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Chord Reading: Book 1

by Joe Bates
Table of Contents
Core Knowledge: A Guide To Inversions 3
Core Knowledge: Basic Chord Types 4
Stage 1: Learning the inversions 5
Core Knowledge: Voice leading 6
Stage 2: Movement by 2nds 7
Stage 3: Movement by 3rds 8
Stage 4: Mixing 3rds and 2nds 9
Stage 5: Movement by 6ths and 7ths 10
Stage 6: Movement by 4ths and 5ths 11
Core Knowledge: Chord Decisions 12
Stage 7: Combining all movements, C major 13
Stage 8: Combining all movements, A minor 14
Stage 9: Chord numbers in C major 15
Stage 10: Chord numbers in A minor 16
Stage 11: Perfect and Plagal Cadences, C major 17
Stage 12: Perfect and Plagal Cadences, A minor 18

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Core Knowledge: A Guide To Inversions
Inversions are different ways of ordering a set of notes. For example, you can re-arrange the notes
C-E-G as E-G-C or as G-C-E.
If we have a group of three notes, all separated by 3rds, we call this a Triad. Triads have names like
C major or D minor. A triad keeps its name even when we re-arrange its notes. The notes C, E and
G will always form a C major triad, no matter what order they are in.

Forming Inversions
We start with our notes in the simplest position, called Root
Position.
We give each of the notes names. The bottom note is called the
Root. It gives the chord its name. In a C major chord, the Root
will be C; in a D minor chord, the Root will be D.
The middle note is a 3rd higher, so we call it the 3rd. The top
note is a 5th higher, so we call it the 5th. The notes will keep
these names, no matter how much we re-order them.
The simplest way of re-ordering a group of notes is to take the
note that was on the bottom and put it on the top. For example,
we can move the Root from the bottom to the top of the chord.
Now we have the 1st Inversion chord. Before, all the notes were
separated by 3rds; now there is a 4th in middle of the chord. This
chord uses different fingerings to the others: we have our 2nd
finger in the middle.
We can repeat the process, taking the note from the bottom of the
1st Inversion (the 3rd) and putting it on the top. Now we have a
2nd Inversion chord. The Root is now in the middle of the chord
and the 4th is now at the bottom.

Things to notice: The Fourth


In the 1st and 2nd Inversion chords, two of the notes form an
interval of a 4th. At the bottom of the 4th is the 5th, at the top is
the Root. This can help us find the Root in an unfamiliar chord,
or can help us make our first and second inversion chords.
When we want to recognise a chord, we should think like this: Is it all in 3rds? If so, the bottom
note is the Root. If it is not all in thirds, we should look for the 4th. The note at the top of the 4th is
the Root. The rule to remember is: the Root is at the top of the 4th.

Things to notice: Leading Fingers


We can also see that the Root occupies all three possible positions in these inversions: the bottom,
top and then middle. This means that we can remember the chords by thinking about which of our
fingers is playing the Root.
For Root position, the thumb leads. For 1st Inversion, the little finger leads. For 2nd Inversion,
the middle finger leads.

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Core Knowledge: Basic Chord Types
We can create different chords by altering the notes in our triads. When we change the Root of the
chord, we get chords with a new name: if we change the Root from a C to a D, we get a D chord
rather than a C chord. But if we change the Third or the Fifth of the chord, we get new types of
chords. For example, we may change our chords from a C major chord to a C minor chord.
To understand how we change chord types, we need to understand the difference between tones
and semitones. A semitone is the smallest gap you can play on the piano: between one note and the
note immediately next to it. A tone is two semitones.

The common chords


The most common change is to change the Third of the chord.
When the Third is two whole tones higher than the Root, we have a
Major Chord.
If we lower the Major Third by a semitone, we have a Minor Chord.
If we lower the Fifth of a minor chord by a semitone, we have a
Diminished Chord.
These three chords are the only chords that occur when using the
notes of a minor or major scale.

Playing in a key
At the beginning, we’ll always play in C major and A minor. These keys have no sharps or flats: the
chords use only white notes. In every key, there are three major chords, three minor chords, and a
diminished chord. For now you don’t have to worry too much about them, as they all use white
notes.

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Stage 1: Learning the inversions
1. Simple sequences
Try learning these patterns using all three inversions, with your right hand jumping between each
chord. Follow the solid, dashed, and dotted lines to keep your place!

