Simplifying chords

If you play from leadsheets or you downloaded a chord chart from the internet, you may occasionally find chord symbols that you don’t know yet how to play.

Here’s the trick: the only thing that really matters about a chord is whether it is major or minor. You can safely ignore anything else about the chord.

For example, you may encounter the chord symbols Am9 and D13.

The first one is an “A minor” chord with an added 7th and an added 9th.

The second one is a “D dominant-7″ chord with an added 13th but it could also have a 9th and 11th, depending on how you voice it.

If that didn’t make any sense to you and you have no clue how to form these chords, then keep what you know and throw away the rest.

In our example:

Am9 can be simplified to Am, which is A minor. That’s a very simple three-tone chord.

D13 can simply be played as D major. Again, a very simple chord.

When you play Am instead of Am9 and D major instead of D19, the tune probably won’t sound quite like it’s supposed to, but it won’t sound bad either. You can get away with it!

The only important thing to get right is the distinction between major and minor. If you mix those up, something will sound bad.

To recap:

  • A chord symbol that has an “m” or “min” (or sometimes a minus sign) can be simplified to a minor chord.
  • Any other chords can be simplified to a major chord.

And if you’re really not sure, you can simplify even further to a power chord. :-)

(There are a few other chord types too, such as diminished and augmented, but we’ll ignore those for now. Just worry about major and minor.)

Read more articles on Piano Clues:

Basic Theory

Chords and Harmony

The Circle of Fifths

Arrangement, Improvisation and Composition

Reading Music and Sheet Music

How to Record Piano

Software and Virtual Instruments

Scales and Exercises

Digital Pianos

Links and Other Stuff


  1. JEFFREY says:

    great tips for any novice ..almost every thing ive been searching for on the net from a lot of other you guys have any advice on how to play classical and jazz chords ,harmonies,solos,riffs and runs…?

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