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How To Build Complex Piano Chords

Jordan Leibel - Jul 27, 2018

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how to play complex chords in a way that is easy, intuitive and immediate. I totally understand why people ask this question because I still remember the days when I’d look at complex chord shapes and be totally mystified at what was going on! 


The good news is if you’ve spent time practicing your triads and basic major and minor chords, you have a really solid foundation that you need to jump into the next step: building major and minor 7th chords.


The best way to do this is by building on a little something I like to call ‘Focus Independence.’


Focus Independence is like hand independence except it’s more about the mindset of thinking about two separate frames to think WITHIN.


To illustrate this, take a look at each note of the minor 7th chord. In the key of A minor, for example, you have the notes A - C - E - G.  


Upon further inspection, you’ll find that the notes of the A minor scale actually contain both the A minor triad (A - C - E) and the C major triad (C - E - G), and the resulting A minor 7 sound happens when each triad overlaps.


You can use this to your advantage! Try playing each hand in different positions, your left hand playing the A minor while your right plays the C major. Whether you’re into songwriting, improvising, or just simply want to get yourself more practically familiar with the chord, practicing in this way will be of great help.


Think of it like breaking a big chord down into bite-sized chunks! And because these two chords are relatives of each other, you’ll actually find that you’re in a pretty safe spot to make sounds that are naturally going to sound good.  


Want to take this step even further? Try continuing to stack thirds on top of each other to create even more elaborate chords like 9ths or 11ths. It’s much easier to let both of your hands share the work!


Happy playing,  



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Hi, I'm Jordan Leibel

I've worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording projects. And now, I'm super excited to teach you a thing or two through Pianote!