1. C Dm Em F C

2. C Dm Em G C

3. C Am Dm G C

4. C Dm Am G C

5. C Am F G C

6. C F Am G C These chord sequences are


among the most common in
7. C G Am F C rock and pop music. You
might notice they use just
8. Am F C G Am four chords: C, F, G, and Am.

9. Am G C F Am

10. Am G C Dm Am

11. Am Dm C G Am

2. Cycling between inversions


Play each of these chords three times, going from root position, to 1st inversion, to 2nd inversion.

1. F C

2. Am G

3. C Am

3. Recognising chords
Have you teacher play you different chords. Point to their root, then identify the name of the
chord.

4. Learn some songs


Try learning some songs, jumping between the inversions like you did in step 1.

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Core Knowledge: Voice leading
Playing the chords
In our right hand, we will now practice moving between triads in the most efficient way. That
means moving using good voice leading, rather than jumping around like we did in Stage 1.
While there are many good ways to play chords, this way sounds very smooth, is easy to play
when mastered, and acts as a good way to practice your control over inversions.
Start with two chords. Each note in the first chord should move as little as possible in order to get
to the next chord. You can see three examples below. In the first, every note jumps to get to a new
chord, by as much as seventh. In the second, the bottom note moves by step, which is good, but the
other two notes jump. In the final example, the top and bottom notes move by step, and the middle
note doesn’t move at all. This is best.

As you start playing this way, you’ll notice that you hand moves very little. If you think your hand
needs to jump to find a new chord, think again! Look for a way to keep you hand moving by step
at all times.

Playing the bass


In our left hand, we play the bass line. This means playing the root note of the chord: if it is a C
major chord, play a C! There are other ways of playing bass lines, but this acts a simple foundation.
Most of the time, we can play bass notes without moving our left hand. This is often easiest if you
start with either your thumb or your little finger on the key note. If you have your little finger on
the key note, say C, you’ll be able to play notes 1-5 of the scale without moving you hand, and
notes 6 and 7 by stretching your thumb. If your thumb is on the key note, you’ll be able to play
notes 1-7 of the scale without moving your hand, and notes 2 and 3 by stretching your thumb.

Putting it together
In this book, you’ll always play with both hands at once. You should practice beginning exercises
in a mix of root position, first inversion, and second inversion. Try to always play at a steady pace!

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Stage 2: Movement by 2nds
When the root of a chord moves up or down a 2nd, every note changes. As a result, you can keep
the same inversion and the same finger position as you move chord. You can see clearly that a
chord is moving by step by looking at how your left hand moves.

C major

1. C Dm Em F G F Em Dm C
o o o
2. C B Am B Am G Am B C

3. C Dm Em F Em Dm Em Dm C
o o
4. C B Am G F G Am B C

5. C Dm Em Dm Em F Em Dm C
o o
6. C B Am G Am G Am B C

A minor
o o
1. Am B C Dm Em Dm C B Am

2. Am G F Em F Em F G Am
o o o
3. Am B C B C Dm C B Am
o o
4. Am B C Dm C Dm C B Am

5. Am G F Em Dm Em F G Am

6. Am G F G F Em F G Am

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Stage 3: Movement by 3rds
When the root of a chord moves up or down a 3rd, just one note changes. Your hand will barely
budge. Again, can see clearly that a chord is moving by a third by looking at how your left hand
moves.

To find the new chord, look for its root first. If it’s under your thumb, you can play a simple root
position chord. If not, look for the fourth below in order to find the other inversions.
You’ll notice that two exercises contain repeated chords: this is because there are only so many
possible combinations that use only movement by 3rds! Where repeated chords appear, simply
play them twice.

C major

1. C Em G Bo G Em C Am C

2. C Am C Am F Dm F Am C

3. C Em G Bo G Em C Em C

4. C Am Am F Dm Bo G Em C

5. C Em G Bo Dm F Dm Bo G

6. C Am F Dm Bo G Em Em G

A minor

1. Am C Em G Em C Am F Am

2. Am F Am F Dm Bo Dm F Am

3. Am C Em G Em C Am C Am

4. Am F F Dm Bo G Em C Am

5. Am C Em G Bo Dm Bo G Em

6. Am F Dm Bo G Em C C Em

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Stage 4: Mixing 3rds and 2nds
In this chapter, we mix the two ideas from before, moving by both 3rds and 2nds. To work out
which you’re doing, look at your left hand.

