Why chords with four notes instead of three?

An observation about chords. In every piano tutorial or course I have seen, we always learn the seven chords of a key with three notes to start, the 1-3-5 notes. Adding the 7th complicates the sound, making it harder for me to recognize (not that I was good at recognizing three-note chords). Perhaps it’s from the emphasis on jazz music. When I am playing around within an octave, creating a ‘harmonic environment’, the chords end up being most of the seven notes, and I hear entire three-note chords from other keys within them. I know they are all related and drawn from the same major scale, but perhaps a simpler approach to chords, at the start, would be preferable?

Yes I think thats true, and in the Pure Harmony Essentials material it starts out with three note chords/triads to help get your ear accustomed to the sounds before introducing four note chords.

I think the book is attempting to lay out the whole IFR method/approach, so 4 note chords are explained from the start.

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Hi @Autodax, welcome to the forum.

@ImproviseForReal agrees with you. :smiley: If you look at Jam Tracks Level 2: Pure Harmony Essentials, it starts with 3 note chords.

A 7th is only introduced in track 3, and even then only for the 5 chord to make it a 5D. 7ths on other chords don’t make an entry till track 7.

Edit to add: @mem posted, while I was writing this, but I’ll let this stand.

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Thanks @DavidW and @mem, that’s good to know about the jam tracks. I was referring to the book and my own playing around on the piano with the lessons therein.

As another piano player, I focus on triads at the start of a practice, and then usually move on to 4 note chords later on, after I’m warmed up.

I keep in mind the scenario of sitting in on a jam session…. And I don’t want to be limited to knowing triads as I recognize the chord of the moment. (Not that I can do that yet)

@Autodax In case you weren’t aware, the jam tracks aren’t just sound files. There are also 2-3 sides of notes about each track talking about the aims & objectives of the study and suggestions for how to make use of it.

What are you referring to when you say: “There are also 2-3 sides of notes about each track talking about the aims & objectives of the study and suggestions for how to make use of it”?

Thanks in advance…

Hi @Greg_Waas. I was referring to the Jam Tracks Level 2: Pure Harmony Essentials that I mentioned earlier in this topic, but the comment also applies to IFR jam track sets in general.

@Greg_Waas Or, thinking from a different angle, I was referreing to the web page associated with each track (which you get access to after purchase), which when printed out (or printed to PDF) usually amounts to 2-3 ‘sides’/pages).

Also, the information is provided with the jam tracks if you download them as mp3s from the website.

As @DavidW says, the jam track are not just playalongs, each track is a lesson, introducing a harmonic environment (Seven Worlds) or an chord or chord progression (Pure Harmony), and the lesson text gives you tons of additional informations, things to try and relates it all the the IFR method. This I found to be very valuable.

And welcome @Greg_Waas to the community.

Hi @Autodax, welcome to the forum! In addition to the great responses you’ve already received, I also want to encourage you to break down the material in whatever way makes sense to YOU. Keep in mind that Improvise for Real (the book) has quite an ambitious mission. In a single book, we wanted to lay out a path for understanding the entire world of modern harmony at it appears in popular music, we wanted to bring clarity to the mysterious topics of understanding music by ear, playing from the imagination, and creating our own original music, and we also wanted to give musicians a kind of user manual or roadmap to developing all of these abilities.

Because of this, the material in the IFR book needs to be organized in a way that prioritizes simplicity and clarity. We don’t have time in the book to define chords in multiple ways. The only way the book can work is to agree on some simple definitions and continue to make reference to those definitions throughout. This makes the book understandable, but it might not be exactly the way that you should study and assimilate these concepts in your own life.

In our video courses, we can expand on these areas and organize your journey in a much more step-by-step way. In your question, you’re combining two different things. One is a general definition of the chords as they are presented in the IFR book. There are many reasons for this definition, and the use of four-note chords right from the start is advantageous for a number of reasons. First because it gives you much more of the full character of each chord. But also even just from the standpoint of a memory aid, our students find it MUCH easier to learn the 4-note definitions of each chord precisely because these chords span the entire octave as you said. There are also important intervalic relationships between the 5th and 7ths of chords, and including these intervals in your awareness helps you to notice the symmetry that these relationships have with the lower part of the chords (the relationships between the roots and 3rds). So for all of these reasons, in your instrument practice we propose that you start with a basic definition of the chords as having four notes.

But your question also hints at something else which is your ability to recognize these chords by ear. And to develop this ability, I actually agree with you that the triads are a great place to start. In fact this is exactly what we do in our video course Recognizing Chords by Ear. So this is an illustration of what I’m talking about. The book itself needs to lay out the entire world of modern harmony in a sensible way. And so even though it is intended as a very practical guide, the book is still constrained by the responsibility to prioritize the clarity of the overall picture. In our video courses, we don’t have this constraint. It’s in our video courses and other practice tools that we can zero in on very specific topic areas like recognizing chords by ear, and we can design a learning path that is much more optimized for developing that one skill.

So here’s the point I’m trying to make. Definitely use the IFR book as your reference for understanding all of these concepts, where they come from and how we can study them. But then you should keep in mind two important complementary resources:

  1. The other practice tools and video courses at our website, which break down this material in different ways that are optimized for specific goals.

  2. Practice methods that YOU invent for yourself, guided by the book but also informed by your own sense of what you need to do in order to break down ideas into smaller pieces that you can master.

And actually, there is a third resource which is the awesome community of IFR students out there in the world who can give you great ideas about how to adapt the IFR method to your needs. I’m happy that you found our forum, and I appreciate all of the helpful comments that other musicians have already made here. - David

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