Learning To Read Lead Sheets on Piano – Chord Charts – How To and Why!

Using lead sheets or chord charts to play your favorite song is not just accessible to guitar players, but to pianists also. Especially when students reach an intermediate level of piano study, reading lead sheets is a great theory exercise to incorporate into guitar lessons and can be made into a progressive improvisation study.

What is a Lead Sheet?

A lead sheet is basically the harmonic outline of a song. It is usually presented with basic chord symbols like “G, Em, C, D” etc. Using this notation, the pianist will construct an accompaniment using the chord names by completing the harmony. So, if the lead sheet says “G”, then the pianist will know to play a G major chord.

How Do I Use The Lead Sheet?

If the chord changes are written over measures of notated music, then you can follow the counts there, or if the chords correspond with lyrics, you can use your ear along with the help of your teacher to identify when to move to the next chord. As for the chord symbols themselves, on a basic level, the main points that you need to know are that a capital single letter like “G” is a major chord, and if it is followed by an “m” (like “Em”), then it is the minor version of the chord. Remember, this can be made simple or more difficult depending on the level of the student. Some exercises can incorporate using the melody of the song along with the chords to create the full song, or inversions of chords can be used to make a fluent accompaniment—the possibilities are endless!

What Are The Benefits Of Learning To Use Lead Sheets?

From the student’s perspective, learning to read lead sheets reinforces the theory and harmony principles on which music is based. Being able to quickly identify chords and chord changes can open a new world of possibilities and insight into playing and can easily be applied to popular styles. From the guitar teacher’s perspective, teaching students to read lead sheets during private piano lessons in Atlanta is a great way to make studying music theory fun, interesting, and creative.

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