C major

1. C Em G Am F Dm Bo Am C

2. C Am G Em F Dm C Am C

3. C Em F Am G Em F Em C

4. C Am G F Dm Bo G Am C

5. C Em Dm Bo G F Dm Em G

6. C Am F G Bo Am C Em G

A minor

1. Am C Dm F Em G Am F Am

2. Am F Em C Dm F Em F Am

3. Am C Em F Dm C Am G Am

4. Am G Em Dm F G Em C Am

5. Am C Em Dm Bo G F G Em

6. Am F Dm C Am G Em Dm Em

Learning songs
Try learning some songs that use this sequence:
Cat Power, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Robbie Williams, Be A Boy. Troye Sivan, Ease. Lana Del Rey,
American. Justin Bieber, Company. McFly, Foolish. Sufjan Stevens, Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is
Out To Get Us.
These songs use the same sequence, but contain the odd jump:
Lana Del Rey, Beautiful People Beautiful Problems. Stereophonics, Beerbottle. The Dodos, Don’t Try
And Hide It.

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Stage 5: Movement by 6ths and 7ths
Moving by a 6th in the bass is the same as moving by a 3rd. If you have your little finger on C,
you’ll play an A with your thumb, and move up a sixth. But if your thumb were on C, you’d play
an A with a your third finger, and move down a third. In other words, a sixth up is the same as a
third down. We say that a sixth is an inverted third. The same is true of 2nds and 7ths.

C major

1. C Am Bo G Am F G Em C

2. C Bo Am F G F Em Dm C

3. C Em G Am C Am F Em C

4. C Am G Am C Bo G Em G

5. C Em F G Am F Dm Bo C

6. C Am F G Em Dm Bo Am G

A minor

1. Am C Dm Bo G F Dm F Am

2. Am G Em C Dm Bo Dm F Am

3. Am F Em G F Dm Em C Am

4. Am F Em C Am G Em C Am

5. Am Bo G Em F Dm Bo G Em

6. Am F G F G Em C Dm Em

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Stage 6: Movement by 4ths and 5ths
When the root of a chord moves up or down a 4th or 5th, two notes change and one stays the
same. These types of movements are among the most common, so although they are more difficult
it is important to get a solid understanding of them. Now we’ve added this movement, we’ve
learnt all the interval types. In this chapter, we’ll just use 4ths/5ths and 2nds/7ths.

C major

1. C G Am Dm G C G F C

2. C F Em Am G C Bo Em Am

3. C Dm G C F Bo Em Am G

4. C G Am Em Am Dm G F C

5. C F C G Am Em Dm G C

6. C G F G C Dm Am Dm G

A minor

1. Am Em Dm G Am Dm G Dm Am

2. Am Dm G C Dm G Am Em Am

3. Am Dm Em Bo F C G Dm Am

4. Am Dm C F G C Bo Em Am

5. Am G C Bo Em Dm Am Dm Em

6. Am Em Am Dm C G Dm Am Em

Learning songs
These songs all use C-Am-Dm-G, giving you lots of practice moving by a 5th: Bruce Springsteen,
Hungry Heart. Arctic Monkeys, Fluorescent Adolescent. Michael Jackson, You Are Not Alone.

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Core Knowledge: Chord Decisions
We’ve now learnt all the different ways to move between chords. In the next chapter, we’re going
to combine them all. If you're stuck, try and think about the different types of movement that
we’ve learnt. There are only actually 7 different ways of getting to the next chord!
You can follow this chart to find smoothest way to move between any two chords:

Play the old chord note (root) in the left hand. Find the nearest
version of the new chord note. What is the interval between them?

2nd Is it a second up or down? Up Jump your whole hand up a 2nd.

Down Jump your whole hand down a 2nd.

3rd Is the new root in the old chord? No Move the nearest finger to the new root.

Yes Is it under your thumb? Yes Play a root position chord on the new root.

No Look for the note a 4th below the root (the “big
gap”). Move the nearest finger to that note.

4th Is it a fourth up or a fourth down? Up Move the two fingers not playing the old
root up a 2nd.

Move the two fingers not playing the old


Down 5th down a 2nd.

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Stage 7: Combining all movements, C major
Now we’ll try combining all the movement’s we’ve seen so far. Remember: you can look at your
left hand to see how the root is moving.

