A Simple Hack to Help You Read Chord Charts Better Today [Guest Post]

Today’s post is the first from my good friend, Ross Fengfish. Be sure to check out his site, MusicWiz where he offers free training to help you ease the pain of learning music theory and songwriting.

Ross put together a sick bundle of free goodies for you aspiring musicians and songwriters out there. Click here to learn more about the FREE MusicWiz Songwriter’s Toolkit.

Take it away, Ross!

You are going to be reading chord charts completely differently after this!

There is power in numbers (in music) and you can’t go wrong with 1 and 5.

Let me start by saying that in order for this to really sink in you’ll have to at least know the notes on the piano and how to push the keys down.  So if you know the piano basics and have the physical ability to press the keys (which requires the use of your thumb and pinky) then you’re good to go!

All major keys consist of 7 notes (8 if you include the 1st note at the end as well) so given the key of C, the 7 notes are CDEFGAB. If we were to give them each a number (which I explain in a previous blog) it would look like this C(1) D(2) E(3) F(4) G(5) A(6) B(7)

The first real insider trick to understanding this “1 & 5” thing is to know that the 1 and 5 in any major key can be played (in the right hand) in combination with any left-hand note or chord and it will sound amazing!

The 1st note is the tonicthe pitch upon which all other pitches of a piece are hierarchically referenced.  In other words, C goes with every note or form of the chord.

The 5th note is the dominantit is next in importance to the tonic. In other words, G goes with C, which goes with every note or form of the chord.

So these 2 notes are like best buddies – they work well together and they work well with others.  Like the friends we all wish to have 🙂 Position yourself on the piano so that you are primarily centered/slight left on the keys – this way, your right hand is in a good “centralized” place on the piano.

Find the C and the G and place your hand so that your thumb is on C and your pinky is on G.  This is all you are going to play to begin with in the right hand. (keep in mind this method can be translated to any key – because remember all keys are just numbers 1-7)

Let’s look at a chord progression like F, Am, C, G.  The great thing about using 1-5 in your right hand is all you have to do is focus on the left hand. And the left-hand notes are already written out for you in the chord.  When reading chords like this for the left hand, just disregard everything but the actual letter.  So for the Am, you just care that it says “A”.


In this display, you see a “C G” in the right hand and an “F” in the left hand.

Now technically that is not all the notes you need to play an F major chord, but it is a variation of F and it works just the same for what you possibly know now.  The actual 3 notes in an F chord are FAC, but this (image above) is still an “F” chord. Plus I think you’ll like the way it sounds even better.

This works not just with the 4 letters I chose for this example, but for every note in the key!  Here are the 4 chords as seen in the chart following the one above:



So now you can see clearly with these images that the 2 blue keys (C and G) don’t ever move.

This is by far the fastest way to get right into reading chord charts. No you’re not going to be playing (maybe) the exact notes as are technically in the order of the chord, but you will be playing something very close and that probably sounds better.  Not all you have to do is add a note to the right or left hand and you have a world of possibilities.

Here is a short clip from my latest series DO MORE WITH 4 CHORDS.  You can learn all about the information in this blog and so much more in this course.

You’ll be playing like a MusicWiz in no time!
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