Connecting the dots – Crossroads part 1 – How to practice with a summary sheet?

How to practice with a summary sheet?

summary of diatonic triads

In the last weeks I have used this first summary sheet while playing songs. First only when I was playing alone at home, but later on I also started to experiment during rehearsals with other musicians and friends. It turned out to be a great exercise. By playing them in the context of a song, you are forced to connect chords in many different ways. For me it is not enough to only memorize the forms. The summary sheet just shows all possible forms, but not how they can be used and how you can connect everything. What happens when you start playing with other musicians, is that you don’t have time to think. You must instantly know where the chords are on the fret-board. And my goal is to freely improvise with those chord forms, so I really have to master them all and also the most common chord changes in multiple directions. By this I mean that I want to be able to switch from one major scale pattern to another without any hesitation.

Progressive insight on memorizing chords

While practicing the chords that have been mentioned in this book so far, I now realize that there are several stages of memorization and understanding of the chords. Although I’ve just experienced a few of them, I am sure there will be many more stages or levels in understanding the chords. In the beginning, everything I played sounded very ‘dry’ and unmusical, but with each new level of understanding, it gradually begins to sound more musically.

Stage 1 – Look at all chords on the sheet as a whole

The first stage has not so much to do with music. It is all about defining a strategy. I have to know what it is exactly that I want to learn. Although the topic is quite clear, the summary sheet looks pretty intimidating to me as a whole. I won’t stick into my brain by just looking to it. Also playing through each of the chords for a very long time, will not be very useful to me. What my brain likes, is small pieces of information. And it likes them even better when each of those pieces is placed in more than one context.
So, what I have to do, is to look for a way to split the summary sheet into smaller chunks of information. I do this by searching for structures or any repetitive patterns. Those are similarities that might help to reduce the amount of information that I need to memorize.

This is what I found by just looking at the sheet as a whole:
(In this stage it’s actually more math then music)

  • I found out that there are 3 inversions for each chord type (major, minor, minor b5)*
  • Each inversion has two fingerings;  a “left” and a “right”  fingering.*
  • So you have 3 x 2 = 6 fingerings per chord type.
  • Which is 6 x 3 = 18 fingerings in total.
  • The harmonized major scale has 6 x 7 = 42 chords in total.
  • We only use 5 major scale patterns, which means that in practice each chord only has 5 fingerings instead of 6. This brings the total number of chords down to 5 x 7 = 35. In practice 42 can be reduced to 35 chords.

*  The details of the “left-right thing” I’ve discovered, will be explained in chapter 3.7

Stage 2 – Observe any chord form by itself

I’ve just learned the fingerings off all chords. In this stage I have looked at the individual forms and just played them through, one by one.

Stage 3 – Learn to see chords in relation to their major scale pattern

Although I now know the fingerings, it is still hard to remember which fingerings belong together. What I mean by this, is when I play the 1 chord in pattern 3, it takes pretty much time to find the correct fingerings for both the 4 and the 5D chord in the same major scale pattern. So knowing just the fingerings is not enough. In a “live on stage” situation you simply don’t have this time. So the 3rd stage is all about grouping the mastered fingerings in relationship to the correct major scale pattern.

  • Additional tips:
    1. Find out for yourself why “knowing the major scale patterns” relates to the time that is  required to find the correct fingerings.
    2. It is important to understand how open voicings work. You must go (much) deeper than just knowing the concept. For example, how long does it take you to answer the following questions?

For being able to improvise, you need to know the answers immediately. You don’t have time for reasoning while your playing. Your head should be full of music by then, not math…

Stage 4 – Know your neighbors

Connecting with the neighbor patterns on two levels. The scale level and the chord level. Observe your fingers carefully during the practicing of this. It will be of great value.

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