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I'm having trouble interpreting this chord. It is labeled as a I chord, and from seeing that there is no key signature, I'm assuming it's in Cmaj or Amin. But what I'm not getting is, to my knowledge, a I chord in Cmaj is C-E-G but only C-B-D are used. Can any chord be called a I chord as long as it starts on, in this case, C? For example, I just need to start with C, and I can play any notes after that or at the same time as long as the lowest note is C?

I also noticed in some songs chords are written like this but all the notes are still played simultaneously or at least only some. For example, the second picture shown below is suppose to played all at once but it is showing the notes written one after the other on sheet.

The third picture shows that keys were pressed which weren't even what was shown on the sheet. The content is not mine. It was from Youtube channel "Pianonote". The link to the demonstration is here.

Three measures with initial I chord label

D chord symbol with part written as alternating A and F#

image of pianist playing D major chord

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The video is demonstrating the use of a lead sheet, in which only the melody and chord symbols are given. It's up to the pianist to decide how to play the chords. It is a separate arrangement from the one shown in the first image.

To my knowledge, a I chord in Cmaj is C-E-G but only C-B-D are used.

The I in this case isn't describing an individual chord; rather, it's describing the overall harmony. The main notes in the first measure, for example, are C and G in the left hand and C C C E in the right hand. Thus, we have C E G altogether.

The B, D, and F are decorative pitches that are not considered part of the overall harmony.

Can any chord be called a I chord as long as it starts on, in this case, C?

No.

In the key of C major, C E G is the I chord regardless the order the notes appear and no matter whether they are played together as a block chord or separately as a broken chord or arpeggio. However, C F A is the IV chord, and C A E is the vi chord.

This is explained further below.

I just need to start with C, and I can play any notes after that or at the same time as long as the lowest note is C?

The notes C E G are, by definition, a C major chord even if their bottom-to-top order is changed. This process of changing the order of notes is called inversion, with the inversion being defined by whichever pitch is lowest. But all inversions are still considered to be C major chords.

The second picture is supposed to played all at once but it is showing the notes written one after the other on sheet

This is how a lead sheet works. The written part indicates the main melody, and the chord is a guide to how to accompany that melody. The chord can be played in any voicing the performer chooses: meaning, the performer chooses the order and spacing of the notes, which to include or omit, and whether to play them as a block or broken chord.

The third picture shows that keys were pressed which weren't even what was shown on the sheet.

This image appears to come from the beginning of the video, at 0:33. This is just a demonstration of a D chord, not a demonstration of how the song will ultimately be played.

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  • Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! It is very much appreciated and detailed. Blessings to you! – tk123 Apr 18 at 2:04
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    @tk123 You're very welcome. Regarding your first comment, yes, those are both reasonable ways to think about chords. – Aaron Apr 18 at 2:05
  • Oh ok so would it be wrong to think of them as "mini classes" within that key and not as hard figures like C-E-G for I in Cmaj e.g. the second example is in D and noticing that they only use the D-F#-A which are found when you play the basic I triad you can know that it is a I chord? – tk123 Apr 18 at 2:46

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