KEYBOARD CHORDS

Broken Chord Patterns 1

Broken chord patterns are the classic way of learning and practicing keyboard chords. Broken chord patterns help you recognize the keys and train your hand to find the chords and move easily between inversions. Even better – broken chord patterns are ‘nearly music already’, so you can add a rocking bass line and be tapping your foot as you practice!

Here are two of the performances that this module builds up to.

Keyboard Chords – Broken Chord Patterns 1 is a free online piano lesson from Musicarta.com. Please dive right in and try it out – but you will get more out of the module if you have studied the Finding Inversions modules which build up to the Broken Chords pages first. Click through to the first Finding Inversions lesson here and work through the series.

Finding Inversions and Broken Chords are all pages within Musicarta’s ‘Chords’ section. Click up to the Chords home page here for an overview of Musicarta’s chord-oriented lessons. Click up to the Musicarta home page here for a complete overview of the site’s free online piano lessons.

The Musicarta Broken Chords pages have MIDI support - you can download the MIDI files for this module in a zipped folder called Broken Chord Patterns 1 MIDI using this link.

You can play the MIDI files on MidiPiano, Musicarta’s recommended virtual keyboard. The number in the right hand table cell under each musical example (e.g. BCP_1001) tells you which MIDI file to play. If you have not already downloaded MidiPiano, click through to the Musicarta MidiPiano download page, which will tell you all you need to know. The same page also has instructions for downloading and ‘unpacking’ zipped folders.

It’s simple! Do it today! MidiPiano is free, safe, easy to use and sure to prove a great addition to your learning resources!


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Follow the links to learn more. More information about Musicarta keyboard creativity study options at the foot of this page and in the right hand column.

    The basic broken chord pattern

Here is a basic exam-style broken chord pattern.

PLEASE NOTE that you DON'T have to be able to play this exercise to carry on studying the module!

BCP_1001

Practicing this pattern until you’re good at it will certainly make you a better pianist, but it won’t make you a better musician unless you examine the ‘what-and-why’ of it.

Firstly, the notes are beamed in threes. so in your mind’s eye you push those groups of three beamed notes back into line to find the inversions that are being used. Secondly, popular musicians don’t really need to be able to play broken chord patterns in the left hand, so we’ll just look at the right hand inversions.

BCP_1002

Note also that the exercise tells you what chord you are playing (C major), so your musician’s eye will automatically register which of the three notes in each triad is the root, or name-note (arrowed), and this will help you find the triads.

You will also at this stage be using the ‘official’ inversion fingering, and you will single out from the cloud of fingering given the all-important middle note fingering, which is either 2 or 3, and this also is shown.

This is the basic broken chord pattern our exploration starts with:

BCP_1003

You play the broken chord pattern in the right hand but just the root in the left hand. The chord (C major) is given, so your left hand will gravitate to root C automatically.

    Build up the rhythm

As a musician, everything you play should have rhythm, and broken chord patterns are an ideal opportunity to ‘multi-task’ building your rhythm skills at the same time as learning your chords inside out.

Here’s one option for building up the rhythm:

BCP_1004

Note that this pattern has repeat marks – the first right hand note plays only the first time. In fact, you should play all the broken chord patterns in this module over and over – repetition works wonders. You should actively look for weaknesses in your performance, and ‘iron them out’, like creases in a shirt.
Two new things have happened. The left hand (bass) has a little ‘kick’ note. Adding rhythm to the exercise like this drives it on – you actually want the notes to come. The right hand then gets some tied notes – a simple way of adding a little sophistication.

These things make the pattern quite a bit harder to play. Rather than just jumping in, stop and work out what notes come together, and when. Musicarta calls this methodical time-saving approach ‘Together, left, right’ (TLR) analysis.

    Learning a more complicated rhythm – TLR Analysis

Here’s the new pattern again:

The row of letters between the staves shows whether the hands play together (T), or just the left hand plays (L), or just the right hand plays (R).

