Answers to the Placement Quiz

Here’s where you can see how much you do or don’t know about playing pop music with the chord system. The questions range from intermediate to advanced. If you don’t know the answers to any of the questions, don’t fret. We have an introductory track for you at all our retreats. No one gets left out.

So see how well you did, and leave us a comment.

1.  How many measures in a typical blues song?

Answer: There are 12 measures in a typical blues song. Not only that but the chord structure for almost all blues songs is more or less the same. And there are tens of thousands of blues songs. What does this mean to you, the musician? It means if you know the chords to “Sweet Home Chicago,” you also know the chords to “Kansas City.” And Ellington’s “C Jam Blues.” And Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump.” And “The Twist.” And Monk’s “Straight No Chaser.” And literally tens of thousands of other songs. In fact that’s the biggest reason that a dozen total strangers can meet each other on stage at a blues jam, and they can all play together without reading sheet music.

2.  If a blues song is in the key of G, what would the chord in the fifth measure likely be?

Answer: Here’s the measure by measure chord structure of a 12-Bar blues progression in the key of C.
C(7) – C(7) – C(7) – C(7) – F(7) – F(7)
C(7) – C(7) – G(7) – G(7) – C(7) – C(7)
As you can see, the chord you play in measure Five is F (the 7 is optional).
Here’s that same progression in the key of G.
G(7) – G(7) – G(7) – G(7) – C(7) – C(7)
G(7) – G(7) – D(7) – D(7) – G(7) – G(7)
Notice the chord in measure Five is now a C(7). We’ll leave our discussion of keys for another time.

3. What are the three basic chord types?

Answer: There are books and charts that list thousands of chords. It seems overwhelming. But there is a way to make sense of it easily. While it’s true that there are thousands of possible chords to play, there are only three main categories of chords. And they are: major chords, minor chords, and seventh chords.

Each of these three chord types has its own distinct sound and effect in the music we hear. And since there are 12 different notes on a piano (seven white ones and five black ones), each chord can be built on any of the 12 different notes. So we have 12 major chords, 12 minor chords, and 12 seventh chords. That’s 36 chords total. Of those, only about 20 are in common use. Thus if you have access to these 20 or so chords, you can play almost any song you want.

And what about the thousands and thousands of other chords? With a few notable exceptions, they are just fancier ways of playing the basic major, minor, and seventh chords.

4. What is the 9th of an F9 chord?
Answer: Usually any number that appears in a chord name refers to a note in the Major Scale that is associated with that chord. Thus the “9” in the F9 chord refers to the ninth note of the F major scale. But wait a minute, a major scale has only seven (or eight) notes in it. How could there be a 9th?

If you play two F major scales over the span of two octaves, then you can have those larger numbers. So if I write two F scales back to back, the notes would be as follows. 

      F    G   A  Bb   C   D   E    F   G   A    Bb   C    D   E    F
      1    2    3    4     5    6   7    8    9   10   11   12   13  14  15

The 9th note in this sequence is a G. Therefore you must add a G note to an F major chord (triad).

An F chord is  F   A   C. Add a G note to that, and you almost get an F9.

But not quite. It’s a little known rule that a ninth chord functions as a sort of fancier seventh chord. Thus the chord must also have a (dominant or flatted) seventh which in this case would be an Eb note.

Thus the full F9 chord has the notes   F    A    C    Eb    G.

Is there an easier way to keep track of ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths?

Yes. There’s a shortcut for almost everything the way we teach piano. In this case, if the chord contains a number higher than eight, the shortcut is to subtract the number “seven” from it. Thus a 9 is the same note of the scale as a 2. Remember?: 9 – 7 = 2. Again, “seven” is the lucky number we use to subtract from the number you find in the chord. It’s usually a lot easier to remember that the second (2) note of a F major scale is G, than it is to keep track of the 9ths. Of course this also means that an 11th is the same as a 4th, and a 13th is the same as a 6th. But in each case the flatted seventh of the scale (Eb) must be in the chord too.

If this sounds confusing to you, don’t worry. Our job is to make playing easier, not more difficult. So here is another shortcut. If a song calls for an F9 chord, it’s perfectly all right to play an F7 instead. You can get a simplified version of most chords by looking them up in our Chord Simplification Chord Chart.

Having a basic knowledge of scales goes a long way in the understanding of playing piano. For an even more in depth discussion of how these chords all make sense, see our book and CD program “Power Chords.”

5. What is the ii V I in the key of D?

Here’s a better question. What is the ii V i (pronounced “two five one”) in any key? And what does it matter?

Every musician eventually learns that there is nothing arbitrary about a chord progression. In fact, a chord progression is usually not unique. We learn that there is a certain system for a chord sequence that applies to a large number of songs within a large number of song genres. This system is prevalent to the extent that we can eventually predict chord progressions in songs with a relative degree of accuracy.

In jazz oriented tunes (standards, if you will) there is a strong prevalence of the ii V I chord progression. The ii is a minor chord whose root is on the second degree of the scale. The V is a (dominant) seventh chord whose root is on the fifth degree of the scale. The I (one) is a major chord whose root is on the first degree of the scale.

If we were in the key of C, a ii V I progression would be Dm G7 C (major). You can find that chord progression in more than half of all the songs in a standard fake book. Of course the songs are not all in the key of C, so the savvy musician learns what the ii V I is in every key.

In our example (key of D) the ii V I is Em A7 and D (major).

This is an example of some of the important aspects of music theory. And it’s the kind of thing you learn at the Piano Retreat, so that you will have a much deeper understanding of how music works.

(Check back in a few days as we continue to answer the questions in this quiz.)
6. You find an A7 within a song. Predict what the next chord might be?
7. What about the previous chord?
8. What notes are in a C blues scale?
9. Fill in the missing chord in the following sequence. Bb   Gm   ???   F7    Bb.
10. How do you make a major chord a minor chord?
11. How do you make a major chord a seventh chord?

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