How to Speed Read Piano Chord Symbols | Iris Reading
How to Speed Read Piano Chord Symbols

How to Speed Read Piano Chord Symbols

How to Speed Read Piano Chord Symbols

Playing piano efficiently requires learning different skills to improve yourself. The piano is an instrument that harmonizes different notes to produce the sounds listeners hear. 

A fundamental skill to achieving some mastery in this field is knowing how to read chords. 

You must undergo certain practice sessions and key lessons to understand how to speed-read piano chord symbols. These will help you quickly learn some hacks and skills to sight chords and translate them into soothing sounds. 

The best pianists can speed-read chords and produce suitable sounds in seconds. The ability to speed-read chords helps you execute notes adequately and play the instrument gracefully. 

But as you can imagine, you can’t learn to speed read chord symbols without following some steps.

As with speed reading anything, your job is to improve your reading speed without compromising on comprehension. 

Therefore, while speed reading piano chord symbols, you must understand how to move your eyes across the symbols while knowing what the notes say. 

This allows you to hit different chords swiftly without slowing up to grasp what’s on the note. 

This guide will walk you through how chords work and effective ways to speed-read piano chord symbols. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know how to quickly scan through a chord symbol while creating fascinating piano sounds. 

Common types of piano chords

If you’re contemplating speed reading piano chords, you must understand the common types of chords existing. Knowing this helps you understand the chords you could play once you can identify them. 

But before delving into these types, let’s quickly help you learn what chords are. 

Understanding chords and how they work

A chord is the result of two notes getting played simultaneously. However, this is just a basic explanation of what constitutes a chord. There’s more to completely understanding how this works. 

A root is the basis of a chord and is responsible for naming the harmony or chord. Chords are often built in thirds. So, when you place two thirds on top of a root, the result you get is a core triad. Adding another third to this core triad will provide you with a 7th. 

You can continue adding layers to the triad to reach new extensions or tone improvement. You can liken a completely built chord to a tree, starting from the trunk and roots. Then followed by heavy branches in the middle and delicate leaves at the topmost part. 

Often, you’ll find chords having just the core triad and the 7th without further extensions. But it’s not strange to find chords with more color tone levels. 

The simplest way to alter a chord’s sound is to tamper with the thirds forming its basis. Therefore, suppose a triad has a major third at the base and a minor third on top; you’ll have a major triad. 

Reversing the above scenario, a triad with a minor third at the bottom and a major third stacked above will give you a minor triad. Below, we examine the common chords you should learn to improve your playing skills. 

Major chord

To build a major chord, you’ll need to build a major third on a root note. You’ll also need to throw a 5th into the mix. The general goal of a major chord is to create a simple and happy sound. This works when trying to set a calm mood for a serene environment. 

Here’s a perfect example of a major chord. 

  • You can make C your root note, meaning it comes first in the order.
  • Then you’ll count four notes to get the major 3rd. This will be an E. 
  • Following that, you’ll count another 7 semitones from C. This will land you on G as your 5th. 

Summarily, you’ve created a C major chord using this formula. You can always repeat this to create a major chord. If you want to have it differently, you only need to change the root note. 

Minor chord

Just like a major chord, minor chords start with a root note but are followed by a minor third. Then you throw in a 5th. The buildup of this sound makes it suitable for serious or sad situations. 

Here’s an example of how it works:

  • You start with the same note — a C root note.
  • You’ll follow this up by counting three notes to get the minor third. 
  • Then you’ll 4 semitones from the last alphabet to reach your 5th. 

The result will be a C minor chord. 

Although major and minor chords share a similarity in pattern, they sound entirely different. You’ll need to play these sounds to understand the difference in their tune. 

It can be difficult to remember the formula for each chord pattern. Therefore, you may want to memorize these patterns using a pattern that notes the arrangement order. 1-3-4 would be a good formula to remember how to create a minor chord. 

Such formulas make it easy to navigate while playing piano and switching between sounds. 

Diminished chords

A diminished chord starts with a root note at the bottom. Then you’ll build a minor third and flat 5th on it. This is the same as continuing 3 and 6 semitones, respectively, to find each layer. These chords are suitable for tense occasions. 

