Hi everyone!  I received a question online today (on my YouTube channel), an excellent one, and one which is subject to debate.  The question is in response to one of my videos about using add9 chords on piano.  (A link to the video is included below.)

I thought I would share the thread here:

VIEWER: Isn’t the D in Cadd9 supposed to be an octave higher? I guess I’m just confused as to why it isn’t Add2 instead.

ME: Hi Jordan, this is a very good question, and one that is subject to debate. Technically, the voicing of these add9’s that I am using here are really “add2”. In general practice however, add9 is favored in chord symbols found in sheet music, and is meant to imply add2 or add9, depending on the voicing choice of the player. It’s interesting to note that add9 chords played on guitar have the ninth tone on top sometimes, and sometimes the 9th is not the highest tone, often depending on ease of finger positions. This is also true in a piano player’s choice of voicing. Again, to recap, add9 technically has the 9th as the highest tone in the voicing, as you indicated, but when using chord symbols, add9 is preferred for either one.

 VIEWER: That definitely makes more sense. Thanks for the clarification.
ME: Certainly, your question is much appreciated! Two other interesting points: A very popular, jazzy left-hand voicing for the MINOR 9th chord (as in Am9) — which, by the way, is NOT an add9 chord, because it also contains the 7th (I talk about that difference in the video) — is this, using Am9 as an example: G, B, C, E, where the root is implied, and can be played before or after the first cluster (or covered by the bass player). I bring this up because here you can see that the “9th” is not the top note in that particular voicing. (You might try that out, it sounds very cool!) Another thing: In my full two-handed voicings in the video, such as Cadd9, left hand plays C and G, and the right plays C-D-E-G. On close inspection you will note that the 9th (the D) is actually voiced far above the root (the left-hand C). But that is not mandatory to voice add9 that way, just a certain nice-sounding choice.
****
 Here is the video lesson which prompted the question:
 See ya soon!
Kent

A Good Way to Learn All Your “Thirteenth” Chords (by Pattern, NOT by Rote)

Hello again, piano people!

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!

 

More on “Fourth Chords”

Ain’t life grand? As in grand piano?

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!

Video: Fourth Chords, Part Two

“Fourth Chords” — Very Useful (Part One)

“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).

OR,

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.)

Understanding “Thirds” – how standard chords are built!

Hi folks!

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!

Stacked Thirds

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!