Create and Motivate: Developing seventh-chord fluency

The ability to recognize and play chords without hesitation benefits all pianists. For improvisers, chord fluency enables practical skills such as learning tunes by ear, transforming lead sheets to arrangements, jamming with others, and creating one's own part in bands. For those who prefer to play written music, facility with chords improves learning literature through harmonic analysis, enhances sight reading by predicting what will come next, and facilitates memorization by internalizing underlying progressions.

Last time, I shared chord drills for practicing triads. Now, here are some exercises to help your students master seventh chords.

Diatonic seventh chords

For each new scale assigned, ask your students to name and play all of the seventh chords in that key in both directions. 

Variations:

• Play chords in both hands.

• Repeat with inversions (especially second inversion—because it is so common).

• Left hand plays chords while right hand improvises on the scale.

• For minor keys, convert the natural minor scale's v7 (Em7) to the Major V7 (E7) associated with the harmonic minor scale.

Chord crawls

Choose a single chord quality to run up and down chromatically. As a stepping stone, practice the white key roots and then black key roots together before assigning chromatic chord crawls. 

Cycle progressions

Choose a single chord quality to run around the circle of fourths (counter-clockwise on a circle of keys diagram), alternating root position and second inversion chords for expediency and good voice leading. 

Variations:

• Play chords in both hands.

• Repeat starting in second inversion.

• Mix root position and second inversion chords so the hands are playing different chord positions.

ii - V - I mini progressions

Play the seventh chords built on the second, fifth, and tonic scale degrees—mixing root position and second inversion chords for convenience. To make a continuous exercise, convert the tonic chord to a minor seventh and repeat in a new key a whole step down. 

Variations:

• Start a half step up (E-flat m7) to practice all keys.

• Play chords in both hands.

• Repeat starting in second inversion.

• Play broken chords in one or both hands.

Until next time, enjoy your creative music making journey 

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