Although these chords are not as common as the major and minor chords, they serve a purpose. Therefore, expert pianists learn the chords while building their playing skills. 

Here’s a structure depicting a C Diminished chord.

  • Start with a C root note.
  • Then count 3 and 6 semitones, respectively, to add the next layers of notes.
  • This will be an Eb/D# and Gb/F#, respectively. 
  • Once you’re at the final stage, you’d have created a C flat or diminished chord.

1-3-3 is a working formula for this chord. Once you’re done creating it, you can assess the sound to compare the first two we discussed. You’ll realize a difference in the tune. 

Major seventh chord

Major seventh chords are often found in jazz compositions. They sound soft and thoughtful, using different extensions to achieve the final sound. 

You’ll first need a root note, followed by a major third. Then you’ll add a 5th and a major 7th. You can consider a major seventh chord as a major triad with a 7th (major) at the top. You must understand each of these notes and how to count them to achieve this chord. 

Here’s a structure breakdown of the chord. 

  • First, add a C root note
  • Following that, you’ll find the major 3rd by counting up 4 semitones. 
  • Then you’ll find the 5th by counting up 7 semitones.
  • Finally, you’ll count 11 notes from C. A major C chord appears as C-E-G-B.

You can depict the formula for this chord as 1-4-3-4. This helps you quickly remember the chord progressions.

Minor seventh chord

Minor seventh chords create a mood somewhere between happy and sad. The chord is contemplative and moody. The chord is a combination of the major and minor chords. 

To create a minor seventh chord, you’ll need a root note followed by a minor third. Then a perfect 5th and a minor 7th join the structure. Like a major seventh chord, a minor seventh chord has a minor 7th on top of its minor triad. 

Here’s an example breakdown of the C minor seventh chord.

  • Start with a root note C
  • Count up 3 notes to get your Eb minor third.
  • Then, from C, count up 7 notes to get your perfect 5th.
  • Lastly, you’ll add Bb by counting up 10 notes from C. 

Once you’re done, you will have a minor seventh chord. 

Dominant seventh chord

If you play jazz or blues or love to listen to this genre, you’ll come across dominant seventh chords. These chords often form a component of jazz sounds, so you may want to find some relevant sounds to listen to more of this chord. 

A perfect way to describe the chord is by saying they sound restless. The sound is strong and gets you in action quickly. As with other chords, the dominant seventh starts with a root note. Then you have a major third and a minor seventh. 

These chords contain a lowered top note by one semitone on top of the major seventh chord. 

Here’s a C-note example of a dominant chord. 

  • You’ll start with C, which serves as the root note. 
  • Then you’ll find the major 3rd by counting up 4 semitones. 
  • This will lead you to an E, after which you’ll count seven notes from C.
  • Finally, you’ll find Bb by counting up to 10 notes from C. There you have your C dominant seventh chord. 

1-4-3-3 works as a good formula for this purpose. Practice it on your piano accordingly, too. 

Suspended chords 

From the start of this discussion, we’ve mentioned that every chord structure starts with a root note, followed by a third, and a perfect 5th. Although this is a general foundation, not all chords follow this principle. 

Building some chords, such as suspended chords, takes a different approach. These chords can be grouped into two: sus2 & sus4.

Sus2 chords

A sus2 chord has a similar structure to the others we’ve discussed but with some alterations. While its foundation has a root note and a perfect fifth, the chord requires a major second, not a third, as we know. When you’re done building this chord, you’ll realize the sound comes out bright.

A perfect way to visualize this chord is to see that they have a major second on top of the root note instead of a major third. 

Let’s look at a C note example for the sus2 chord.

  • Here, we’ll also start with a C root note
  • Then we’ll count up two notes instead of three to get our major second. This will be a D
  • Then we’ll find our perfect fifth by counting up 7 notes from C. 

1-2-5 is the formula for the sus2 chord. You can always compare with other chord structures to differentiate the sound from others. 

