Chord placement within a measure; choice of chord

I’m almost embarrassed to ask these questions, but here goes:
When reading a lead sheet, should you generally play the chord on the note above which it is written or on the beat? For example in “Embraceable You,” it starts with a G6 which appears over the second beat, but the left hand started with the G on the first beat.
While I’m at it with naive questions: what’s the deal with chords noted above the primary chords. For example: in measure 8, do I just have the option of playing F#m7(b5) then B7(b9); or Bbo7 then B7(b9); or Bo7 throughout the entire measure?

HI Wendy :wave:

Don’t feel embarrassed at all, I remember how daunting it was the first time I picked up a lead sheet after studying classical music for many years!

Here’s a few pointers which should help :slightly_smiling_face:

  1. Lead sheets are just a ‘rough guide’ and are very much open to interpretation.

  2. We have the creative freedom to choose where we place the chord in the bar and it doesn’t have to be placed exactly where the chord appears on the lead sheet

  3. We also have the freedom to change the chords, this is called reharmonisation. When creating arrangements from a lead sheet, I very rarely stick to the exact chords on the lead sheet. I use the lead sheet as a rough guide for the harmony but I’m always looking for ways to ‘add my own touch’.

The more tunes we learn, the easier it becomes to ‘make lead sheets our own’ by adding our own personal touches here and there.

Here’s a few lesson and course pages where we discuss reharmonisation:

Firstly our course on reharmonisation where we explore Tritone Substitution, Passing Chords, & Sus Chords:

Next here’s a short and succinct study on dominant passing chords:

And finally I think this lesson in particular answers your question very nicely. You will see that I often play the melody, and then play the harmony after the melody has been stated.

I like to call this “Orchestral Solo Piano” as we can think of our solo piano playing as an orchestra playing a song.

Utilising the full range of the piano we can imagine the different instruments of the orchestra playing their part and we can visualise the melody, the harmony, the fills, and the decoration as individual parts which form the whole performance.

A little bit ‘out there’ i know :grin: but I hope it helps to illustrate the concept.

Check out those lessons and any further questions let us know.

Thanks for the speedy reply. I’ll check these out. But my sense is that it’s very much like Barbossa’s (Geoffrey Rush’s) reply to Elizabeth Swann’s (Keira Knightley’s) question in Pirates of the Caribbean, “But what about the pirate code.” “It’s more like a guideline.”

My pleasure Wendy.

And yes the Pirates Of The Caribbean quote is a nice analogy :grinning:

The short answer to the question is no, you don’t have to play the chords exactly where they are written.

The ultimate source of inspiration would be to take maybe 5 or 10 different recordings of the tune you are working on, and listen to how the piano player phrases the melody and where they place chords. Each player is different and by listening and emulating in this way we develop our own style.

Just to reiterate, check out the final lesson highlighted above above, you will see that I often play the melody on its own, and displace the chords towards the end of the bar:

Remember that these are just ideas/concepts and shouldn’t replace listening and transcribing things from your favourite records.

Enjoy playing around with this stuff!