You will make much faster progress mastering rhythms like this one if you

  • Ignore the notes to start with.

  • Analyse the order of together/left/right ‘events’, and

  • Tap the pattern out away from the keyboard first WITHOUT BOTHERING ABOUT THE RHYTHM first. (Your first priority is the sequence of together/left/right events.)

Here is a ‘stripped down’ TLR ‘beat map’ for you to tap:

Look closely to see that Right plays every beat except for the tied note every two bars after the beginning – the stand-out ‘togethers’ (T) and ‘lefts’ (L) are bolded for emphasis. You tap the pattern with just your fingertips until you’re fairly sure of ‘the right thing happening next’ and the rhythm has crept back in, like this:

(audio
only)

You might not need to go through this build-up process – you might be able to ‘just sit down and play it’. But you will probably find riffs in the Musicarta material where this method will avoid you a great deal of frustration IF YOU REMEMBER TO USE IT.

  • Strip out the rhythm and identify the together/left/right ‘events’.

  • Tap them out off the keyboard, ignoring the notes AND EVEN THE RHYTHM IF NECESSARY.

  • Get the rhythm back in.

  • Put the music (notes) back in.

    Play the pattern using a different chord

Before we develop the rhythm further, let’s play the pattern in A minor. A minor is an all-white-key chord (like C major), so all we have to do is move our hands two white keys to the left and play the exact same pattern.

BCP_1005

But before you ‘dive into the dots’, use a bit of musician’s savvy…:

  • Because in our mind’s eye we always ‘bunch up’ broken chords (to see which inversions they are), and

  • We are given the chord (‘A minor’), and

  • We know which note of a root position / first inversion / second inversion chord the root is:

BCP_1006

...and

  • We know what the chord tones of A minor are (A, C and E – every other letter of the musical alphabet up from the root)

...we do not stress over the leger lines, or even pay much attention to the individual notes. The right thumb goes straight to note A to start building a play-one, miss-one, play-one, miss-one, play-one (PMPMP) root position triad – which then starts ‘inverting’ upwards.

Play the pattern in A minor. Here’s the audio performance file again:

BCP_1005

    Developing the rhythm

Here’s a natural development of the previous rhythm:

BCP_1007

The coordination of the hands is even more complicated. Here’s the TLR ‘beat map’ of the example, showing the order of ‘events’:

BCP_1008

Tap that with your bunched fingertips in your desktop. Then, STILL AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD, ‘mime’ the right hand with the correct fingering:

Now go back to the keyboard and try the exercise again:

BCP_1007

Repeat the build-up process if you can't achieve the performance yet.

Practicing away from the keyboard is very valuable thing and a great habit to get into. You rehearse coordination skills without the worry of getting the notes right. There are lots of tapping (rhythm) patterns in the Musicarta ‘Beat and Rhythm’ section you can carry around with you and practice at odd moments. Finger exercises (Hanon, Schmitt) are ideal candidates as well.

    Developing the pattern

We can make the right hand more interesting by changing the order of the chord tones on the way down. Look closely to see where the difference is.

BCP_1009

Now you have to look more closely to see where the inversions are – the quaver beams no longer show you. You need to identify the inversions so that you use the official fingering and you don’t run out of fingers.

If the syncopated beat in the left hand is too difficult for you, just play one long note (as shown in the first two bars) to start with. (You always have the option to simplify this way - temporarily or permanently.)

    Transposing the broken chord patterns

You can play these broken chords patterns in different keys just by starting on a different white piano key.

You don’t even need new written music to do this. You just shift your starting position left or right (down or up), look at the old music and play the same pattern of jumps with the same fingering.

Start on any white note except B.

  • If you start on C, F or G you will get a major sound.

  • If you start on A, D or E you will get a minor sound.
Remember which of the spaced bunches of notes is the name-note (arrowed):

Then you will be playing broken chord patterns in C, F or G major, or in A, D or E minor.