Sus4 chords

While the sus2 chords contain an alteration with a major second, the sus4 chords have a major fourth instead. The other two notes, the root note and perfect fifth remain the same. These chords simply have a major fourth on top of their foundation.

They also sound similar to their sus2 chords counterpart. Let’s break the chord down using a C note.

  • You start with the C root note.
  • Then you get your perfect fourth by counting five notes to end at an F.
  • Then you count 7 notes from C to give you a G.

The structure’s formula is 1-5-2. 

Extended Chords

Most chords you’ll come across at the beginning of your piano-playing career fall between 2 and 7. The chords discussed so far fall within this category. However, more chords exist that feature notes beyond the seventh.

Although many types of chords exist, you don’t need to memorize them all now. All you need to know is that experts play chords beyond seventh, and these chords are often found in R&B, jazz, and funk. 

Let’s run through the common extended harmonies to provide insight into how these chords work. 

Minor ninth chords

The notes in this chord are the root notes, a minor third, a fifth, a minor seventh, and a major ninth. To arrive at each note, you’ll need to count the semitones accordingly. 

This chord is ultimately an extension of the minor seventh chord. But the minor ninth chord improves the harmony and sound thickness, making the sound more put-together than the minor seventh chord. 

All the notes involved in a C minor ninth are:

  • C
  • Eb
  • G
  • Bb
  • D

Major ninth chords

To create major ninth chords, start with a root note and follow that with a major third. Then add a perfect fifth and throw in both major seventh and major ninth.

This chord has a similar structure to the minor ninth chord but utilizes major notes instead. Additionally, it’s also an extension of the major seventh chord. 

The notes involved in this chord are C -E-G-B-D

Dominant ninth chords

The dominant ninth chords consist of five notes. These are the root note, a major third, a perfect fifth, a minor seventh, and a major ninth. 

The sound, like the name, is dominant. It is a common form of extended chords. 

Major and minor eleventh chords

A major eleventh chord follows the same structure as a major ninth chord but has a further extension of an 11th note. Similarly, a minor eleventh follows the same structure and has an 11th extension accordingly.

Are piano chord symbols hard to read?

piano chord symbols reading

It can be difficult to read piano chord symbols, especially if you’re a beginner. As with learning new things, piano chord symbols will appear strange. Asides from the initial strangeness, understanding how to read the symbols while playing gracefully is yet another task.

Reading music sheets is one of the most challenging parts of playing piano. The task goes beyond merely reading the sheet, you must be able to decode the rhythm it represents. Therefore, you must understand the time signature and what individual notes communicate.

Additionally, you require a high level of coordination to read piano chord symbols, especially when you start creating and playing chords. 

Building different chords to achieve unique sounds is tasking. You must know how to count up semitones and different formulas to find different sounds. 

This makes playing the piano a time-consuming task. You spend a lot of time mastering the basics when you’re just starting. 

Even when you’ve gone ahead a little, you still require more time to build coordination, decipher pitches, and translate notes efficiently. 

Speed-reading is a useful technique to quickly improve your piano playing skills. Interestingly, speed reading doesn’t harm the learning process, making it a viable solution for your piano learning needs. 

To know how to read piano chord symbols, you must learn about some crucial elements. Let’s run through these.

Musical alphabet

Piano involves the use of the alphabet, but for musical purposes. These are regular letters, but they are from A to G instead. The musical staff offers a roadmap for pianists to develop chords and decode music sheets. 

The position of the notes on the lines helps you understand how to play the piano. You’ll need two staves to play the piano. These are the treble staff and the bass staff for high and low notes, respectively. 

Each of these has its respective symbols. 

Treble staff

The treble staff helps you know what note to play using your right hand. You must understand the structure of the letter names on the treble staff, especially if you’re just learning to play the piano. 

You can label the staff FACE and EGBDF. You can also devise different tricks to memorize the names of the spaces and lines quickly. This helps you play much more quickly and navigate the entire piano scenery. 

Bass staff

The bass staff typically depicts the notes on the lines and spaces, which you must play with your left hand. The bass staff exists on both sides of the F line. Knowing this helps you understand how to navigate the rest of the lines and spaces.

