Introduction to Chords

The Power of Snowmen

Wikipedia gathers the information as below;
“A chord, in music, is a set of pitches consisting of usually three or more notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords.”
This is as clear as it can get. But if you are having a hard time imagining this, you can think of snowballs and all the snowmen and snowwomen that are out there.
One snowball doesn’t tell you a “story”. It certainly looks nice and round, but for it to become a “figure” with a defined meaning (may it be being a snowman), you need to stack some snowballs on top of each other!
Same way, when you stack three notes on top of each other or (given music consists of continuity of time) stack the notes one next to the other, the notes will gain a different meaning as well.
Even if you don’t stick the carrot and put the buttons on 3 snowballs, it already gives you a certain definition that the figure is indeed a snowman. You relate the balls to each other. Suddenly the bottom ball becomes the lower part of the “body”, the middle ball related to the bottom ball becomes the “chest” and the top ball becomes the “head”.
In music, we call the parts of the snowman slightly differently. Talking about stacked notes in groups of 3, we will be using the term “triads”. So, our snowmen in most of the Western Classical Music based genres are called triads. The bottom ball (note) is the “root”, the middle one is “3rd” related to the root, and the upper one is the “5th”. If you play them individually without relating them to each other, they all will be sounding like notes. But when you relate them to each other, the 3rd and the 5th starts to relate to the root and they gain a complete “meaning”. So you start to hear the shape of a “snowman”.

Why 3rd and 5th? Continue reading.

How To Build Basic Chords

In case of the tonal triads, musicians often use the 3 notes that can mean the most clear together. Which are called the basic triads. There are 4 of these. They are the base of every other type of chord that you can build later on. As you can see, all of them are like snowmen.

We skip the 2nd and the 4th notes to build our basic snowman, due to the potential meaning they can give being rather “less clear” than the 3rd and the 5th can give in terms of tonality. You’ll get it once you get used to the concept of tonality.
The perfect 5th interval being the complimentary of the root note, using it is what your ear expects. In an informal way of explaining it, it is the most natural thing to do. In between the root and the 5th lies the note that defines the tonal quality of the chord. The 3rd note of any scale in modern western classical music and its relatives is mostly the first note that defines the quality of the tonality. It is the note that makes us realize if the flavor we receive is Major or Minor, hence, we use that in our triads as well.
There are augmented and diminished triads as well, they are named after where the 5th is in relation to the root note. Since 5th is defined as perfect, it can’t become a “major 5th” or a “minor 5th”, those terms don’t exist in the tonal reality. We rather use “augmented” (5th getting higher/away) or “diminished” (5th getting lower/closer) instead.

If the 3rd is further away from the root note, it becomes a Major step, so the 3rd would be called a Major 3rd, and the chord would become a chord that gives the audience the Major qualitiy, and would be named a “Major chord”.

If the 3rd is relatively closer to the root note, it would be making a Minor step, so the 3rd would be called a Minor 3rd, and the chourd would become a chord that gives the audience the Minor quality, and would be named a “Minor chord”.

How To Play Triads

The melodic compound of an arpeggio includes notes that are not next to each other and sorts of jumps are mostly not “at hand” for a beginner improviser. When improvising, we can use the arpeggiated chords a lot to build phrases so it is really important to keep them at hand.
Double stopping some notes of the chords can easily blend you into the rhythm section.
In a hypothetical band, during an accompaniment line while the singer is singing the verse, arpeggiating the notes of the chord the guitar player is playing can keep you “active” without “being in front of the band” and you can add a nice groove to the piece you are being part of.
When creating a solo over a settled chord progression, you can use the basic chord notes to create various melodies, so learning to read them will help you to come up with melody choices that will always sound good and this will give you the comfort to experiment different stuff -since you know the way home.

Below are example scores. Contact me for receiving printable size full length scores.
Basic Arpeggios

The best way to understand how does a chord sound, with what ingredient, is to play it “openly” on your violin. This means breaking up the chord into a melody by arpeggiating the notes. If the chord is made up with Re-Fa-La like in the example above, then play those notes one after the other on your violin. It is not easy to play multiple notes at the same time on your violin if you are not at a certain level.

Other Shapes

Altough not as practical as a guitar, violin can produce chords coming out of 3 or 4 strings at the same time. You can use your bow to play them “almost” at the same time, you can “brake” the chord in parts and double stop them in certain rhythmic patterns, or you can arpeggiate them with various techniques. You can also strum them as if you are playing a guitar. As long as your intonation is okay, they will sound good!

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