• “I’ve Understood The Number System. But Then, How About Right Hand Chords?”

in Piano

If you have understood the number system but are interested in learning how right hand chords are derived, this lesson is for you.

Attention: This lesson is written with beginners in mind. Therefore, intermediate and advanced players might not find it very interesting or beneficial.

We’ll refresh our minds on the number system before we proceed to learning how the right hand chords are derived.

A Short Note On The Number System

There are so many ways to represent the notes on the keyboard — which include but isn’t limited to any of the following:

Use of letter names

Use of sound syllables

Use of numbers

Our focus in this lesson is on the number system where notes are represented or notated using numbers. For example in the key of C major:

…the seven unique tones are represented using numbers.

“Check It Out…”

C is the 1

D is the 2

E is the 3

F is the 4

G is the 5

A is the 6

B is the 7

In the use of the number system, every scale tone in the key is associated with a number. For example, the 4 in the key of C major:

…will always be F:

So, instead of saying “F” one can say “4”.

Application Of The Number System In Chord Progression

A chord progression is a product of the movement from one chord to the other and the number system can be applied in the concept of chord progressions.

A chord progression in the key of C major:

…is represented as a 2-3 chord progression and this is because in the key of C major:

D is the second tone (the 2)

E is the third tone (the 3)

So, that’s how we got the 2-3 chord progression; through the association of tones with numbers. Instead of saying “a D-E progression” we can just say “a 2-3 chord progression”.

Alright! Now that we’ve refreshed our minds on the number system, let’s see how the right hand chords are derived.

How Right Hand Chords Are Derived

The right hand chords for the notes in the number system can be derived using the major scale of the prevalent major key.

In the key of C major:

…all the right hand chords are derived from the C major scale:

Submission: The use of right hand chords here in this lesson is in reference to diatonic chords (and not chromatic chords) in any prevalent key.

I’ll show you how to form the 1-chord and 2-chord, then let you figure out the rest.

How To Derive The 1-Chord In Any Key

The 1-chord is the chord of the first tone in the key. To form the 1-chord, you need to keep two things in mind:

1. The major scale of the key you’re in

2. Third intervals

So, starting from C (which is the root of the 1-chord):

…we can add other chord tones in third intervals (and keeping the C major scale in mind):

A third from C is E:

A third from E is G:

Altogether, we have the C major triad:

We can go ahead to add other notes in third intervals (keeping the C major scale in mind):

A third from G is B:

Adding B to the “C-E-G” tones (the C major triad) we already have produces the C major seventh chord:

If you continue in third intervals and keep the major scale in mind, we’ll form ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords for the 1-chord.

Formation Of The 2-Chord In Any Key

Keeping the C major scale in mind:

…you can form the 2-chord by stacking scale tones in third intervals starting from the second tone of the scale (which is D):

…in the key of C major:

A third from D is F:

…and another third interval from F is A:

…and if we add all the tones (D, F, and A) together, we have the D minor triad:

Additional notes in third intervals will produce seventh and extended chords like ninths, elevenths, and thirteenth chords.

A third above A is C:

…produces the D minor seventh chord:

If we add another third above C:

…which is E:

…to the D minor seventh chord:

…we’ll have the D minor ninth chord:

Attention: Remember that all the tones were added with the C major scale and third intervals in mind.

Final Words

Using the same procedure we derived the 1-chord and 2-chord with, you can derive any scale tone chord in any key as long as you keep the major scale of that key in mind and third intervals as well.

In a subsequent lesson, we’ll go a step further into learning how passing chords (chromatic chords) in the key are derived.

If you have questions, comments, and contributions, feel free to drop them in the comment section.

See you in the next lesson.

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Chuku Onyemachi

Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group
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.