Playing Piano Chords with Added Extensions and Alterations

Playing piano chords with added extensions and alterations can add richness, complexity, and sophistication to your playing. By incorporating additional notes beyond the basic triads, such as extensions (9th, 11th, 13th) and alterations (flatted or sharpened notes), you can create more colorful and expressive harmonies. In this article, we will explore strategies to help you play piano chords with added extensions and alterations effectively.

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1. Understand Chord Extensions and Alterations:

Familiarize yourself with chord extensions and alterations and their notations. Extensions refer to adding notes beyond the basic triad (root, third, and fifth), such as the 9th, 11th, and 13th. Alterations involve modifying certain notes in the chord, typically the 5th, 9th, or 11th, by raising or lowering them. For example, a C7 chord with a flat 9th would be notated as C7(b9).

2. Learn Chord Voicings:

Learn various voicings and inversions for chords with added extensions and alterations. Experiment with different ways of arranging the notes to find voicings that suit your playing style and musical context. Practice playing chords with added extensions and alterations in root position, as well as with different inversions, to expand your harmonic vocabulary.

3. Understand Voice Leading:

Pay attention to voice leading when playing chords with added extensions and alterations. Voice leading refers to the smooth and logical movement of each voice (note) in the chord progression. Aim for smooth voice leading by minimizing large leaps between notes and favoring stepwise or small interval movements. This creates a more cohesive and connected sound.

4. Listen and Analyze:

Listen to recordings or performances of pianists playing chords with added extensions and alterations to gain inspiration and insight. Analyze how they incorporate these extended harmonies in different musical styles and genres. Focus on the specific notes used and the overall effect they create. This listening practice will help develop your ear for these harmonic nuances and guide your own explorations.

5. Practice Slowly and Deliberately:

When learning chords with added extensions and alterations, practice slowly and deliberately. Start with simple voicings and progressions, and gradually introduce more complex and advanced chords. Focus on accuracy, clarity, and control. Pay attention to the correct placement of each note and ensure that the added extensions and alterations do not overpower the core harmony.

6. Practice Progressions and Comping:

Practice chord progressions and comping exercises that incorporate chords with added extensions and alterations. Work on common progressions found in jazz, pop, or other genres, and explore different voicings and inversions. This practice helps you internalize the sound and feel of these extended harmonies and build fluency in incorporating them into your playing.

7. Experiment with Different Styles:

Experiment with playing chords with added extensions and alterations in different musical styles. Explore how these extended harmonies can enhance the character and expression of various genres, such as jazz, blues, gospel, or contemporary styles. Adapt your playing style, dynamics, and articulation to suit the specific genre and musical context.

8. Apply Theory Knowledge:

Apply your theoretical knowledge to understand the function and use of chords with added extensions and alterations in different harmonic progressions. Understand the relationships between chords, their tensions, and resolutions. This knowledge will guide your improvisations, chord substitutions, and reharmonizations, allowing you to add complexity and color to your playing.

9. Transcribe and Learn from Others:

Transcribe and learn from recordings of pianists playing chords with added extensions and alterations. Study their voicings, note choices, and harmonic approaches. This process helps you internalize the nuances of their playing and gain insight into incorporating extended harmonies in your own musical vocabulary.

10. Creative Exploration:

Once you have developed a foundation in playing chords with added extensions and alterations, allow yourself creative freedom to explore and experiment. Incorporate these extended harmonies in your own compositions, arrangements, and improvisations. Let your ears and musical intuition guide you in creating unique and expressive chord progressions.

Conclusion: Embrace the Richness of Extended Harmonies

Playing piano chords with added extensions and alterations opens up a world of harmonic possibilities and artistic expression. By understanding chord extensions and alterations, learning various voicings, considering voice leading, listening and analyzing, practicing deliberately, exploring different styles, applying theory knowledge, transcribing, and engaging in creative exploration, you can confidently incorporate these extended harmonies into your playing. Embrace the richness and complexity they offer, and let them elevate your piano playing to new levels of musicality and expression.

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