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The Many Benefits of Learning Piano Chord Theory

Jan 27, 2008
Chances are if you've ever taken piano lessons, you probably spent at least a little bit of time on piano chords. But learning the names of a few basic chords and actually understanding chord theory are two different things. And while it's possible to learn to play the piano without learning chords, there are several benefits to learning theory.

Many piano students complain that music theory is too hard to understand. They quickly give up in favor of simply playing piano by reading a score of written music. Those who take the time to get the basis of chord theory find that chordal theory helps them in several ways.

Learning chord-based theory is something like learning math. You can simply memorize the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, and that may get you by for a few years in school. Or, you can learn and understand why 2 + 2 = 4. Once you do, you'll be able to succeed in math when the formulas become much too hard to simply memorize and regurgitate. The same is true of chord theory. It's one thing to memorize a chord chart. If you don't understand how chords work, your skills won't get you very much further than basic piano playing.

One of the most obvious benefits of learning chords is that you will soon develop the skill of playing piano by ear. Have you every watched a band play, such as those on late-night TV talk shows? The pianists seem to be able to pick up any song, off the cuff, and begin playing it without the advantage of sheet music or having practiced. That's music theory at work. There are few things more thrilling than to sit down at a piano, impromptu, and provide accompaniment for any song.

Those musicians with a bent toward writing original music will find that knowing theory is essential in creating music for lyrics. Even if you don't transcribe the music yourself, chord theory will give you the means of communicating your ideas to the transcriptionist. The final product will be exactly as you envision it.

Once you understand how chords work, you're also in a better position to learn to play other instruments; if not play them yourself, be able to work with other musicians in the setting of a band. For example, another instrument which relies heavily upon chord theory is the guitar. This is why many piano players find it easy to pick up on playing the guitar. In a band, the music relies very heavily upon the lead of the guitar and the piano. A knowledge and understanding of chord theory ensures that the pianist and guitarist are always on the same page, so to speak.

It's vital to find a good instructor when it comes to chords. It may mean the difference between giving up in frustration and success by becoming proficient. Taking advantage of jam sessions in your area will also help you put chord theory skills into practice in a casual environment. You'll be able to learn from other musicians whose passions are similar. Plus, students who learn chord theory notice a marked improvement in their general piano playing skills.
About the Author
Duane Shinn is the author of many courses on chord piano theory.
"Piano Chords"
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