1. C G Am Dm F C Dm G C

2. C Dm Em Am G Am Bo F C

3. C G Am Em F C F Am G

4. C Em G F Am C Dm G C

5. C F Am Dm G Em C Dm G

6. C G Am F Dm G F C G

7. C Am F G Em C Dm G C

8. C Em F Dm G Am F Dm C

9. C F Am Dm Em Am C Dm G
Sing the tune!
10. C Dm Am Em F G Dm F G

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Stage 8: Combining all movements, A minor
Here, we’re adding a new exercise. Try singing along to the top line of your right hands, singing
the same notes as you’re playing on top of your chords. If you have a low voice, this may be
harder. That’s because your voice is several octaves below the note that it is following and may
instead clash with the bass line. To make this easier, move your left hand to an even lower octave
or, if necessary, omit your left hand altogether

1. Am Em Dm F Am Dm G Dm Am

2. Am Dm F C Dm G Am Em Am

3. Am Em Am G Dm F Am G Am

4. Am Dm F C Em Bo Dm Em Am

5. Am G C F Em Am F Dm Em

6. Am C Dm Am Em G Am Dm Em

7. Am F G Em Dm Bo Em Dm Am

8. Am Bo G Em F Dm C Dm Am

9. Am C Em F Dm G Am Dm Em
Sing the tune!
10. Am Dm F Am C Em G Am Em

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Stage 9: Chord numbers in C major
We can replace chord names like “C major” with chord numbers. These are written using Roman
numerals. The chord based on the first note of the scale is chord I, on the second is chord ii, and so
on up to chord vii. We use capitals for major chords and lower case for minor or diminished
chords.

In this chapter, we’ll just use the three most common chord numbers: I, IV and V, and we’ll just use
them at the end of sequences.

1. C Dm Em G Am Em Dm V I

2. C G F C Dm G Am IV I

3. C Em Am Em G C F V I

4. C Dm G Am Dm Em Am IV I

5. C F C Am F Dm IV V I

6. C Em Am F Dm C V IV I

7. C F Bo F Am F G I V

8. C G Dm F C G Dm IV V

9. C F G Bo C Dm F I V
Sing the tune!
10. C Dm F G Am Dm F I IV

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Stage 10: Chord numbers in A minor
Here, our chord numbers refer to minor chords, so they are lower case. Notice that in major keys,
chords I, IV and V are major, while in minor keys they are minor.

1. Am F Em G Dm C F v i

2. Am C G Em Am C Em iv i

3. Am Em F C Dm Am F v i

4. Am Dm F C Em Bo C iv i

5. Am G F Dm Em C iv v i

6. Am Bo G C Dm F v iv i

7. Am G Bo C Dm F Em i v

8. Am G C Am Dm G Am iv v

9. Am Dm G Bo C G Dm i v
Sing the tune!
10. Am Dm Em G C G Em i iv

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Stage 11: Perfect and Plagal Cadences, C major
A cadence is a an end of a musical phrase. Think of it as the musical equivalent of a punctuation
mark: a full stop, comma or question mark. Two of the most common cadences are the Perfect
Cadence and the Plagal Cadence. The Perfect Cadence is made up of chords V–I. It sounds final
and strong. The Plagal Cadence is made up of chords IV–I. It is slightly less final than a Perfect
Cadence.

In this exercise, the terms ‘Perfect’ or ‘Plagal’ replace the last two chord numbers.

1. C F Dm G Em Am Dm Perfect

2. C F Am G C G Am Plagal

3. C G Am Dm C F Em Perfect

4. C Em G Bo C Em G Plagal

5. C Am F G Em C F Perfect

6. C Dm G Am C Am G Plagal

7. C Bo G C Dm F Am Perfect

8. C Em Dm F C Em G Plagal

9. C Dm G Bo Am Dm F Perfect
Sing the tune!
10. C Em F G C F Am Plagal

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Stage 12: Perfect and Plagal Cadences, A minor

1. Am Dm F C Em C Dm Perfect

2. Am Em F C Dm Am C Plagal

3. Am C Em Dm Am F Dm Perfect

4. Am F Dm Bo C Em C Plagal

5. Am G F C Dm Am F Perfect

6. Am Dm G Am C Am G Plagal

7. Am Bo C G C Em F Perfect

8. Am G Dm G F C Em Plagal

9. Am G Bo C Am G F Perfect
Sing the tune!
10. Am Em G Bo C F Em Plagal

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