Recognizing Chords

Chords: The Foundation of our Music

If you love music, you love chords. You will find chords in all cultures throughout the world.

The reason for that lies in the laws of physics. The rules are the same all over the universe. Chords are constructed from overtones of a fundamental. The fundamental is the lowest pitch of a sound. The lowest pitch is largely dependent of the size of the instrument, or the size of the elements used to produce a sound. Larger objects can produce lower frequencies. Of course there are other things beside the size, like for instance the speed at which a sound gets transported over a specific material. Since we hear sounds through the air, these effects fade out for our ears very fast. Holes where the air can resonate have a much larger influence on the frequencies, which can be produced. Resonating allows for doubling the size of an instrument: Instead of only the original size of an instrument, you can double the size of the sound wave by supporting the reflected sound wave. Or you could half the sound wave because there is room for two half waves in the original size. Since the latter effect, - two half waves fit two times in the original size -, needs no supporting activity, the natural overtones are higher than the basic fundamental frequency. You can learn more about overtones in the video: Scales and natural ratios.

Because nothing is perfect in a real world, every sound produced will have overtones. Physical laws determine the strength of the overtones. The first overtone is by doubling the frequency. In musical terms we speak of transposing a sound an octave higher when we double a frequency. The second overtone is the perfect fifth. Since doubling or halving a frequency is such a simple task, it is not really interesting in music. Therefore, for a triad the fundamental and the perfect fifth was chosen. For the third tone for the triad a natural strong (or dominant) overtone between the fundamental and the fifth was taken: the Major third. Since these overtones are naturally preferred overtones by nature, they are everywhere and are familiar. By emphasizing this familiarity, music seems natural and harmonic. These overtones occur natural and thus are not foreign to all humans. Therefore we will find the octave and the perfect fifth in all cultures. Chords are natural and deep inside nature.


Recognizing Chords is deeply understanding the music

So, how do we learn to recognize chords?

The first step is of course: Listening. Now, there is an overwhelming number of chords out there. What should you listen to exactly? Of course to the very basic chords first: The most basic chords are triads, have only three notes and consist of a fundamental, a perfect fifth and a Major third. The fundamental gives the triad the name. For example if the lowest note is a C, the triad is called a C Major triad. The octave number of the C is not really important, and is ignored in most cases. In this way, you have only 7 Major chords in a Major scale: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. If you take a chromatic scale, - that is a scale consisting only of half steps -, then there are 12 possible Major triads. Listening Music Teacher gives you the possibility to listen to all 12 Major triads. Keep in mind that the fundamental gives the triad the name, the other notes are always four (Major third) and seven (Perfect fifth) half steps higher than the fundamental. The idea of the listening is to get a feeling for the fixed intervals (four and seven half steps). The notes you get with these simple fixed intervals determine the quality of the triad. In this case it is a Major triad.

The next triad to listen for is the minor triad. The characteristic is the notes are a minor third (three half steps) and again a perfect fifth (seven half steps) apart from the fundamental. The quality of this triad is called minor. Again, listen to all 12 possible minor triads and try to get the feeling for that characteristic.

There are two other qualities for triads: augmented and diminished. The characteristic of an augmented triad is that it consists of two stacked up Major thirds. Two stacked up Major thirds are 8 half steps apart. Thus the triad consists of the fundamental, a Major triad and an augmented fifth. Hence the quality name: augmented. The characteristic of a diminished triad is that it consists of two stacked up minor thirds. Two stacked up minor thirds are 6 half steps apart. Thus the triad consists of the fundamental, a minor third and a diminished fifth. Hence the quality name: diminished.

That is the abc of music: There are 4 qualities for triads which can use any of the twelve fundamentals of a chromatic scale.

The second step is to compare triads. Even if there are only 48 combinations for the basic triads in root position, it is not easy just to hear the quality. So, before you get frustrated, you should start to compare the triads. This step is easier than just to listen and try to remember or figuring out the quality. However, since the success rate is greater this makes more fun. Nevertheless, this process will sharpen your ear for the qualities. Listening Music Teacher offers you the possibility in the exercises to listen to desired chords, which makes it easy to compare against the triad or chord in question. However, if you use this feature, you will get less points.

The third step adds inversion. Up to now, we have only used triads in root position. Triads can have two inversions: First inversion and second inversion. For an animated explanation of what an inversion is, see the video: Tertian Triads. For to get the feeling for inversions, the same principles for listening and comparing apply.

The fourth step is analyze the chord. That is try to decompose the triad into single notes. If you get tired of the step above, the step will help you to approach your goal from another view: Analyzing. Listening Music Teacher allows you to sing notes into a microphone. The idea is very simple, try to emphasize a single note in the triad by singing the note aloud. The easiest note to recognize is the fundamental, the lowest note. Then try to keep the highest note, and finally the middle note in your mind, First by singing them aloud and then try to keep them in your inner ear. If you have separated the notes, you can jump from note to note (by singing or with your inner ear) and figure out the intervals.

The fifth step brings you one step closer to the final step: You will see and hear only two notes of the triad. Your task is to find the missing note to form the desired triad. Since the third note is absent, you have to imagine the note with your inner ear. Being able to imagine the missing notes, will make the last step very easy.

In the last step, you will only the the name of a triad (quality and inversion). Your task is to arpeggiate (that is to sing one note after the other) the triad. In the beginning, you will probably need a reference note. Listening Music Teacher allows you to hear the beginning note. However, if you have done done five or more exercises, you will no more need the reference note, since after some exercises you are tuned to the music system. If you do a short exercise in the morning and then in the evening again, you will probably use the reference note only once in the evening. If you keep practicing a lot, you will find that you will need the reference note less and less. However, it is not the goal of Listening Music Teacher to train absolute pitch.

Listening Music Teacher offers the same exercises, which were here presented for triads, also for seventh chords (see video: Seventh Chords).

So, get started and download the free trial.


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