• “Nine, Ten, A Big Fat Hen”: A Lesson On The Left Hand For Intermediate Keyboard Players

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    Intermediate keyboard players use a lot of ninth and tenth intervals to enhance their their left hand.

    Before we talk about these intervals, can you remember the nursery rhyme that goes:

    One, two, Buckle my shoe;

    Three, four, Knock at the door;

    Five, six, Pick up sticks;

    Seven, eight, Lay them straight:

    Nine, ten, A big fat hen.

    In the 90s, this was a common rhyme we sang and depending on what part of the world you grew up in, this nursery rhyme should sound familiar.

    Submission: If the nursery rhyme is doesn’t sound familiar, you can just check it out for a moment before we proceed.

    “Here’s What Inspired This Lesson…”

    I came up with something that has to do with the enhancement of the left hand using ninths and tenths.

    So, I was asking myself how I’ll pass it across in such a way that anybody (even a 9 year old) can relate to it and it didn’t take long before the nursery rhyme came to my mind.

    With this rhyme, I’m not only showing you how to enhance your left hand but also making it easy for you to recall what to do to enhance your left hand at all times.

    “What Are Ninths And Tenths?”

    Ninth and tenths are basically intervals.

    Now, intervals are the building blocks of chords and harmony. All the chords you can think of and know, can be broken down into intervals.

    For example, the C major chord:

    …can be broken down into the following intervals:

    C-E (a major third interval):

    C-G (a perfect fifth interval):

    Although intervals are not chords, but they are the musical ancestors of chords because man started using intervals before chords.

    “Now, Back To Ninths And Tenths…”

    The numbers in the number system are usually ranging from one to seventh. However, when we extend the number system to cover two octaves:

    …we have the following numbers:

    C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

    1   2  3   4  5   6   7  8   9  10

    …and it can go all the way up to the 15th (the double-octave) — which is clearly not our concern in this lesson.

    But the point is this: there’s a ninth and a tenth and they are jumbo versions of the second and the third.

    Here’s a contrast between the the second interval and the ninth interval:

    Second (C to D):

    Ninth (C to D):

    If you also compare the third interval with the tenth interval:

    Third (C to E):

    Tenth (C to E):

    …you’ll see that the tenth interval is a jumbo-sized third interval.

    If I take a second interval (C to D):

    …and take the D up to the next octave (upper D):

    …that’s the ninth interval (C-D):

    If I take a third interval (C to E):

    …and take the E up to the next octave (upper E):

    …that’s the tenth interval (C-E):

    “In A Nutshell…”

    If you know your second and third intervals, you also know your ninth and third intervals.

    Using the D major scale (as a reference):

    The second interval (D to E):

    …can be extended to form a ninth interval (D to E):

    The third interval (D to F#):

    …can be extended to form a tenth interval (D to F#):

    Now we’ve reviewed ninths and tenths, so what about them? Well, I’ll tell you in the next segment.

    “If You Want A Big Fat Left Hand, Use Ninths And Tenths…”

    It has almost become a tradition for the left hand to graduate from notes to octaves.

    For example, it’s common to graduate from playing C on the bass:

    …to playing the C octave:

    Octaves sound reinforced and good but they don’t really enhance the left hand like ninth and tenth intervals. If you have the C major chord:

    …and you’re playing the C octave on the bass:

    …you are basically duplicating the root note and that doesn’t enhance the left hand — it only reinforces the root note you’re playing.

    The goal of this lesson is to take you beyond octaves into the realm of ninth intervals and tenth intervals.

    Enhancing The Left Hand With The Ninth Interval

    A lot of chords sound a lot better on a ninth interval foundation.

    “Minor Chords…”

    For example, this C minor ninth chord:

    …is basically an Eb major seventh chord:

    …over a C ninth (on the left hand):

    …and it sounds good.

    “Major Chords…”

    If we add the E minor chord:

    …to the C ninth interval (on the left hand):

    …that produces an overall C major ninth chord:

    “The Filled-In Ninth Interval…”

    We can even make the ninth interval sound better by filling it in with the fifth tone of the chord. For example, instead of playing the C ninth interval:

    …we fill it in with the fifth tone of the C major scale (which is G):

    …to make it sound full (C-G-D):

    Just adding the first inversion of the C major chord (E-G-C):

    …to the filled-in ninth interval produces a full-sounding Cadd9 chord:

    Heck, if we take the C minor ninth chord we learned earlier:

    …and fill-in the left hand with a fifth:

    …we have a more enhanced chord:

    Enhancing The Left Hand With The Tenth Interval

    Tenth intervals are very unique because they can be used to imply chords and harmonies.

    There are two tenth interval types:

    The major tenth

    The minor tenth

    The tenth interval we’ve been playing all along is the major tenth. C to E:

    …is a classic example of a major tenth interval.

    When you lower that E:

    …by a half-step (to Eb):

    …you have C to Eb:

    …and that’s a minor tenth interval.

    So, a minor tenth interval is basically smaller than the major tenth interval by a half-step. If you take a given major tenth interval and you lower the higher note by a half-step, you get the minor tenth interval.

    “Here’s How To Imply Harmonies With Tenth Intervals…”

    The C major tenth interval:

    …implies the following harmonies:

    C major chord:

    C dominant seventh chord:

    C augmented chord:

    The C minor tenth interval:

    …implies the following harmonies:

    C minor chord:

    C half-diminished seventh chord:

    C diminished chord:

    Tenth intervals are quite a stretch and are not so easy to play.But when learned and mastered, they enhance the left hand a great deal and add a lot of depth to your playing.

    Final Words

    I’m sure you can see what we’ve made out of a simple nursery rhyme.

    Ninths and tenths are quite a stretch but if you want that big fat left hand, you really have to stretch for it and trust me, it’s going to really add a lot of enhancement to your chords.

    I am grateful to my teacher and role-model, Jermaine Griggs, for the opportunity to share this concept with you.

    Feel free to ask questions, chip in your suggestions on some of the topics you’ll want to learn in the future, and make your contributions in the comment section below.

    All the best!

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku 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.

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