To master the bass and treble staff, practice them continually. You can change the letters into acronyms for something cheesy and simple. For instance, ACEG could become “All Cows Eat Egg.”

Putting bass and treble together

Often, you’ll find a piano music sheet involving the two staves with one placed over the other. The treble clef falls on top while the bass goes under. Once you master using your right and left hands, you can play the two conveniently.

Sharps and flats

Sharps and flats are core elements to know when playing piano. They originate from the traditional Western piano scale. A sharp is above the natural tone with just half a step, while a flat falls below the normal tone with half a step too.

This is why you find symbols such as Bb in some chords. It indicates that such a tone is half a step above an A. 

People tend to think the black keys on a piano are sharps and flats. But some flats and sharps are white keys. A good example here is E# and Cb.

Relationship of lines and spaces on the staff 

Each note on a piano sheet has a corresponding piano key. Although a full-sized piano has 88 keys, they all represent 12 tones in varying pitch degrees. As you learn to understand music sheets, you must recognize these notes.

Easy recognition makes it convenient to find the keys. Therefore, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the keyboard and understand how these keys operate. 

Note values

The notes you see on music sheets tell you what keys to play. Beyond that, they also help you understand how long to sustain these notes and what rhythm to follow. 

Basically, you have four note types. These are quarter notes, eighth notes, whole notes, and half notes. 

Each note has its intrinsic value, which determines the number of beats to hold the note within. 

For instance, half notes require four beats, while whole notes get two. Eighth notes have a half beat and quarter notes get one.

Aside from notes, silent moments are also counted in music. “Rests” help you know how long to stay silent, and it gets four beats. You also have half and quarter rests. 

Dynamic marks and time signatures

Dynamic marks are important music reading components that help you tell the quality of each music note. These marks will help you know what note to play softly or loudly. 

Often in Italian, these notes help moderate your playing to ensure you achieve the perfect sound.

Time signatures allow you to understand the number of beats in a measure. Measures are subcategories of sheet music, and each has certain beat numbers. 

For each time signature, there are two numbers placed over each other. While the top note indicates a number of beats, the bottom note represents the note deserving “full note.”

How to quickly sight-read basic chords

quickly sight-read basic chords

Sight-reading chords is an effective way to play quickly and avoid repeating music sheets multiple times to get it right. Expert piano players who can sight-read have the advantage of playing faster and more efficiently. 

To quickly sight-read basic chords, you must know how to decode music notes quickly through eye movement and a lot of practice. You can only sight-read basic chords well when you master the basics of music, from time signatures to note values and the music alphabet.

But although sight-reading is a great skill, it takes patience to learn. You must understand the hacks and tricks to drive results if you want to sight-read smoothly. 

Without knowing how these hacks work, you’ll end up glossing over music sheets without making tangible progress. 

It’s crucial to understand that reading music sheets is challenging. Playing different chords is tasking; if you can’t navigate this conveniently, your piano-playing career may be slow. 

As a beginner, you can conveniently learn speed reading and adopt the tricks to your piano lessons.

If you want to sight-read quickly, you must structure your practice sessions and record your mistakes. Then reassess these mistakes to ensure you don’t make them again. This helps you improve quickly and makes your journey better.

You want to play piano, explore different sounds, and switch between sounds while keeping to a rhythm. To do this, leverage practical steps to build sight-reading competence. 

Practical exercise to improve your ability to speed read visual chords

Building your note-reading reflexes requires getting into practical exercises that offer valuable help. At the beginning stage of your learning process, the ability to identify notes and decode them accordingly is the first step to cross. 

Here are some practical exercises for you to build competence.

Focus on understanding music notation

The first step is to ensure you understand music notation beyond the mere meaning of symbols. You must learn different notes, their length, and the rests. You can only sight-read efficiently when you understand the meaning of the chord symbols. 

You’ll want to learn about key signatures, music terminology, bass clef, and treble clef. Familiarizing yourself with these terms helps you make decisions faster. 

You can liken this process to taking an examination in a different language. 

