I mentioned Open tenths in the post Use Chords in Many Ways. In the previous page on Chord Inversions it was mentioned that the use of chord inversions can sound relaxed, yet better than the repeated root chord. Every technique in improvisation has its optimal uses, but sometimes the same song can stand to have a few different treatments. Imagine playing nineteen verses of “O My Darling, Clementine” the same way. No matter how impressively creative the improvisation – it will get old to both listener and the performing musician.
So, besides the argument for variety, Open 10ths offer two strong characteristics worth considering. The difference in left hand rhythmic patterns add movement and secondly, the sound of the arpeggiated chord has a flowing sound that block chords can seldom compete with. So, when the rod connecting the damper pedal fell off the grand piano in the beginning of a wedding service, I immediately switched to arpeggios, open 10ths, Anything that would preserve my reputation as a non-beginner pianist! (See my blog on weddings – https://hollyglenstudios.com/2011/06/09/wedding-blues-pianist/).
What Is an Open 10th?
So, remember, triads are chords built using the 1, 3 and 5 notes of a scale. When we talk about chords, any number attached to the tonic (name of the chord, first note of the scale) is referring to how many notes up from the tonic. So a F6 chord means you play a F chord and the sixth note up from the F, which is D. An Open 10th takes the third note of the chord and moves it one octave higher, which just happens to be 10 (ten) notes up from the first (the 1 of the 1, 3, 5 chord). This opens the sound of the original chord because the middle note is now moved to a different and higher position. You can see it written on the example to the left.
How would this be played to our Streets of Laredo song? The chord inversion treatment is shown below for your reference.
If you look at the Open 10th version below, notice how the left hand eighth notes fill in the long hold of the right hand dotted quarter note. Now, if you play the two versions, notice the extra flow the eighth notes give to the song.
I hope this helps you hear how different chord uses change the character of the song. Now, you need to find a couple of songs and try your hands at a few variations of improvisation!