Building a Section (Pop)

Okay… it’s time to really play some music!

For this lesson I really have to pick a song to use. In future I’ll show you how to pick your own songs, but for now, we’re going to use “Stand By Me”, because I think you know it.

Okay, so let’s examine the song in the way we’ve described in previous lessons (LINK), now that we know how to break it down!




Building a Chord (Part 1)

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Okay! We are finally ready to play some real music… or at least the most important component part of some real music.

As we know, songs are made of sections and sections are made of chords.

Once you know how to make a chord, you can make a song.

In pop piano we make all chords with reference to the Major Scale .

Here’s an example of a simple “chord progression”:

C, Am, F, G

Here’s an example of a complicated chord progression:

Ebmaj7, Cm7, Fm7, Bb7b9, Gm7, C7b9, Fm7, Bb7

… but both are basically the same idea… that each “symbol” represents a combination of notes, and that those notes can be described in terms of the Major Scale.

This is best clarified by real examples.

Major Chords

The chord called “C” is made by playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale of C Major. The chord called “F” is made by playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale of F Major. The chord called “G” is made by playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale of G Major.

See a pattern developing?

Essentially the chord called “whatever” is made by playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale of “whatever”.

Put more simply:

C = 1, 3, 5 = C, E, G

Try playing C, E and G on your piano. Nice sound! That’s a “Major Chord”.

Combining this with the knowledge you have acquired from the previous lessons, you should be able to make the following chords:

C = 1, 3, 5 = C, E, G
G = 1, 3, 5 = G, B, D
D = 1, 3, 5 = D, F#, A
A = 1, 3, 5 = A, C#, E
E = 1, 3, 5 = E, G#, B
B = 1, 3, 5 = B, D#, F#

Minor Chords

Almost all good piano music is made of a combination of Major Chords and Minor Chords.

Minor Chords are made just like Major Chords, except we “flatten the 3rd”.

That just means we play exactly the same three notes, but the middle one is “lowered” by one semitone. You take the middle note and play the one to the left of it instead.

For example:

A Major = 1, 3, 5 = A, C#, E
A Minor = 1, b3, 5 = A, C, E

The “C#” has become “C” by being “flattened” to make it a “minor” chord.

another example:

C Major = 1, 3, 5 = C, E, G
C Minor = 1, b3, 5 = C, Eb, G

The “E” has become “Eb” by being “flattened” to make it a “minor” chord.

In practice, we don’t write “C Major and “C Minor”… we write “C” and “Cm”.

Combining this with the knowledge you have acquired from the previous lessons, you should be able to make the following chords:

Cm = 1, b3, 5 = C, Eb, G
Gm = 1, b3, 5 = G, Bb, D
Dm = 1, b3, 5 = D, F, A
Am = 1, b3, 5 = A, C, E
Em = 1, b3, 5 = E, G, B
Bm = 1, b3, 5 = B, D, F#

Now we have a “bank” of chords we can use.

A, B, C, D, E, G, Am, Bm, Cm, Dm, Em, Gm.

This is about half of the possible major and minor chords, but they are by far the most common in popular music, and we can proceed using only these.

Hands-on Exercise

Play these chords with just your right hand on the piano…

Chord NameNumbersActual Notes
C1, 3, 5C, E, G
Cm1, b3, 5C, Eb, G
G1, 3, 5G, B, D
Gm1, b3, 5G, Bb, D
D1, 3, 5D, F#, A
Dm1, b3, 5D, F, A
A1, 3, 5A, C#, E
Am1, b3, 5A, C, E
E1, 3, 5E, G#, B
Em1, b3, 5E, G, B
B1, 3, 5B, D#, F#
Bm1, b3, 5B, D, F#

Try to see if any stick in your memory, and also see how they are made of 1, 3, 5 of the scale.

You can use this list for reference in future, so don’t worry too much. Just relax and try to hear the “quality” of each chord. They all sound unique and different, even though they are of only two types.

There are many other kinds of chords, of course, but these two will be plenty for us to start playing a few songs. We’ll meet more later!




Overview (Pop)

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We’re going to learn to play pop songs on piano by understanding and interpreting them in a “modular” way (in terms of their component parts).

Let’s consider the components of a song:

The Whole Song

“The whole song” is everything from start to finish. At this “level”, you can consider the length, style, instrumentation, character, meaning, lyrics… everything you “feel” about the song is usually discussed at this level.

The Sections

One “level” down from “the whole song” are the sections. Here, I’m talking about the structure of the song as it goes along through time. This stuff will be mostly familiar to most people… a song may be comprised of things like “verse” and “chorus” as well as perhaps less familiar terms like “bridge”, “middle 8″, “intro”, “outro”, “solo”… etc. We cover all this in due course, but it’s useful to start thinking about songs in terms of the “bits” they’re made up of.

Chord Progressions

When approaching a pop song, all sections (more or less) should be seen as being comprised of “chord progressions”. A “chord” is a combination of notes that characterise a few moments of a song before “progressing” to another chord. Most of the character in popular piano music is underpinned by the “feeling” caused by progressing from one chord to the next.

Beats and Bars

Try this… count “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4″ over and over, out loud whilst tapping the table.

What you’re doing is creating “bars” of four “beats”.

Every four “beats” (1, 2, 3, 4) makes a “bar”.

Beats and bars are the unit of measurement we use to describe time passing in a song.

Most importantly, it is how we establish how long each chord lasts in a chord progression.

What’s the point of all this?

If you’re going to learn pop piano in a relaxed, easy way… we just need to be breaking it into bite-sized chunks that are easy to handle, and this is the terminology we will be using.

The next lesson contains a more detailed look at some of these terms, then we’ll be getting stuck into some playing!