    More broken chord patterns

This broken chord pattern starts on the middle note of a root position triad. It’s in D minor.

BCP_1010

It’s still based on the same inversion pattern as all the previous patterns in this module:

BCP_1011

Look at the pattern again to work out where the fingering will change:

If we combine this pattern in D minor with the same pattern in C major – everything shifted one key to the left – it makes a good classical rock riff.

BCP_1012

Don’t dive in at the deep end – simplify first! Use all your musician’s tricks to stay in command of the material (rather than the other way round).

  • Play just the right hand. Notice the slight adjustment to the right hand fingering at the start and end of the second line. Do you see why it makes sense?

  • Notice that the left hand has acquired another note, so there is a new together/right/left (TRL) profile. Examine it carefully, and practice away from the keyboard first.

  • The performances are getting faster – push yourself, speed and endurance-wise.

This is the fourth development of the left hand rhythm. Build up to your performance by playing the right hand of the pattern over all four versions. (The audio performance file alternates between D minor and C.)

BCP_1013

Take time out to appreciate how much more ‘ownership’ this way of working gains you than ‘just practicing’. By methodically working your way through all these permutations, you edge closer and closer to the point where you can just play what you hear.

    Transposing the two-chord riff

The D minor–C major pair of chords is made up of one minor chord (Dm) with a major chord (C) a whole tone below. A minor and G major form a similar pair, both also all-white-key chords.

Here’s a two-chord riff in A minor and G which re-uses the right hand of the second pattern in this module over the latest bass line:

BCP_1014

Take a minute to ‘just look at it’ before you try to play it.

  • Don’t spend much time reading those G chord leger lines (second line). A glance at the overall shape should tell you it’s the same pattern as in A minor, but one note down – one key to the left.

  • The bass is new again – a bar of line four and a bar of line three from the previous diagram. Check to see you understand this – combining half of one thing you know with half of another is a powerful way of making new music.

    Do your own TRL analysis and tap it out, then mime it with the fingering as before.

  • The fingering has been adapted at the end of the first line, and the first three notes of the repeat will also need re-fingering 2–4–5.


The purpose of this Musicarta module has been to persuade you to practice broken chord patterns regularly and creatively. The benefits for your song-writing, arranging and playing are enormous.

This module has dealt only with the simplest patterns in white-key-only chords (the ‘Group One’ chords of the free Musicarta Chord Generator pdf download). Serious students would go on to transpose the patterns into Chord Generator ‘Group Two’ (one black key) chords – D, A and E major and C, F, G and B minors.

These are much more challenging for the hand – you will find you have to play much further up towards the back of the keys, and ‘climb over’ the black keys that are ‘in the way’. Try playing the Module two-chord riffs in E minor with D major, G minor with F major and B minor with A major.

Click through to Keyboard Chords – Broken Chord Patterns 2 for more patterns to work on and more ready-made broken chord riffs to play, or just click through and bookmark for study later.

Musicarta Publications

Apart from the 'Mariaan' piano solo release, Musicarta has three extended keyboard creativity work-books.

They are:

KEY CHORDS Vol. 1

Musicarta Key Chords builds your chord vocabulary by introducing the chords you are most likely to come across in any song. You practice the chord changes in contemporary riffs (drum backing tracks are included), with easy step-by-step rhythmic build-up of impressive keyboard syncopation.

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The PYRAMIDS VARIATIONS

The Musicarta Pyramids Variations aims to exceed expectations by coaching beginners and re-starters to an impressive ‘Concert Performance’ in just eight lessons. After that, you learn a set of variations which model all the contemporary keyboard player’s knowledge and skills.

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The CANON PROJECT

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is perhaps the most famous chord sequence of all time, and the basis of dozens of popular hits. If you can play and understand the Canon chord sequence there isn’t much in popular music harmony you won’t be able to figure out. Its regular structure also make it a great springboard for improvising and composition.

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Follow the "learn more' links to see more sample content, and check out the title playlists on Mister Musicarta YouTube.


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