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The Easy Way To Play Complicated Chords On The Piano

How to use chord extensions to make your playing sound more professional

Lisa Witt - Jul 19, 2019

Moving beyond playing simple triads will really make a HUGE difference in your piano playing.


You won’t sound like a basic player anymore, you’ll sound advanced, way more sophisticated and the music you’ll be able to create will be beautiful.


So how do you do it? How do you get from playing simple chords to complex chords?


The answer is chord extensions. That means adding notes (extensions) to the simple chords to create a different characteristic.


How To Build Chords


To do this, let’s first take a look at how we build simple chords. Triads are just a stack of thirds. The root - 3rd - and 5th note of whatever key we’re in.


Let’s take G minor as an example. The basic triad is:




To move beyond those simple triads, we just need to apply that same principle to extend the chords further.


Building A 7th Chord


The next logical third up from the 5th note is the 7th note, and we’ve done lots of lessons on 7th chords. They’re beautiful chords and are a great way to begin expanding your chord repertoire.


So our Gm7 would now be: 




But why stop there?


Building A 9th Chord


If we keep applying the same principle and go up another third, we’ll end up on the 9th. Now the 9th note is the same as the 2nd note. But we call it the 9th because we have built the chord up from the root and because it also has the 7th in it.


So now our Gm9 chord looks like this:




Notice how it’s called a Gm9 (or Gmadd9 because we are ‘adding’ the 9), but we are still playing the 7th? That is because 9th chords also contain the 7th, so it’s just implied that you’ll play the 7th as well. Confused yet? Don’t worry.


Major Chords


Up until now, we’ve been working with a minor chord, but the same principles can be applied with major chords as well.


So let’s look at Eb Major.


The basic triad is:




Going up a third gives us an EbMaj7, which is:




Now let’s stop - and take a look at the EbMaj7 and the G minor triad. Notice anything similar?


The top three notes are exactly the same!! That’s why playing a G minor chord with an Eb in the bass sounds so good because you’re really just playing an EbMaj7! How cool is that?! (well maybe you don’t think it is, but I do)


So this is a lot to take in. The important thing to remember is that the notes we are adding (the 7th and 9th) are notes that naturally occur in the key signature.


How To Actually Use These Chords


That’s all well and good, but how do you actually play them? Are you supposed to play four (or five)-note chords for every chord? No! 


This is where two-handed voicings come in. All that means is taking the notes of a chord, and dividing them up between your two hands. So your left hand might play the root and the 5th, and your right hand could play the 3rd, 7th and 9th.


Or you could play the root and 7th with your left hand, and the 9th, 3rd and 5th in the right hand. There are so many possibilities and it’s really fun to explore.

#Jordan Leibel

#Piano Chords

#Chord Progressions

#Lisa Witt

#7th chords


#Complex Chords

#Chord Extensions

#9th Chords

"Moon River" Piano Tutorial

Lean the song from "Breakfast At Tiffany's"

Lisa Witt - Jul 16, 2019

<< Download the Lead Sheet Here >>


Moon River is an iconic, beautiful song. It was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s and won the Oscar for Best Original Song.


It’s a timeless classic and one that I’m so excited to teach you! 


Now, there are a couple of things I need to mention. I’ll be playing this from a lead sheet, so we have the melody written out in notation, and the chords are written above.


Some of those chords might be new to you, and they can be intimidating (especially the half-diminished ones). If you see a chord and you have no idea what it means, or you just don’t quite get it, that’s ok! You can just play the root note with your left hand, or play the simple chord instead.


I’ve tried to explain every chord that’s in the song, but if there’s one that you still just can’t wrap your head around, let me know in the comments and I’ll answer it for you!


And speaking of chords, I made an ERROR in the video (I’m so sorry). At 2:20 I talk about a funny chord with a weird symbol. I say it’s a B diminished 7, but it is actually a B HALF-diminished 7. It’s a small difference but it’s important!


B diminished 7 has the notes B-D-F-Ab. B half-diminished 7 (or m7b5) is B-D-F-A. So only the top note is different. But it is a mistake and I’m sorry about that.


This song might be a challenge for you. If so, that’s great! It’s important to push ourselves in order to get better. Just go slow, one line at a time. If you find a section that’s causing you trouble, start with that section.


Go slow, keep it simple and go from there.

#Playing Piano

#Moon River

#Breakfast At Tiffany's

#Piano Tutorial

#Lisa Witt

#How To Play Moon River


Get Faster Fingers

How to remove finger tension at the piano

Lisa Witt - Jul 12, 2019

Finger tension can be a real problem for many pianists.


You might have experienced it yourself. You're practicing, and suddenly your fingers ache. It's not good.


Finger tension can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of the most common causes are playing the piano too fast and trying to play chords and intervals that are too much of a stretch.


That's why it is so important to progress in the correct way. It's why I say time and time again that the best way to play fast is to start slow. We need to build up the strength, dexterity, and accuracy in our fingers, and also make sure we don't cause injury.


Cassi has four exercises that will not only help you remove finger tension, but they will help your fingers get stronger and help you play faster. And the best thing is that you can practice some of these away from the piano!


The Warmup


This is something you can do anywhere. If you're at the piano you can use the fallboard. If your piano doesn't have one, then a desk is fine.


All you have to do is balance your hands on each finger, hands together. This is getting us used to curving our fingers and using the tips of our fingers to be the contact point with the piano.


Go slowly, and pay attention to finger 4 (the ring finger). This is often a weaker finger.


Take It To The Keys


Now we are going to do the exact same exercise, but playing the piano. Start on a note (middle C is always good) and then play a slow contrary motion five-finger scale.


Remember to balance on the tips and keep the pressure on each finger even. Don't rush this -- it's not about speed just yet. This is about strength and control. Speed comes next.


Work On Speed


Pick a scale that you are comfortable with. In the example, Cassi is using the D major scale, but you can pick anyone you like.


We'll start by playing only the first FOUR notes of the scale. So we will have to tuck our thumb but only play the four notes.


We are going to work on playing a bit faster, by adding a note as we go along. So once you are comfortable playing the first four notes (The Addams Family Theme) then add the fifth note. Then the sixth, then the seventh, up until we're playing the full octave.


Work On The Left Hand


Up until now, we have really only focused on the right hand for speed. But often we'll want to play fast patterns with our left hand. A common one is arpeggios or broken triads. Playing the three notes of a triad quickly can really tire out the fingers. So we need to find a way to help.


That's where the wrist comes in. By using our wrist we can take a lot of the strain off of the fingers, allowing us to play faster, and longer.


To do this we need to create little circles with our wrist, behind the fingers. This engages our forearm and allows our fingers to be in a better position to play the notes. As we get faster the circles will get smaller.


Final Thoughts


Cassi ends the lesson with three fantastic takeaways.


1. Practice away from the piano to build strength. The first exercise is so good because it can be done anywhere. Got a few minutes spare at work? Practice finger strength!


2. Make sure to give your fingers rest between exercises. These exercises can be a workout! So make sure to rest and relax your fingers after each one.


3. Don't be afraid to write notes on your music or exercise workbooks. These could be fingering patterns, highlighting parts that need attention. It's ok to write on your sheet music!


So I hope you'll try these out and find them useful!


Happy Practicing!


#Learn Piano

#Piano Lessons

#Lisa Witt

#Playing Fast

#Hand Tension

#Cassi Falk

#Finger Strength

#Faster Fingers

#Finger Tension