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Author Topic: How to Build a Better Musical Vocabulary #1 - Be Aware of Chords!!!  (Read 7683 times)


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LONG POST WARNING: But trust me this will be beneficial not only to your playing but to the way you think about things!!

I know it's been awhile but as much as I love LGM you have to actually go out and play and gig and stuff.  So I've been doing that getting some really good practical application and rehearsing EVERYDAY getting ready for concerts and stuff.

But I'm back so let's get to it... How to Build a Better Musical Vocabulary #1 - Be Aware of Chords by DaNatiMaestro; (You all know how I like to create my series of topics.. LOL.  It helps me because I don't have to try to write/explain everything at one time)

I recently re-heard an interview with Aaron Lindsey done by Jamal over at GospelKeyboard and he said something that I think is very profound!  "Playing is just like talking.  How you talk is probably how you play."  You're having a musical conversation with your listeners and other musicians that you're playing with through the music you play. 

This makes sense of course.. you can relate your letters (A, B, C, D to X, Y, Z) to notes in music (C, D, E, etc..).  You can relate words (grouping of letters) to chords (grouping of notes).  You can relate sentences (logical grouping of words) to progressions (logical grouping of chords) [Note the word logical here, this is done on purpose because you can have folks say/play some really weird stuff that just doesn't make sense.. we've all heard that before.. LOL]. You can relate paragraphs (grouping of sentences) to intro, bridges, chorus, endings (grouping of progressions).  You can relate books (grouping of paragraphs) to whole songs (grouping of intros, bridges, choruses and endings).

With this in mind, I thought to myself "OK, if playing and talking is so similar can you then relate building your musical vocabulary in the same why that you'd build your normal vocabulary?"  Hmm.. I think this is a great question so I did some research and came across many websites that talked about how to build a better vocabulary.  Now of course they were talking about the your normal English vocabulary but I'd like to flip this to tie into how we'd build our musical vocabulary. 

But before I do that I need to talk about what a musical vocabulary means.  To me this means the chords that makes up the building blocks to your playing.  Just like you use words to converse with others you'd use your chords to converse musically.  Some people speak very eloquently because they have a large vocabulary (or pool of words that they understand and can use at their discretion to convey ideas) well this is the same way in playing music.  Some people play very "eloquently" or advanced so to speak because they have a large musically vocabulary (or pool of chords that they understand and can use at their discretion to convey musical ideas)

With that out of the way let's getting into the 1st thing you can do help build your musical vocabulary!


Lots of folks are amazed and sometimes discouraged by their playing because they play a song in a certain "simple" way and then another advance musician plays the same song but with crazy passing chords and deceptive cadences and can make it sound so lush and full.  Now those same amazed and sometimes discourged musicians will say hey "I listen to music all the time!" but unfortunately listen along may not be enough to help you learn new chords.  When you listen to music and/or try to learn a song (especially from songbooks) there's a strong urge to learn the music quickly and skip over unfamiliar harmonies or chords.  It obvious when a chord is totally unknown to you, but you have to be aware of chords that seem familiar to you but the precise harmony and flow within a progression you may not really know.  For example, you know a chord is a dominant 7th but you can't quite pick out all of the alterations or tones within the chord.

Instead of avoiding these chords, you have to take a closer look at them.  This is where learning from a songbook or leadsheet can be VERY beneficial because you have the chords right there above the staff.  (I know not all gospel music is chorded out in songbook or leadsheet format but a good majority of it is.  Plus you can find plenty of chords for songs on LGM and EarnestandRoline.com) 

1. Try to understand the chords meaning from its context, basically in the flow of the progression and key of the song.  When you're reading books if you come across a word you don't know you highlight them then get your dictionary and look them up so that you can UNDERSTAND their meaning.  Same thing with chords!!

2. When you're playing out of songbooks or hymnals or using written chords and you come across chords you don't know. STOP playing assuming you're in your practice time. If you have a chord dictionary or know your chord theory well enough, look up/figure out the notes that make up the chord.  And WRITE DOWN what you learn about the chord ie, notes, interval between notes, the scale degree of the notes in the scale, the chord name, etc.  This will slow down your playing, but improved understanding of new chords will speed up your learning of other chords which will make your reading of music and playing easier.  You'll also be improving your ear and how it recognizes new harmonies and chords.

3. Make a daily practice of noting chords that interest you so that you can study those chords further.  You should note these chords whenever you are reading from a songbook, learning a song by ear, using chords from the internet or playing with others and they happen to you show you some new chords.  Write down these chords in a notebook so that you have something that you can review or look at whenever you want to review chords.

This is exactly what I do with the cool chord posts.  I take one chord and breakdown it's notes, the harmony and it's placement within a progression.  From this understanding I then take the chord and transpose it to every key so that I can use the chord accordingly.  Once I truly understand the chord, I can add it to my musical vocabulary and can use it whenever I need to.  I've added another tool for my toolbox.

Use my Cool Chord posts as an example of how to write out new chords that you come across!!

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