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eNotes, #008
January 18, 2008

eNotes - Friday, January 18, 2008

Hello Students and Happy New Year!

How are you? I know it has been a few weeks since your last eNotes but I will use the age-old excuse “It’s (was) a busy time of year! . Anyway, there is so much to talk about. Let me give you a general outline of what you will be reading:
1) What are Primary Chords and how can we use these to help us figure out a song by ear?
2) Recommended Keyboards and where you can find them
3) New Book
4) Website and Blog
5) Upcoming Teaching Schedule

1) Let’s begin then with playing a song by ear. Lots of people think this is a very hard process and it can be if you are starting with trying to figure out a jazz piece! But let’s not start there. You’ve got to start simple to get the concepts, okay?

First of all, every song is in a particular key. And there are 8 notes that belong to that key. This is the major (or minor, if the song is in a minor key) scale. How do you find out what those scale tones are? Well, if we are going to start simply, then let’s just use the C Major scale which goes with the key of C major. The notes in a C major scale are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.

Now if we construct a chord build on the first, fourth and fifth notes of the scale, we will come up with the following major chords – C Major, F Major, and G Major. Those represent the I, IV and V chords in the key of C. And you guessed it, they are the Primary Chords.

The Primary Chords are the most prevalent chords in any song. They take up at least 80% of the song. If you are playing a simple traditional folk song, 50’s melody or simple pop tune, these Primary Chords constitute nearly 95% of the chords in the song!

So this is what you do. Choose a simple folk song like “Oh, Susannah”. Begin with the melody on C and pick out the tune through trial and error. This is one of the best ear-training exercises you can do. And the more you do it (like anything else), the better you will get. Why is this so good for you and fun too? Because you are training your ear to hear not only the exact pitches that you hear “in your head” but also to hear the intervals or space between the pitches. Your ear is learning to discriminate between notes that move up or down and how far they travel.

Once you have “picked out” the melody, it is time to add the chords. You will put a chord where you hear an emphasis in the melody. In other words, sing the melody out loud while you play it. Do you find that you are naturally accented certain words? Those words are where the chords go. Remember too that many songs do not begin with a chord. In “Oh, Susannah” the chord doesn’t come until “come from Alabama”.

Now it is time to decide which chords go where. Again use trial and error with the Primary Chords. I will give you a few shortcuts here, but don’t tell anyone my secrets! The song usually will start off with the I chord (C major) and end with the I chord. Right before the ending chord, you will usually have the V chord (G major). The IV chord is usually followed by the V and the V tends to pull back to the I chord. Now try it. Use your ear. You will not always hear what sound right, but you’ll easily weed out what sounds wrong. Another hint ……… the melody note is usually contained within the chord. That should help you out a lot. Now go for it. And if you have some good ideas for songs to play at a party for a sing-a-long, click on the ShareYourIdeas button at so other people can benefit from you!

2) I get asked lots of times at workshops what kind of keyboard to buy that is good for getting started. I have one that I like a lot. It’s a Casio WK 3200 but I haven’t seen it around anymore. There are others that are just about the same thing though. I’ve been in stores and on line and you can get a decent keyboard with 76 keys, touch-sensitive with tons of rhythm and tone options for less than $250. Check out Daddy’s Junky Music (www.Daddy’ Casio WK 3500 or Radio Shack’s ( Casio WK 110. I also went on Craigs List ( and found a Casio WK-3000 for $175.

3) I have just completed writing a book that I haven’t named yet. It will be sent to the graphic designer in a couple of weeks and I will be going into the recording studio soon to make the CD that comes with it. The book is a beginner Popular Piano book that will include lessons on accompanying, transposing and how to learn major, minor, dominant seventh and minor seventh chords.

4) Have you checked out EasyPianoStyles lately? I am adding new content daily. I’ve also added a blog that you can sign up for so you don’t have to come to me. I’ll come to you!

Easy Piano

5) Lastly, here is my updated Teaching Schedule. I've got a great class coming up. It is the Instant Piano for Hopelessly Busy People class but what makes this one different is that every student gets to play on a beautiful new piano because the class is held at a piano shop. Some of you will even get to try out songs on a baby grand! Plus, it is held during the daytime for those of you who work at night, have more flexible schedules or are retired or stay-at-home Moms.

Teaching Schedule

Well, that's it for now, my friends. Check out the new page on the website called Share Your Ideas and add your ideas for good songs to play at a party!

Till we meet again

Debbie Gruber, B.M., M.M.

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