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Help understanding chords

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I've attached a snip of a song I'm working on - "High Barbaree"  I'm a beginner playing an English Concertina - the 30-key Jackie.  On the music you will see that it includes 3 guitar chords, starting with Gm, Cm and D7.


I"ve seen the chord charts that show chord structure for the English and from it I see that on my Jackie, there are 3 different combinations of Gm. Same with the other two chords.  Which one would I pick to play the first part of this song, and why?


BTW - I have tried each of them and to be honest, none of them sound quite right. 


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A chord is 3 or more notes that harmonise.


(I will use upper and lower case to show the same note in different octaves: C is an octave lower than c, for example.)


A simple chord is made of notes 1, 3 and 5 counting 1 as the root of the chord.


So the chord of C major is made up of the notes C E and G.


When a chord is major, the interval between the root and the 3rd note (C and E in the example) is 2 whole tones, and the interval between the 3rd and the 5th (E and G in the example) is 1.5 tones.


When a chord is minor, these intervals are reversed.  So C minor is C, E flat and G.   The first interval is 1.5 tones, and the second interval is 2 tones.


Any of the notes can be duplicated in a chord, so you could play C E G c, or C E G g.


However, it is generally better not to duplicate the 3rd.  So C E G e will be less common than the other examples.


The notes can be played with different spacings, so you may choose to play C from a low octave and E and G from the next octave up, for example.


You can miss out a note, making a part chord.  So you could play C and G (omitting the E) or C and E omitting the G.


You can put any of the 3 notes at the bottom.  So you could play CEG, GCE, or ECG.  The chord is more powerful and unambiguous in with the root note at the bottom.


You can play the notes in sequence (arpeggio) rather than all together.


You can choose only one note and play it as a bass.


All of these options, and more, are available to you.  Your question is how to decide which to choose.


There are two guides:

  1. Your own ear.  Experiment with different versions and see what sounds best.
  2. Context.  What comes before and what comes after.

Chords tend to progress in one of 4 ways:

  1. Moving to a chord sharing one of the notes of the present chord.  So C major (CEG) may be followed by G major (GBD), keeping the same note G.  This sort of change sounds like a "jump".
  2. Moving to a chord that shares one of the note names, but playing that shared note in a different octave.  So C major (c e g) moves to G major (G B  D).  This sounds even more dynamic.
  3. Moving to a chord that shares 2 notes of the present chord.  C major (CEG) may move to E minor (EGB) by the note C making a small step down to the note B.  This sort of change can give a soft, fluid sound as if one chord is blending into the next.
  4. Parallel movement.  So G major (GBD) may be followed by F major (FAC).  This can be particularly effective if the progression can be continued through 3 or more chords.

It's a lifetime's work of exploring and experimenting, finding your "voice", and transferring skills and techniques from one tune to another, revisiting old tunes and trying new approaches.  You will find tricks that work for you, you will use them, overuse them, then come up with something new.


The most important guide is what sounds good to you.  Have fun.

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10 hours ago, dmksails said:


First of all, are you playing this with two flats - two outside buttons on your Jackie?  This tune looks like it is in Gm (the relative minor of Bflat major).  You might find it easier to play in Am (the relative minor of C major).   


Look at the two lower staffs in your score, these are the piano accompaniment for the song.  The top line of the middle staff is the melody line again, same as the vocal line in the top staff so just ignore that line.   The remaining notes on the middle staff plus all of the notes on the bottom staff are the notes of the piano chords for the melody.  Probably too complicated to play on the concertina but if you look at the notes you can see which notes the author has chosen to accompany the melody.  If you spell out the notes then those in the first and second bars are the notes of the Gm chord.  The third measure spells out the Cm chord.  You do not have to play all of the notes from the chord or even the the same selection of notes from the chord, but you should probably stick with the same bass note from the bottom staff - which looks like it will be the root note of each chord (G - G - C). 


If you are coming from a guitar background then it really hard to get the same effect with chords as you get when you strum a guitar.  Unlike a guitar the notes are sustained which makes them sound quite different.  You can try pulsing the notes with your bellows, or finding an oom-pah rhythm that works for the song.

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