Use Chords in Many Ways

Block vs Broken Chords

If you want to do improvisation well, soon you will learn to play a chord a million ways. When we lived in Massachusetts I would often go one way to a place and return an entirely different route. This use to upset my husband because it would take him longer to learn how to get places. But it illustrates the fact there are often many ways to do something. The same applies to playing a chord. So take the “C” chord with the notes C-E-G.

1.You could play it altogether on one beat and this is called a “block” chord.

block chord

2.You can play one or more of the notes later, thus the term “broken” chord. An example would be “C” on beat one, “E” and “G” on the third beat – or reversed!

3.You could even play the three notes separately – one for each beat. This is usually referred to as an arpeggiated chord and sounds like a harp.

broken chord (arpeggio)

4.You could repeat one or more of the notes and play C-G-E-G (playing notes in this pattern of “bottom-top-middle-top” is called Alberti Bass).

5.You could play the three notes as a rolled chord on one beat (separately but quickly ) so it sounds like a guitar being strummed.

6.You can take the middle note (E in the case of a “C” chord) and play it an octave higher so you would be playing C – G- E. This is referred to as an Open 10th. You can add the 9th as a variation and play C-G-C-D-E as eighth notes leading to the “E”

Open 10ths

7.You can play simple block chords in a rhythmic pattern. In “The Streets of Laredo” try playing chords with the rhythmic patterns of:
1 2 hold / 1 2 hold / etc. or 1 + 2 3 / 1 + 2 3 / etc.

The main idea is to match the accompaniment with the character of the song. An ambitious student will try each of these variations with many or all major and minor chords. This knowledge will help the student go far in improvisation and keyboard dexterity. So go ahead and try playing the song again with different L.H fill-ins.

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