Best practice regimen for chords …

Do you ever wonder what is the best way to practice chords? I get that question a lot. No matter how you slice it, at its simplest you just need to play the chord enough that it becomes familiar to your hands.

The way I typically tackle that, and it’s also the way I suggest doing it in all the lessons, is to first simply identify the notes in a chord. Then, immediately “burn it in” by jumping back and forth between whatever chords are in the song that you’re currently working on.

For example, say a song that you’re working on has three chords in it. Assuming you didn’t know any of the three chords yet, we first would simply learn the notes in the chord, usually by looking at chord charts that are given to you in the exercise portion of the online environment as well as in the books.

Once you had a chance to actually get your fingers over the correct notes and try to visually learn them, we would then immediately start moving back and forth between the chords to solve the problem of needing to be able to jump from one to another to accomplish getting the tune played.

That might take four or five minutes or might take ten or fifteen minutes depending on your level of proficiency. However, once you are comfortable jumping between the chords, in any order, and moderately smoothly, you should pretty well have those chords “burned into” your memory and have the associated muscle memory needed to play the chords smoothly as well.

One thing to note here: Don’t think that you need to stop everything and learn every version of some new chord and practice moving from that new chord to hundreds of other chords until you know every possible combination you may ever run into for the rest of your life. Aarrggghhhh!!!!!!

Instead, just work on only those chords that are in the tune you are currently trying to play, and get comfortable moving smoothly from chord-to-chord in only the combinations you will need to actually play the chord changes as they come down the pike in that tune.

It’s SO important to not lose sight of the forest for all the trees … Your goal is to be able to play the tune, not necessarily drill your chords. Learning your chords is a means to an end – not the end in itself. The endgame is playing the tune well and sounding good at your piano!

If you keep things in that perspective, when it’s all said and done you’ll still learn your chords, but you’ll be doing it in the context of a tune, which is a much better way to cement that skill into your longer term memory versus just drilling incessently and having it go in one ear and right out the other …

13 Comments
  • Jimi Bradfield
    Posted at 20:56h, 02 August Reply

    Thanks for all the tips & encouragement..

  • Antonia
    Posted at 13:46h, 17 August Reply

    Thanks Scott for the reminder. As a former music major I am rusty on transitioning fromn one chord to another but quickly remembering the notes in the major and at least minor chords as long as not too many flats, LOL1

  • Sue Goodwin
    Posted at 17:34h, 27 October Reply

    If I wanted to take notes from the bass line and put them into a cord, how do I do that. Beginning level please. I am in my 70’s and am pretty much self taught since I do know how to read music as I played the clarinet for many years.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 14:44h, 05 February Reply

      More than I can into deeply here, but usually the bass note (lowest note) in a traditionally notated arrangement is the root of whatever chord the song is on harmonically. So by knowing the root you then can guess whether the chord is major minor or whatever else… Hope that helps. SH

  • Bobbie Spivey
    Posted at 23:05h, 01 November Reply

    what about gospel music and the cords

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 14:40h, 05 February Reply

      Gospel music is VERY appropriate for this style of playing Bobbie.

  • Jan Bergesen
    Posted at 09:20h, 07 November Reply

    Thank you for the tip. Will work on it right away!

  • Isabel Erostegui
    Posted at 11:01h, 09 August Reply

    Thanks for all your education tips.

    I have two questions:

    1. How to memorize
    2. How to play by ear

    I have studied classical music.

  • Shelley Abrams
    Posted at 16:01h, 13 August Reply

    I bet you’re the coolest cat in the room wherever you go. Thank you for giving the gift of music to so many!!

  • Maureen Wilkinson
    Posted at 08:59h, 28 September Reply

    Scott. I am 71. These little tips are so very helpful and keep me motivated. Thank you. I have your online course and you are absolutely right. My favorite songs keep me coming back. Should I memorize each song before I move on.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:02h, 28 September Reply

      Hi Maureen,

      Glad you are having fun! To answer your question, no, there is no official “reason” to not move forward before you have a tune memorized. having said that, it is kind of cool to have a few tunes “in your back pocket” so that when you are away from home and possibly come across a piano somewhere else you can just sit down and impress the bejeebers out of whomever is around. Ha!

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