In this article, we’re going to take a look at how major chords in modern pop piano are used to create tunes that
are catchy and enjoyable, while still musically engaging and expressive.
The three chords that are most important in modern pop songs are the tonic, or first, the fourth and the fifth
chord. These are also in roman numerals written as I, IV and V.
Let’s quickly go over what these three chords are. In the key of C, the I chord is a C major: C, E and G. The IV
chord is F major: F, A and C. The V chord is G major: G, B and D. Play these chords around the keyboard to get a
sense of their different sounds.
You might start to notice a couple of things as you listen to these chords. One is that when you play C major,
the tune sounds like it is “at rest”. That’s true of any I chord. In contrast, there’s a little tension involved
when the IV chord is played, and when we play the V chord, our ears naturally want to hear the I chord next.
Try playing the I and V chords one after the other a few times. You might recognize a number of famous songs
that spend time simply go back and forth between the I and V chords, from Bruce Springsteen to Beethoven!
In order to get a good handle on making modern pop songs, we first have to go back to their roots. There are a
few fundamental chord patterns that are still used in popular music today.
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Okay, so play a C major chord for two bars, or eight beats. Now move up to
the F for one bar, then back down to C again for another bar. Now move up to the G for half a bar (two beats),
then the F for half a bar, and finally the C again for another whole bar.
Got it? You just played the classic blues chord pattern. This pattern has been used by countless rock and pop
bands, from The Beatles to The Doors to Bob Dylan and yes, even Justin Beiber. If you can find a catchy hook to go
over this pattern, along with some lyrics teenagers will find meaningful, chances are good you’ll have a hit on
Mess around with these chords for a while and you might stumble on a few other famous tunes, but you’ll start to
notice the sound of major chords starts to get a little boring. This is where it’s worth learning how to put
sevenths on top of these chords.
To do this is easy, especially in the key of C. Simply move another two steps up from the fifth of each chord.
So in C major, play C, E, G and add a B. Do this with your IV and V chords as well.
You’ll notice how this creates an extra layer of sound, while still sounding cohesive. Try playing the blues
scale with the extra seventh note. Now you’ve got a little more going on!
This is just the beginning of how major chords in modern pop piano are used, but you should have plenty here to
get you started. Keep experimenting, and don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone to get new sounds!
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