First, you must learn the language and understand the nuances to make your decision-making process faster and help you understand questions much quicker. 

Therefore, knowing these terms will accelerate how you decode music notes and translate what they mean into sounds. 

Learn the sight-reading technique correctly

To master sight-reading,  learn the correct technique and build on it. Once you understand how to approach sight-reading, playing any music note becomes convenient.

First, when you come across a music piece, you must find the time and key signatures. Then assess the piece’s tempo to determine if it’s too fast or steady enough for you to play. Suppose the piece is too fast; you can play it at a much more convenient tempo. 

While sight-reading, it’s crucial to focus on the music and keep your eyes steady on it. You should start looking ahead while reading a part. For instance, if you’re currently on bar 1, you should place your eyes on bar 2 already to prepare yourself ahead. 

By keeping your eyes on the next part, your mind already anticipates what’s to come, making it flow seamlessly once you reach the other part. Although this is a great sight-reading skill, it takes a lot of practice to grasp.

If you do it wrongly, you may mess up your entire play. The skill requires looking at the next part while sustaining the current part you’re playing.

Practice with one hand

Practicing with one hand at a time is a great way to train your hands and achieve mind coordination. This hack also helps if you find sight-reading difficult, especially as a beginner. In that case, practicing with one hand helps you improve your sight-reading skills with that hand. 

Doing this also gives you more time to think while practicing, making it a great way to maximize your memory. You can begin working on the second when you’re done with the first hand. After doing this for a good period, start practicing using the two hands.

This will help you build each hand independently, making them a strong combination when used together. 

Start by playing simple music and then scale up

When building your sight-reading skills, it’s important to start with simple music. Then you increase the difficulty level as you progress. Although challenging yourself is great, it’s advisable to keep things moderate. 

You should understand that sight-reading is a journey. Like every process, it takes some time to become a pro. Therefore, you want to give the process the time it deserves to ensure you don’t compromise your results.

Practice with sight-reading books

Sight-reading books and series can be useful tools to help your sight-reading journey. You can find expertly-written books with practical steps to sight-reading basic chords. These practical approaches will help you better understand how to get better.

Books and series are often experiential. You’ll learn from someone’s experience, offering useful insights to move from beginner status to a pro.

You can also get a speed reading tool that helps you read and comprehend music notes better. If you’re passionate about piano playing, getting all the help you need is crucial. You may find it difficult to make tangible progress without external help.

Additionally, you can take structured sight-reading courses. A great course with timelines and practical sessions can help you reach your piano-playing goals more quickly. Such a course will also be designed with music theory and proven speed reading techniques that produce results. 

With these courses, you can learn one chord, one note, and smooth voice leading at well-spaced sessions.

Work with a tutor

One way to fast-track your sight-reading learning is to get a tutor who teaches you practically. Expert piano tutors understand people at different levels. They can work with you based on your experience to improve your sight-reading skills.

Getting a tutor also offers you a more personal experience with a human touch. You’re not just learning from AI or a timed session. You’re gaining valuable insights from a human being who can understand where you are and your desired expert level.

Takeaway: Speed read piano chord symbols with these proven techniques

Your love for piano is enough to desire to take your practice to the next level. If you’ve watched different experts play and love what you see, you need to understand they’ve put in great work to appear efficient. 

Like any other instrument, playing piano requires dedication and understanding the hacks.

Sight-reading is a great hack to maximize memory and better comprehend music notes. These skills help you read and decode chords faster, making it convenient to play music while spending much less time.

Expert pianists understand how to sight-read quickly to play different sounds gracefully. 

At Iris Reading, you can find resources that will help your sight-reading journey improve quickly. These resources and tools are designed to help you record tangible results that could change how you play the piano. 

You gain access to practice sessions that walk you through different processes, making the entire journey seamless. 

After taking these courses and utilizing the library of resources, you can rest assured you’ll improve. 

The hack to progress is practice, especially with an endeavor like piano playing. Working with programs offering useful insights will fast-track your pace and help you build sight-reading competence pretty quickly.

Get started today!

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