The Final Chords: How to End Pieces of Music
Many guitar pieces end with chords. And these last measures are often less complex than the rest of the piece.
So we may dismiss them as easy or unimportant. We take for granted that they will sound fine. Maybe, maybe not.
But we can also make these final chords more beautiful. We can bring a more satisfying resolution to our pieces. And below you’ll discover how to play these chords for all they are worth.
The Final Chords Are Important
The final chords of a piece bring resolution. They tell listeners that the journey has ended. The adventure is over.
And research has shown that we reflect on past experiences is based on the quality of the ending. How we end an experience determines how we remember it. If the last few minutes are good, we remember the whole affair positively.
But if the last bit is lackluster or bad, we remember the whole experience as not-so-good. This is true of vacations, conversations, movies, and music.
So we shouldn’t throw away the final chords. We should play them with intention and style.
NOTE: The tips below also work for chords within the piece – not only the final chords.
Stand-alone Chords vs. Melody/Accompaniment
There are two main types of chords in pieces. First, we have chords that stand alone. We hear them as a chord. No one note sounds more important than the others.
We may play these as a strum or by plucking the individual notes. There may be one chord or many.
The second type of chord is where we have a melody note with accompaniment and bass note. This is still a chord. But structurally it is many voices, sounding at once.
When we have a melody/accompaniment chord, the melody should be the loudest note. The other notes should support and add harmonic context. This is true both in the final chords of a piece or anywhere else.
Most Interesting Note: the 3rd Scale Degree
In most chords, the 3rd scale degree is usually the most interesting note. This note makes the chord major or minor.
Basic chords are made of the first, third, and fifth scale degrees, plus any extensions (7, 9, 11, 13, etc).
This is music theory. But you don’t have to know music theory to find this note.
If we know the name of the chord, we can count up two letters. For example, in a C chord, we start at C and count up 2: D, E. E is the third.
We can also listen for the third.
Use chord balance
We can use chord balance to make some notes of the chord louder and others quieter. We can craft the chord to the best effect.
Even in rolled chords, we can bring some notes out more than others. This takes practice, but it’s worth the work.
And even if there is a melody note, we can still make the 3rd scale degree the second-loudest note (or the third loudest, behind the bass note).
Listen for the 3rd
In the final chords of a piece, we want to make sure that we can hear the 3rd scale degree. This note needs to be clear and present.
It does not have to be the loudest note. But we do want it strong and obvious. We do not want it drowned out by the other notes.
This may take practice and experimentation. And once we find the perfect balance, we may need to practice it to ensure it comes out in performance.
When we get this right, the chord sounds rich and complex. It does its job better. The piece resolves and the listener feels settled and content. Job well done!
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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