In order to illustrate how critically-important chords are in music-making, consider this gallery of famous pieces (with chord tones circled)…
As you browse each example, notice two things:
- The accompaniments to the melodies are almost exclusively based on chords. (This should come as no surprise.)
- The melodies are built almost exclusively using chord tones. (This may come as a HUGE revelation. Realizing that melody may be more about harmony and chord tones, and not all about scales, will transform the way you read and play music!)
Sonata Facile (Mozart)
Play each piece slowly and really listen. Do your ears agree with the analysis?
For Elise (Beethoven)
You will discover that most pieces are harmonically very straightforward and their melodies usually consist mostly of chord tones!
Invention No. 8 (Bach)
Imagine (John Lennon)
Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven)
Solfegietto (C. P. E. Bach)
Take your time to study each piece. Use your knowledge of music theory (key signatures, scales, chords, etc) and your ears (which chords sound/feel tense, which sound major, which sound minor, etc?).
The Entertainer (Scott Joplin)
Theme From Cheers
This is an example of pedal point… The harmony changes from a Bb major triad to F major triad, but the note Bb is sustained in the left hand as a pedal point, creating a very sweet dissonance against the F chord.
Toccata and Fugue (Bach)
The skill to recognize chords using both your eyes and ears will pay enormous dividends when sight reading, learning a new piece, improvising, transposing, and playing by ear.
Maple Leaf Rag (Joplin)
Baby Elephant Walk (Henry Mancini)
Linus & Lucy (Vince Guaraldi)
Note: One could even make an argument that the last bar is really an Ab6 chord, counting the note F as a chord tone.
Color My World (Chicago)
Notice the many simple, but very inventive ways that chords are used to create an incredible variety of fabulous music.