• Are You Struggling With Playing Bigger Chords? Here’s What To Do!

    in Piano

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    A lot of beginners are struggling with playing bigger chords for a variety of reasons:

    The chords are wider than their hand span.

    The chords sound a bit exotic and unlike the triads they’re conversant with.

    The chords have more than the regular three notes that triads are known with.

    …and I know that there are even a lot more reasons if you dig deeper. But these three reasons will top the list any day.

    If you belong to the category of musicians struggling with bigger chords because of hand span, then this lesson is for you.

    I’ve been there myself; I struggled with bigger and sophisticated chords and today, in this lesson, I’ll be showing you how I overcame the struggle by breaking every big chord to smaller voicings I can comfortably play and apply.

    Are you ready?

    How To Breakdown A Big Chord

    Now the first thing we’re going to do is to break the big chords down into smaller chord structures. Once we’re able to do these, they won’t be big chords anymore and you’ll stop being overwhelmed with their size and the number of notes they’re made up of.

    The C minor eleventh chord:

    …looks intimidating and if this chord (the C minor eleventh chord) does not intimidate you, then you’re not a beginner.

    If one finger is assigned to every chord tone (which is the ideal thing to do):

    Thumb (C):

    Index Finger (Eb)

    Middle Finger (G):

    Ring Finger (Bb):

    Pinky Finger (D):

    …we’ll have the C minor ninth chord pressed down:

    …and we’ll have no finger left to play the F:

    Attention: To play the C minor ninth chord is not even as easy as it sounds and a lot of people cannot.

    But I’m going to show you how you can break down big chords into smaller structures that you can handle:




    …and once you know how this is done, you’ll stop struggling with bigger chords.


    The first thing you can do to a big chord is to isolate its root from the entire chord. For example, if you’re given the C major ninth chord:

    …the first thing you need to do is to isolate the root (which is C):

    …from the entire chord (C major ninth chord):

    …and you’ll be left with “E-G-B-D” (the E minor seventh chord):

    As you can see, you’ll have the E minor seventh chord over C on the bass:

    …and the overall sound would still be a C major ninth chord:

    To make it a lot easier, if you invert the E minor seventh chord:

    First inversion:

    Second inversion:

    Third inversion:

    …you’ll have chords that are compact and easier to play and the good thing is that each of them form the C major seventh chord when played over the C bass note:


    After you have isolated the root from the big chord, and you’ve derived a smaller right hand part, the next thing you need to do is to keep the skeleton of the chord on your right hand.

    Attention: The skeleton of a chord is also known as its shell and consists of the third and seventh tones.

    For example, now that we have the C major ninth chord:

    …as the  E minor seventh chord with C on the bass:

    …we’ll still go ahead to figure out what the skeleton of the C major ninth chord is:

    The third is E:

    …and the seventh is B:

    …so the skeleton of the C major ninth chord:

    …consists of E and B:

    …and that’s all what we’re interested in for now.

    So, with C on the bass (that we got in the last segment):

    …and the skeleton on the right hand (that we just figured out):

    …we have a major-sounding chord:

    …that although it’s not a major ninth chord, but has most of the notes of the major ninth chord (60% of the notes precisely).

    One of the remaining note happens to be an extension and I’ll show you how to fix that up in the next segment.


    Now, as you know from the beginning, we’re breaking down the major ninth chord and we’ve gotten the root and the skeleton.

    The only thing we need to bring into the picture are extensions and in the case of the C major ninth chord:

    …the only extension is the ninth (which is D):

    …and that’s the only thing that’s left out in the picture and if we’re able to add it to the root and skeleton:

    …we’ve already formed, we’ll have the C major ninth chord.

    So, if we add the extension (which is D):

    …to the root and skeleton:

    …we’ll have the C major ninth chord:

    …with only four notes — three on the right hand and one on the bass.

    Final Words

    Now, tell me if this our C major ninth chord:

    …is not easier to play than the root position chord we started out with:

    Well, I’m sure you’ve seen how I was able to break down the big chord to something smaller and can be handled by isolating the different and important parts: root, skeleton, and extension.

    I want to say a very big thank you to my mentor and role-model, Jermaine Griggs, for an opportunity to share this with you.

    See you in the next lesson.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 fabian cosster

    hi god bless you all for me its a pleasure to get lesson from you weekly thus from you chucu onyemanchi i have to tell you that you have changed my life with all these lessons but my biggest problem is when i see a jazz standard sheet i dont know when can i use the tension or not sometime i see that some chord has the tension in it and others not i would be very happy and glad if you can give some tricks or formula to know when can i use a tension in a chord and when not once more god bless you and your family and i would like to send a blessing for jermaine griggs to and his family i learned a lot from you all and i will be open to learn more thank you


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