Major Chords : Dr. Bob Lawrence

Major Chords

Introduction : Major Chords

Having a strong conceptual understanding of the harmonic structures of music (chords) is an absolute must if you are wanting to develop into an accomplished jazz musician. This is true whether you play piano, guitar, or any melodic instrument like saxophone, trumpet, trombone and yes, even vocalists! In fact, this blog looks at how to discover, learn, and play major chords melodically (voicing major chords are covered in a different blog). So, how does one determine how well and thoroughly they know chords? How can one conclude that they know all of the chords? In fact, how does one discover how many chords actually exist? These are very important questions with very clear and specific answers. This blog, “Major Chords“, will be the first in a series of chord blogs with the goal of answering those questions and many other regarding the study and mastery of chords. So, lets discover, learn, and play major chords – an enlightening and fascinating journey that will help you become an accomplished jazz musician.


Discover : Major Chords

When setting out to learn your major chords you should first seek to discover the facts by asking the right questions (always begin learning a new musical concept by seeking for answers to basic and fundamental questions – always!).

  1. How many major chords exist in music?
  2. Are there different types of major chords?
  3. How are the major chords constructed?
  4. How do I properly study the major chords?
  5. How can I determine when I can confidently say, “I know the major chords“?

These questions make sense! Your mastery of any musical concept begins with your conceptual understanding of the “data”. In other words, if you approach the skill you seek to play before you truly discover and learn the skill, you are going to simply impede your progress. So, let’s answer our questions before we begin the process of learning them!

  • How many major chords exist in music?
    • 12 (one major chord for each of the 12 notes in music)
  • Are there different types of major chords?
    • Yes (a major chord can be as simple as 3 notes (a triad) or include upper extensions like a 9th, 11th, 13th)
  • How are the major chords constructed?
    • We build major chords by stacking every other note of the major scale (ex. C E G – see my blog Jazz Major Scales to discover, learn, and play major scales)
  • How do I properly study the major chords?
    • Proper study of major chords require a pencil, some paper, and your instrument (more on this in the “Learn” section below)
  • How can I determine when I can confidently say, “I know the major chords“?
    • When you can instantly and with ease spell and play the major chords (more on this in the “Play” section below)

Now that we have successfully taken the time to discover answers to our questions regarding major chords, let’s begin to dissect our new knowledge – let’s learn our major chords!


Learn : Major Chords

Once you have a conceptual handle on the musical concept you are wanting to master then you can begin to learn the skill. Your best “learning” will always been done away from your instrument. This is so important that I am going to say it again – your best “learning” will always been done away from your instrument! Yes, that is correct – away from your instrument! I like to refer to this learning as “paper practice”. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil – find a comfy chair and begin sketching out/drawing the data. This type of practicing forces you to “think” through the concept. You should be able to spell each of the major chords with ease. Likewise, you should be able to identify and properly notate the emphasized sound of each of the major chords – for example:

  • C Maj = C E G (1st, 3rd, 5th of C major scale)
  • C Maj 7 = C E G B (7th added)
  • C Maj 9 = C E G B D (9th added)
  • C Major 11 = C E G B D F (11th added)
  • C Major 13 = C E G B D F A (13th added)

This kind of understanding not only paves the way for your physical mastery of the major chords, it sets the stage for the formation of proper ear training.


Play : Major Chords

Once you have completed the amount of paper practice necessary for you to easily spell each of the major chords in their entirety (5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th – for all 12!) then you are ready to play. Here is where jazz musicians approach the playing of major chords differently than classical musicians. You never want to simply play the major chords as a triad only (ex. C E G) or a 7th only (C E G B) in other words, you want to be able to play and hear the major chords from the root to the 13th (the entire major sound!). We want our launch point (the root) and our destination point (5th, 7th, 9th, etc.) to always be identified before we begin to play. In doing so we prep ourselves for the proper and necessary development of muscle and aural memory. I strongly recommend using an app like iReal Pro or Band In A Box to play with so you can “hear” the major chords within a musical context.

When practicing major chords in this manner you have expanded the scale beyond a simple technique exercise – you have actually established an invaluable responsibility for your ears. Do you hear what a major triad sounds like? How about the sound of the major 7th? Do you hear how the the major 9th sounds different that than major 7th?

For more insight regarding the major chords and especially how to successfully play them join discover, learn, play (dlp)!


Final Thoughts : Major Chords

If you wish to discover, learn, and play major chords (and much more) you should consider becoming a dlp (discover.learn.play) member. You’ll have access to professional jazz instruction and guidance from a professional jazz music educator (me!). Your dlp membership gives you lifetime access to all of my instructional jazz videos (which you can access and study as often as you wish – again, for life!). Additionally, your own private Mavenlink support portal is established, hosted, and maintained allowing you to interact with me as often as needed each and every week. Likewise, you’ll receive tuition discounts if you ever choose to have private online jazz lessons with me through The Dallas School of Music.

I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have regarding discover.learn.play so feel free to Email me drlawrence@dlpjazz.com or call me 972-380-8050 Ext. 211. Please take a moment and listen to a few of my recordings or follow me at SoundCloud to get a feel for how I play and approach this wonderful art form we call jazz.

I look forward to helping you discover, learn, and play jazz!

Best Wishes,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
President
The Dallas School of Music

Jazz Major Scales

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