How to play chord progressions on piano
Have you ever listened to a song and been amazed by how the chords and harmonies change and develop to form something really beautiful? In music, we call this a chord progression, which means to play a series of chords in a particular order.In this post we are going to discover some different types of chords, and then put them into practice by learning some really common and useful chord progressions, so stay tuned!
What is a chord?
To put it really simply – a chord is when 3 or more notes sound at the same time.
The most commonly used type of chord is called a triad. Triads are made up of 3 different notes, and are usually either “Major” or “Minor”. Listeners often associate Major triads with feelings of happiness and minor triads with sadder and darker connotations. Combining both Major and Minor triads within piano chord progressions can help to create really interesting and compelling harmonies.
Piano chord progressions: Major Triads
Major triads are made up of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of a Major scale.
Let’s use the C Major triad as an example:
C Major Scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
C Major Triad: C, E, G
🎹 Take a look at the lesson Paparazzi & super hit chords and play a C Major triad with your right hand. The C major triad is the first chord being played. You can recognize the C Major chord by the letter ‘C’ written above it.
💡 When playing triads, it helps if you raise your index and ring fingers a little so that they are out of the way.
Before we move on, lets try 2 more Major triads; G Major and F Major. Don’t worry if you don’t know every note in the scale! We’re only going to play the triads, not the scales.
G Major Scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G
G Major Triad: G, B, D
The G major triad is the second chord being played. You can recognize the G major triad by the letter ‘G’ written above the notes.
And let’s try F Major!
F Major Scale: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F
F Major Triad: F, A, C
The F major triad is the fourth chord being played. You can recognize the F Major triad by the letter ‘F’ written above the notes on the score.
💡 We’re going to stick to C, G, and F Major for now, but to learn more Major triads be sure to head over to the Chords & Scales course.
Piano chord progressions: Minor Triads
Minor triads are made up of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a Minor Scale.
This time, let’s use A Minor as an example:
Scale of A Minor: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A
A Minor Triad: A, C, E
🎹 Let’s have another look at the Paparazzi & super hit chords. You can recognize the A-minor chord by the letters ‘Am’ written above the treble clef.
So, you can now play 3 different Major triads and 1 Minor Triad. But is this enough to make a chord progression on the piano? Yes! In fact, the chords you have learned make up one of the most commonly used progressions in all of popular music!
I – V – vi – IV Chord progression
Now before we put this progression into action, you may have a few questions.
Why the Roman numerals? This is just a musical tradition that is still used today. Writing the progression as 1 – 5 – 6 – 4 would hold exactly the same meaning.
What do the numbers mean? Each number corresponds to a chord. For example, in the key of C Major, the I Chord is C Major, the V is G Major, the vi is A Minor, and the IV is F Major:
Now without further ado, let’s play the progression in the Paparazzi & super hit chords lesson!
I – V – vi – IV in songs
Here are two more songs that the chord progression is used in.
Do you want to learn how to play “No Woman, No Cry”?
💡 Tip: This chord progression lets you accompany dozens of other famous songs. Find out which ones here!
When composers and musicians write out chords, they use “chord symbols”. This makes things quicker and easier, as it saves you having to read the chords as individual notes.
Here are some examples of chord symbols below.
C Major Triad C
G Major Triad G
F Major Triad F
A Minor Triad Am
In songs, the chord symbols appear above the treble clef. In the example below, each chord lasts for 2 counts.
This is part of “Let it be” by The Beatles, and you can learn it by clicking here.
Make sure that you play around more with the chord progression you have just learnt. Once you have done this, try working your way through the Chords & Scales course. Here you can learn many more chords and chord progressions. Get creative with them and acquire the skills to accompany hundreds of songs. Enjoy!
Author of this blog post:
Elliot Hogg – Music tutor from Leeds who specializes in teaching piano, music theory, and music composition.
Visit Elliot’s website.