Chord chart? What does that shorthand scribble even MEAN?!

I barely remember my first teacher and definitely don't remember learning to read music.  I have just ALWAYS read music.  It is like reading words for me.  Thank you to my Momma for starting that habit at a young age!  I never played by ear when I was younger.  I didn't need to.  Music was always written out very specifically and if it was in front of me, I could figure out how to play it by simply reading the notes and having my fingers press the correct keys.  It was a very clean and organized process and it was what I knew.

Fast forward to the late 80's.  I had four years of University instruction behind me and had been recognized as having some pretty decent piano skills.  Basically, if there were notes on a page, I could play it.  I started singing country music and when the musicians I was playing with heard me play some Bach inventions, I earned the title of keys player, as well.  UNTIL they put some chicken scratch with a bunch of numbers in front of me for me to play, that is. Their music looked really odd – not real music as far as I was concerned - and I didn't have the slightest clue what I was supposed to play!

 Classical music compared to a chord chart.   

Classical music compared to a chord chart.


Everything changed for me as a musician in that moment.  A monumental shift in the way I would approach music for the rest of my life.  If you have learned to read music, you know that the written arrangement tells us each and every note, as well as nuance, to be played.  You can imagine the panic I experienced at only being given some chords (in the form of NUMBERS, no less) with no other direction other than “1,2,3, let's go!”  I had to re-examine everything I knew and had learned about music.

Music, even classical music, was never really created to be rigid. Structure was supplied to us simply to demonstrate in written form how the composer envisioned the piece to be played. I often wonder if my favorite composers - Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Debussy - would have ever played their compositions the same exact way.  Given their creative nature, I kind of doubt it.  Music is an outlet for free expression of emotion.  

With that said, the basic fundamentals of music are necessary to provide an underlying structure and foundation for this expression.  With a strong fundamental base, the artist is better prepared to create a cohesive piece capable of telling their story.  Even self taught artists rely on basic structure and fundamentals for their creations. 

I had confidence through my classical training that I had the ability to play any piano piece put in front of me.  When the simplicity of the chord chart threw me completely off, I made the decision to go back to the basics to find what I had missed.  I discovered two things...  1. I already had learned and thoroughly digested all the information I needed to process and play the chord charts, and 2.  The chord charts were simply written but in a completely different language - one that I already knew the key for but needed to apply to the simplified chart.

The theory was correct.  The problem was that the way I had classically learned the theory was not applicable to the chord charts.  The classically taught theory exercises I had learned and the way they had been presented were contrary to the way I needed to play the chords in a band setting.  I figured out how to translate the information and relearn chord structure so I could actually play the charts, and eventually be able to simply play by ear.  It didn't take very long for me to figure this out, but the process was much more difficult than it needed to be given my longhand approach.  Additionally, the stigma of playing by ear or using charts versus playing classically written music is pretty strong in the music community I am involved in.  

For me, I find that learning to play the chord charts and, as a result, increasing my improvisational skills has also helped to reinforce much of my classical training.  At times, I do struggle a bit more with my reading skills because my ear has taken over more than I anticipated.  But the freedom that I now enjoy, using the fundamental skills I learned in my years of classical training in playing with other instruments, is awesome! 

The FOUNDATIONS Method has been designed to present the classical fundamentals in such a way that the student's education will support both classical and contemporary styles of playing.  All the classical music theory is included.  The teacher's training and experience is honored by offering tools to present the exercises in varying styles based upon the individual student needs. Creativity is encouraged and expanded through the use of the coordinated duet parts.  The end result is a student who is equipped to play in both classical and contemporary worlds. 

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